The LEGO Batman Movie Review

Who could have imagined that “The LEGO Batman Movie” would be the Batman movie we didn’t know we needed? At first glance, spinning off “The LEGO Movie” take on the popular superhero seemed more like a goofy – but separate – iteration of the Caped Crusader for the family audience. But if Warner Bros. decided this movie and any possible sequels would be the only Batman movies we’d get for the next 5-10 years, you wouldn’t find me complaining.

From the opening minutes, “The LEGO Batman” movie gleefully entertains, making abundantly clear its dedication to silliness and, more importantly, its flippant attitude toward superhero movies. The spirit and humor – in addition to the visual style – of 2014’s “The LEGO Movie” courses through this movie in abundance. The jokes are rapid-fire, with adult- and kid-geared gags in equal measure. But it’s the way the script plays with superhero and “Batman” tropes in clever ways that really surprises and elevates the movie to the point that one can talk about it in the context of Batman’s cinematic history.

“The LEGO Batman Movie” paints Batman, voiced brilliantly by Will Arnett, as a cocky, brooding, self-aggrandizing cynic who chooses to isolate himself because deep down the death of his parents makes him afraid of ever having a family again. At one point, noticing his master is a little down, Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) notes how Batman has acted this way a lot in the past, rattling off every year a Batman movie has been released including the TV show in the ’60s. Story writer Seth Grahame-Smith and the rest of the writers on this film clearly view their plastic version of Batman as part of that long canon, and in many ways a response to it.

After Tim Burton gave Batman his Gothic rebirth and Christopher Nolan used The Dark Knight as a way to tell a serious, gritty crime story, Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s character had become completely encased in self-seriousness, and director Chris McKay (“Robot Chicken”) plucks him straight out. At the same time, this caricature is built on a foundation of what those iterations gave to the character.

The film’s main villain is of course Joker (Zach Galfianakis, blending both comic and dark takes on the iconic character), whose scheme Batman foils in a rollicking opening sequence. Yet in a classic superhero moment in which Batman must choose between stopping the bomb and letting Joker get away, they have a heart-to- heart in which Batman refuses to acknowledge their arch nemesis relationship, which brings Joker to tears.

This parody of the “we complete each other theme” of 2008’s “The Dark Knight” is spot-on. Heck, it might sound crazy, but LEGO Joker is one of the best superhero movie villains in the last several years given the way Marvel and DC’s film studios have struggled mightily to present compelling, multi-dimensional antagonists in their movies. His desire to mean something to Batman humanizes him in this unexpected way. You’d expect a family film to just go for straight black and white, good guys and bad guys stuff.

The story presents nice if not overly trodden themes of family and teamwork as the solo artist known as Batman is stuck with an orphan in Dick Grayson/Robin (Michael Cera) that he didn’t ask for and a new police commissioner in Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) whose message to Gotham is that Batman needs to work with the police, not just do things himself.

More important than the way it interprets Batman and tells a Batman story for an age-appropriate audience, “The LEGO Batman Movie” stays true to the artistic style of “The LEGO Movie” by doubling down on the stop-motion look (Batman’s scratched up cowl is a nice detail) and making explosions and other effects out of LEGO pieces. The use of voices for lasers and bullets is also a nice touch that evokes what it would sound like if you were make-believe playing with LEGOs. McKay doesn’t lose sight of this being a LEGO movie told with LEGOs as the medium, which the boundless LEGO movies to follow this one would do best to mimic if they want to be as great as these first two.

“The LEGO Batman Movie” has a boundless energy that can be tiring and for some will even be grating, but ultimately that’s what’s so enjoyable about it. The movie takes its time to be clever and focus on the characters (watching Batman watch his lobster thermidor cooking in the microwave) despite all the busy, cool LEGO creations that fill the frame. The commercial pitfalls are there, but so far both LEGO movies have avoided them.


4/5 Stars


The LEGO Batman Movie
Directed by Chris McKay
Written by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna & Eric Sommers, Jared Stern & John Whittington
Starring: (voices) Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Zach Galifianakis, Ralph Fiennes


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