Director: Chris McKay
Starring: Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera and Rosario Dawson
Lego Batman turns back the clock on the caped crusader to a lighter, more fun time before Tim Burton – taking his lead from Frank Miller's Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns graphic novels, which helped to redefine the character in the late 1980s – turned Gotham into a gothic-horror hellhole in his 1989 big-screen adaptation.
Since then, the movie (and comics) versions of Batman have largely portrayed the character as austere, alone and wallowing in despair.
This consigned the less serious, camp version of Batman, as played by Adam West in the 1960s TV series and seen in the comics of the time, to the deepest depths of the Batcave.
Lego Batman, a spin-off for the breakout hero of 2014's The Lego Movie, restores some of this kitsch colour – and sense of fun – with initially brilliant results.
Knowledge of the on-screen history of Batman will pay rich dividends, as much of the tongue-in-cheek fun is built on self-referential in-jokes.
Credit must go to Arrested Development star Will Arnett, who provides the voice of Batman and, after his work on TV series BoJack Horseman, is becoming a voice-over king.
Using the same satirical, postmodern, pop-cultural awareness that made The Lego Movie a surprise hit, Lego Batman is likewise a sensory overload.
The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) – and just about every other Batman villain you can think of – attacks Gotham with a kaleidoscope of colour and noise. Yet the clown prince of crime is disheartened at the thought (in a nod towards the recent live-action Batman v Superman) that the Man of Steel might now be Batman's greatest enemy.
The film’s brilliant deconstruction of how the Dark Knight has become the most conflicted of characters reaches its peak when the movie pulls off its masterstroke: using silence to illustrate Batman’s solitude.
As Batman mooches around his mansion, it is clear to all but him that his life has no purpose. This quiet also provides room for character development and unique observations – this is a Dark Knight like none we have seen before.
Yet this does not last long because silence is also the enemy of Lego movies. The film falters when explosions return, replacing character development and exposition, and the film reverts to a more kid-friendly tone at the expense of insight and satire.
This is a shame because Batman as a kind-hearted team player is simply not nearly as interesting or fun as the alternatives.