Bruce Wayne is having an identity crisis — but then again, when isn’t he?
Everyone’s favorite nocturnal vigilante is back in the spotlight (not to be confused with the Bat Signal) next February with The LEGO Batman Movie, Warner Bros.’ exciting spin-off of its box office-busting The LEGO Movie. Will Arnett returns once more to voice the titular superhero, whose turn in the 2014 film was so memorable, he earned the right to lead his own, feature — broody Bruce and all. Now, if only he can get over his issues and put himself out there to make friends with some other super men and wonder women.
“What came out of The LEGO Movie was the idea of, Batman’s the Dark Knight, so why is he so moody? What’s going on? Why is he so banged up? And wouldn’t it be fun to get in there and explore that?” says Arnett, whose voiceover career offers a spread of roles from Netflix leading man (BoJack Horseman) to surly Pixar sous chef (Ratatouille). “[Exploring Batman’s moodiness] was always the intention, but as you record a few sessions and you get on these tangents, you end up taking the entire story down a road that wasn’t necessarily the intended road. It can totally drastically change the narrative just through goofing around.”
That inclination to improvise led to some of the best moments in The LEGO Movie, and is inevitably why Warner Bros. didn’t hesitate to make a move on the spin-off. Though the studio didn’t officially announce the Batman spin-off until six months after The LEGO Movie premiered, Arnett got word of the intention to sequelize the superhero within days of the film’s record-breaking release in February 2014. “The returns kept coming back bigger and bigger, and we felt really good about the movie and were all out celebrating — everybody that was part of the team, the studio, the producers, the cast — and it was kind of tipped that night. ‘Alright, next up is Batman,’” Arnett recalls. “And I was like, ‘What?! Really?’ They’re like, ‘Yeah man, let’s do it.’ That’s literally how it happened.’”
Arnett didn’t need to think twice, having leapt relatively blindly into the first film at the request of directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller. “They called me and said, ‘We want you to do The LEGO Movie, and don’t say no,’” he says. The pair sought Arnett’s involvement after he (and ex-wife Amy Poehler) were previously attached to star in their 2009 film Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs; when the film switched gears and abandoned a “much darker version,” Arnett fell out of the project, but Lord and Miller made up for it with an invitation to play in LEGO.
Miller and Lord aren’t scripting or directing the Batman spin-off, but they are producing, based on a script by Seth Grahame-Smith; Chris McKay, a Robot Chicken veteran and an animation co-director on the first film, will helm.
If The LEGO Movie’s version of Batman was but a teaser of the depths to which Bruce Wayne can descend, his standalone turn offers a walloping helping of psyche-exploring (and, of course, crime-fighting) fun. “Sometimes what’s funny is when Batman is at odds emotionally with what we think we know about him in our version,” says Arnett. “We have moments where we make him a little bit insecure, and moments where you make him weirdly confident in ways he doesn’t necessarily deserve to be.”
The LEGO Batman Movie (in theaters Feb. 10, 2017) reintroduces the Dark Knight of Gotham City, a sulky, wildly arrogant crusader who’s called into action to battle the scheming Joker and his familiar rogues’ gallery. Begrudgingly, Batman has to deal with his own demons and accept some necessary help. (Enter: The Justice League, though casting is still under wraps for the voice actors behind Superman and Wonder Woman, among others.)
As evidenced by the film’s generation-jumping trailer, the movie skewers almost every Bruce Wayne of olde, which Arnett burrowed into for ‘research,’ if you can call it that: “When we were first finding the Batman voice and finding what was making us laugh the first time around, it took us a beat to wade through the different things we liked and found funny about each Batman. I tried to look at all of the Batmen. Now, I feel like I’m in a zone where I’m just really lucky that I’ve got all of these great guys who played Batman before me, and the comics before that, and I get to draw on this deep well and just mix and match.”
The only thing perhaps more outrageous than the callbacks and the film’s many action sequences are the cast, including Rosario Dawson as Batgirl, Ralph Fiennes as Alfred, Michael Cera as Robin, Mariah Carey as the Mayor of Gotham City, and Zach Galifianakis as The Joker.
“Zach and I had a really fun session a little while back,” teases Arnett. “I’ve known Zach forever. The dynamic we landed on for Batman and the Joker that really works for us, I would describe as… refreshing. It’s a little bit surprising. It’s not what people are accustomed to with regards to these two characters.” Well, yeah, but neither is seeing Batman made of pieces unsafe for children under 3.