Director – Chris McKay, Screenplay – Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Summers, Jared Stern & John Whittington, Story – Seth Grahame-Smith, Producers – Dan Lin, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller & Roy Lee, Music – Lorne Balfe, Animation – Animal Logic, Animation Supervisor – Rob Coleman, Production Design – Grant Freckleton. Production Company – Warner Brothers/DC/Ratpac-Dune Entertainment/Lego System A-S/Lin Pictures/Lord Miller/Vertigo Entertainment.
Will Arnett (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Michael Cera (Robin/Dick Grayson), Rosario Dawson (Commissioner Barbara Gordon/Batgirl), Zach Galifianakis (The Joker), Ralph Fiennes (Alfred Pennyworth), Channing Tatum (Superman), Jenny Slate (Harley Quinn), Adam Devine (The Flash), Siri (‘Puter), Hector Elizondo (Commissioner James Gordon)
Batman goes into action to prevent The Joker, leading all the other villains of Gotham City, as he attempts to detonate a bomb. Afterwards, The Joker feels hurt when Batman refuses to acknowledge him as his principal nemesis, or even say that he hates him. As Bruce Wayne, Batman attends Commissioner Gordon’s retirement party where the role of commissioner is inherited by his daughter Barbara who gives a speech where she says she wants to create a city that doesn’t need Batman. At the ball, Bruce also encounters orphan Dick Grayson and, while distracted by other things, unwittingly agrees to adopt him. The Joker and the other villains invade the ball, only for The Joker to surrender to Batman. Suspecting that The Joker’s surrender has devious motive, Batman hatches a scheme to steal the Phantom Zone projector from Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. To this end, he recruits Dick who readily adopts a costume to go into action, calling himself Robin. Though having no time for others, Batman reluctantly warms to Dick. They break into Arkham Asylum where Batman banishes The Joker to The Phantom Zone. However, this is a ruse whereby The Joker uses the opportunity to free all the other villains imprisoned in The Phantom Zone, including Voldemort, Sauron, King Kong, The Wicked Witch of the West, the Gremlins and the Daleks, and lead them on an en masse attack against Gotham City.
The Lego Movie (2014), based on the peculiar idea of bringing Lego characters to animated life, was one of its year’s biggest successes, earning some $460 million worldwide. Part of the fun of the exercise was the crossover that went on between various Lego universes, many of which were based on pre-existing fictional worlds. Although only a supporting character there, Batman proved to be the scene-stealer of the film. Figuring on the popularity of Batman as the most recognisable comic-book character in the world, Warner Brothers have smartly given Batman a Lego movie all to himself here. That is not necessarily just a spinoff based on the character’s popularity in The Lego Movie as there has been an actual Lego Batman line since 2006, which had even resulted in a previous dvd-released animated film Lego Batman: The Movie – DC Superheroes Unite (2013). The success of these Lego movies is such that Warner Brothers has launched it as a franchise with The Lego Batman Movie being followed seven months later by The Lego Ninjago Movie (2017), while the first film was sequelised with The Lego Movie 2 (2019).
Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the directors of The Lego Movie, have departed (although are also present as producers) and have handed over direction to Chris McKay who was an animation supervisor on the first film. McKay was a director on tv’s Robot Chicken (2005– ) and is next announced as director of a live-action Nightwing film. The script comes from a number of writers. The name that caught my attention was Seth Grahame-Smith, the novelist who wrote Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009) and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (2010), which were filmed as Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (2012) and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016), as well as the original screenplay for Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows (2012) and produced the remakes of It (2017) and Child’s Play (2019).
The Lego Batman Movie takes everything that The Lego Movie was and makes it bigger and more colourful. There are times the camera pulls back to show the numbers of characters and elements interacting on screen at the same time and the results are quite mind-boggling. The action moves at a whiplash pace. The film has a palette that seems to uses every colour of the spectrum at once.
The opening sequence has a blur of colour, action and lightning paced humour that quite blows you away, not the least of which involves Batman having his own song (part of which includes the weaving in of the nana-nana theme from the Batman (1966-8) tv series), throwaway gags with pilots doing rock-paper-scissors with actual paper and scissors, and Batman lecturing The Joker that he doesn’t do ‘ships. Oh and not to mention that the first five minutes of the film manages to get in cameos from every Batman villain ever created, including from the 1960s tv series. And that doesn’t count the opening credits, which feature Will Arnett’s gravelly Batman voice breaking the fourth wall and rather hilariously commenting on the studio logos as they appear. It is the most energy and humour-packed opening sequence I have seen in any film in recent memory.
The screenwriters seem to have set out to have as much fun with the Batman franchise as possible – if anything, The Lego Batman Movie should be considered less a Batman film than a parody of Batman. It feels like a bunch of Batman fans that have sat around and determined to have as much fun as possible, throwing in every gag they can possibly think of. Batman ridicules the flaws in The Joker’s previous schemes, which happen to be the ones that took place in The Joker’s big-screen appearances in Batman (1989) and The Dark Knight (2008). There are even jokes about the Bat Shark Repellent from the Batman (1966) film – which comes in a throwaway gag that has a witty playoff later in the show. There is a montage where we get to see Lego versions of every single incarnation of Batman on screen, while Alfred adopts the guise of the tv Batman as he joins the party to go into action. There are cameos from a host of other Justice League characters during the visit to the Fortress of Solitude. The most fun comes during the scenes where The Joker releases the villains from The Phantom Zone, which include everything from King Kong, Bruce the Shark from Jaws (1975), The Eye of Sauron from The Lord of the Rings, The Wicked Witch of the West and her Flying Monkeys, the Gremlins, the Daleks from Doctor Who (1963-89, 2005– ), the Agent Smiths from The Matrix films, and Voldemort from the Harry Potter series.
If you could take the film seriously (which absolutely positively you cannot), the quibble might be that it plays free and easy with the Batman mythos. Dick Grayson gets a different origin – not to mention that his background as the child of trapeze artists whom Batman decides to adopt has been excised – and Barbara Gordon, while she is Commissioner Gordon’s daughter, actually becomes his replacement (which she never has been in any comic-book incarnation) and only adopts the Batgirl costume towards the end of the show. Wayne Manor is now located on an island in Gotham Harbour, while Batman demonstrates a passion for heavy metal music and playing guitar in his free time, which are both new aspects of the Batman mythos we have never seen before.
Other Batman appearances on screen are:-
- Batman (1943) and Batman and Robin (1949), two fifteen-chapter serials from Columbia where Batman was played by Lewis Wilson and Robert Lowery and Robin by Douglas Croft and John Duncan
- the campy tv series Batman (1966-8) starring Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin, which produced one film spin-off with Batman (1966)
- the animated tv series The New Adventures of Batman (1977-8)
- Tim Burton’s superb duo of films Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992) starring Michael Keaton, and Joel Schumacher’s dismal campy follow-ups Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997), featuring respectively Val Kilmer and George Clooney
- the animated series Batman (1992-4) inspired by the Tim Burton films and its follow-up The New Batman Adventures (1997-9), which spawned several film spin-offs with Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), Batman and Mr Freeze: SubZero (1998), The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest (1998) and Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003). There was also Batman Beyond/Batman of the Future (1999-2001), the futuristic follow-up series from the same creative team featuring an aging Bruce Wayne and his young apprentice, which also spun off one animated film Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000) and another animated tv series Static Shock (2000-4), which featured several appearances from Batman. Batman also appears in the same team’s Justice League/Justice League Unlimited (2001-5)
- Christopher Nolan’s revival of the franchise with Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) starring Christian Bale
- the DC Universe Original Animated Movies Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009), Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010), Superman & Batman: Apocalypse (2010), Batman: Year One (2011), Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part I (2012), Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part II (2013), Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014), Son of Batman (2014), Batman vs. Robin (2015), Batman: Bad Blood (2016), Batman: The Killing Joke (2016), Batman and Harley Quinn (2017), Batman: Gotham By Gaslight (2018), Batman: Hush (2019) and Batman: Soul of the Dragon (2021), as well as Batman: Gotham Knight (2008), a compilation of anime Batman shorts. Batman also appears in the DC Original Animated Movies Justice League: The New Frontier (2008), Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010), Justice League: Doom (2012), Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013), Justice League: War (2014), Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015), Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015), Justice League vs Teen Titans (2016), Justice League Dark (2017), The Death of Superman (2018), Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (2020) and Superman: Red Son (2020)
- the animated series The Batman (2004-8), which badly revised the basics of the series and was also spun off into a film with The Batman vs. Dracula (2005)
- two further animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008-11), which placed Batman alongside other DC superheroes and had one crossover film spinoff with Scooby-Doo! & Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2018), and Beware the Batman (2013-4)
- the live-action tv series Gotham (2014-9), which tells the origin stories of the familiar characters and villains as Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) grows up
- the animated films Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts (2015), Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem (2015) and Batman Unlimited: Mechs vs Mutants (2016) spun off from a line of action figures
- Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) with Ben Affleck who went on to appear as Batman in Suicide Squad (2016), featuring a team-up of DC villains including The Joker and Harley Quinn, and Justice League (2017) and the extended cut of the latter with Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021)
- the animated Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016) and Batman vs. Two-Face (2017) featuring a return of Adam West and Burt Ward
- the anime film Batman Ninja (2018)
- the animated crossover Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2019)
- Batman also makes appearances in the line-up of superheroes in various other DC-related animated series such as SuperFriends (1973-7) and The All New SuperFriends Hour (1977-9)
- Other spin-offs include:- the short-lived live-action tv series Birds of Prey (2002-3), featuring the women of Batman – a paraplegic Batgirl, Cat Woman’s daughter and Harley Quinn and the film Birds of Prey and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn (2020), starring Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn
- the Halle Berry starring Catwoman (2004)
- The Joker origin story with Joker (2019) starring Joaquin Phoenix
- Robin appears as a member of Young Justice (2010-3), the animated tv series Teen Titans (2003-6), which had one film spinoff with Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo (2006); the animated tv series Teen Titans Go! (2013– ), which had two film spinoffs with Teen Titans Go! To the Movies (2018) and Teen Titans Go! vs Teen Titans (2019); and as Nightwing (Brenton Thwaites) in the live-action tv series Titans (2018– )
- Pennyworth (2019- ), a tv series concerning Alfred (Jack Bannon)’s early years
- Batwoman (2019- ), a tv series starring Ruby Rose
- The Batman-Robin relationship is also excrutiatingly spoofed in the Superhero Speed Dating segment of Movie 43 (2013)
- Also of interest is Batman & Bill (2017), a documentary about the unacknowledged co-creator of Batman, Bill Finger.
(Nominee for Best Original Screenplay at this site’s Best of 2017 Awards).