There were a lot of things about The Lego Batman Movie that I didn’t expect on the way in, especially after remembering that it is, essentially, a two-hour commercial for the titular toy.
I was not expecting the voice acting to be as top-notch as it was — Will Arnett’s Batman somehow makes his supporting role from 2014’s The Lego Movie funny for his own full length feature, and Michael Cera’s performance as Robin is as innocent and boyish as the vast majority of his roles, which fit the character perfectly.
I definitely didn’t expect the action sequences to be worth their weight in plastic the way they were, but crisp animation and the well-executed vision of director Chris McKay make for inventive and exciting fight scenes.
More than the rest, however, I was unprepared for Lego Batman to be the best Batman movie I think I have ever seen (and given the market saturation, that is impressive). While Christopher Nolan’s takes on the franchise were great action-thrillers, and Tim Burton’s were hammy but iconic, neither captures the spirit of the character that comic fans have loved for 70 years. Under McKay and Arnett, however, Batman is lonely, bored, broody, and slightly deranged; in other words, he is exactly what someone would need to be to, in the film’s own words, “dress up as a bat and beat up poor people.” This self-awareness is its greatest strength, and it plays with the inherent absurdity of its characters and the world they occupy. It adopts the same fourth-wall flexibility of The Lego Movie, as the characters exhibit a knowledge of their ‘Lego character’ status at times, and crosses franchise lines at will, grabbing characters as diverse as Sauron and Voldemort. The wide variety of intellectual property that Lego owns provides opportunities to offer something for everyone.
Taking advantage of its utterly ridiculous task, and embracing the chance to make their own rules, the movie surprises in a thousand ways, all of them positive and playful.