In the immortal words of one Batman, he only works in black, and sometimes very, very dark grey. The 1989 Batmobile generally sticks to that mantra (on the surface anyway), and that can make for some rather fiddly building work. But at the same time you wind up with a very faithful recreation of a car that hasn't really been seen since 1992's Batman Returns.
The thing about the 1989 Batmobile is that the pictures don't really do justice of how big this thing actually is. It should look huge if you look carefully, but for some reason it never really clicked until I started building the thing. After all, it's 60cm/2 ft long, which is just 9cm smaller than the giant Hogwarts, 14cm less than the UCS Millennium Falcon, and generally takes up a lot of space. Moreso when you consider the fact that it has a stand that can spin round to display the car at any angle.
When you think about it like that, it's not a huge surprise that it costs £220. There are 3,306 pieces to put together, and for a Batman fan this is perhaps the batmobile. It's certainly more comics-accurate than the Nolan Tumbler, and the moving parts make it a little bit interesting - even if it's just for display.
The cockpit slides open, which is a nice touch – especially since the rail isn't locked in place and means there's a tiny bit of vertical movement that mimics how it opens and closes in the film. But it's still a bit basic, and it doesn't add very much to the overall model. Particularly since the seats are so big they dwarf any minifigures you try and put inside them.
That said, the cockpit does give you access to the steering wheel, which can be twisted round to turn the front wheels of the car (the rear wheels are sadly locked in place). It doesn't really do much, but it's a nice little Easter egg – like the gearbox inside the new Land Rover Defender set.
The real winner is the turbine at the back of the car, and while it doesn't spit fire it does turn and throws up two gun turrets that are normally hidden under two black plates. There's no real mechanism for the plates to slide off easily, so you either need to remove them yourself or risk them popping off and flying across the room.
As briefly mentioned before, the build is a little bit fiddly, and the fact that there are a lot of black and dark grey pieces in the set means that you may spend a fair bit of time hunting through a big pile of darkness trying to find the one thing you need.
The instructions aren't all that great either – as with a lot of big Lego sets, exact placement can get a bit confusing in places. The good news here is that the Batmobile is mostly symmetrical, and if you've placed something on one side of the car, 99% of the time it'll go in the same place on the other side.
The steering mechanism throws a spanner into the symmetry a little bit, but not by so much that you can't put it together pretty easily.
Things tended to get a bit more complicated towards the end, with smaller and smaller pieces coming together to form the finer details the Batmobile has to offer. It's not quite as bad as, say, the new Dinosaur Fossils, but there are a lot of points (the rear wings in particular) that involve clicking together pieces that are one to three studs wide, and nobody likes doing that.
That said, the build was completed after a few days of doing a couple of hours each night. An experienced Lego builder should be able to get it done in less than ten, though the more unsure you are of your building skills the longer it will take.
Naturally the killer feature of the 1989 Batmobile is the stand. As mentioned before it's not a fixed display like most sets of this type: it rotates to let you display the Batmobile at any angle you like. As long as that angle keeps the car completely horizontal.
Unfortunately, the stand isn't that great. It fits into place quite easily (the underside of the car has two blue sections so you know exactly where it goes), but the final result is a very wobbly set. It's not so unstable it has a risk of falling off and breaking, but it rocks about in quite an annoying way because the car and the stand are not physically connected. Maybe someone will work out a simple way to make that connection more stable and solid, but as per the instructions you're going to have to live with it as is.
Oh, and the display plaque is fixed in place, and you can't really position it without blocking at least part of it with the Batmobile itself. So, er, that's not great either.
Despite the fact that it's too big for them, there are three minifigures included with this Batmobile, all stylised after characters that appeared in the film itself. The main one is, of course, Batman, who comes kitted out with a rubber cowl/cape combo styled on the one featured in the Burton movies - including that stand-out yellow logo. There's also the Joker who bears similarities to Jack Nicholson's Joker, hat and all, and Vicki Vale who is... well, not that interesting as a minifig.
The first two are really nice minifigures, particularly Batman thanks to that sculpted cape. Vicki Vale is just a bit boring. Sure she's wearing the green sweatery outfit she wore in one scene, but the minifigure looks more like a generic blonde lady who happens to have a camera. I know it's the 30th anniversary of the first film, but it would have been nicer to have Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman instead. The car was in Batman Returns, and she's a lot more recognisable.
I like the minifigure stand though, especially the miniature buildable gargoyles. It really is quite amazing what people with more design skills than me can do with only a few pieces of plastic.
One final criticism from me is the sticker selection. I don't like Lego stickers, but I get why they're there. What was most annoying, though, is that some of the stickers didn't seem to have much point. For instance one of the instructions is to add little white rectangles onto the back of the pieces that became the Batmobile's headlights. Why? I don't know, because you certainly can't tell that they're there in the final build.
Similarly there's a single piece on either side of the car that has a design printed directly onto it, while a bit further back you have to place a sticker for not-too-different round detail. I get having stickers for all the panels inside the cockpit, since they're a bit complex to print onto pieces for a single set, but the inconsistency on the exterior makes no sense to me. It should really be all stickers or no stickers, not a weird mix of both. But that's only a minor gripe in the grand scheme of things.
Overall the 1989 Batmobile is a good set, despite some of the problems I have with it. It's not too complicated that people will be put off, but it's also not so easy that you can throw it together in a single night and be done with it. It takes some time and care, and in the end you get a set that's really quite nice to look at. And nice to play with, if you're into driving things around making "vroom" sounds with your mouth.
The only real issue it has is the stand, which has some basic problems that should have been addressed before the Batmobile went into production. Still, the rotating mechanism is quite refreshing, and no doubt plenty of collectors are going to take full advantage of it.
The 1989 Batmobile is available from the Lego store right now, and if you buy before 2nd December you'll get a miniature version of the car to go with it.