An entertaining, self-aware take on cinema's grumpiest superhero.

"Black..." growls Will Arnett's gruff hero from deep within the movie's opening darkness. "All important movies start with a black screen. And music. Edgy, scary music that would make a parent or studio executive nervous. And logos. Really long and dramatic logos". On and on he goes, making cracks at a production house whose contribution to the film escapes him, having a dig at both Superman and DC comics, quoting Michael Jackson and bragging about his huge pecs and impressive "ninth ab". All, mind you, before the first frame of the movie has even been seen.

This is The Lego Batman Movie, aka Captain Meta, where the self-referential humour comes thick and fast from the opening minute to the last. It's a film that gleefully acknowledges the nine Batman flicks that preceded it, including "that weird one in 1966" (notes the hero: "I have aged phenomenally"). And yet, for all the in-jokes and winks to camera, The Lego Batman Movie is, at least thematically, somehow more of a Batman movie than Joel Schumacher's Batman and Robin or Zack Snyder's Batman vs Superman, in that it faithfully explores its protagonist's single-most defining characteristic: his crippling isolation.

Batman is a loner; a recluse; a vigilante misanthrope whose only joy (and, indeed, purpose) comes from battling criminals. So what would happen, then, if all the criminals were locked away and all of Gotham City were crime-free? Such was the premise at the opening of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, and here, too, it forms the basis of the entire story. It's hence rather a one-note narrative, but thankfully the (many) writers manage to extract enough out of it to fill an enjoyable hour and a half of screen time.

Led by a terrific Will Arnett reprising his role from 2014's The Lego Movie, the cast of voice actors here is at once enormous and impressive. Alongside Arnett we find Zach Galifianakis as The Joker, Ralph Fiennes as Alfred, Michael Cera as Robin and Rosario Dawson as Barbara Gordon, the new Police Commissioner of Gotham City. There's also an extensive cameo list featuring the likes of Channing Tatum as Superman, Conan O'Brien as The Riddler, Zoe Kravitz as Cat Woman, Eddie Izzard as Voldemort and even Siri as Batman's computer.

Of course, there's no getting around the fact that this film represents crass commercialism taken to an extraordinary extreme. How many studios would ever deign to include their corporate sponsor in the actual title of their movie (Daniel Craig stars in…Aston-Martin Bond)? As with its predecessor, The Lego Batman Movie is designed to, and succeeds in, showcasing Lego's extensive catalogue of movie and TV-based products, ranging from Harry Potter and Doctor Who through to Godzilla, King Kong and The Wizard of Oz.

On the other hand, the film is a funny, clever and engaging piece of cinema that holds almost as much interest for adults as it will the film's target younger audience. Not as finessed or layered as The Lego Movie, this superhero spinoff is nonetheless an entertaining and refreshing take on the big screen's most brooding hero, and proves well worth the price of admission.

Published on March 31, 2017 by Tom Glasson

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