In another world, it would not be too surprising to say this latest cinematic Batman adventure is a homerun. However, given how troubling things have been for the Dark Knight just last year, I am even happier to say just how enjoyable The LEGO Batman Movie really is. Given how awesome and surprisingly insightful 2014’s The LEGO Movie managed to be, I could point to how this spin-off is a bit of a downgrade as far as what it really accomplishes. At the same time though, this is a film that has a surprising amount of depth as far as examining the Bruce Wayne/Batman persona. The film is also a laugh-a-minute joke fest, with tons of clever references and visual joy to entertain anyone looking to have some colorful fun in the DC universe via LEGOs.
While it may have been no surprise for Batman, he still became one of the breakout stars of The LEGO Movie, which has led to this full-length feature. Will Arnett returns to voice this version of the character, which is still portrayed as a hilarious parody of Frank Miller’s darkest and grittiest portrayal. The plot concerns yet another scheme by The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) to take over and destroy Gotham City. As far as what’s really going on, this is a film tackling Batman’s need to be a lone crusader by addressing his issues with family and co-dependence on his true nemesis.
While The LEGO Movie hinted at its greater depths throughout and had a climax that delved into its real message, The LEGO Batman Movie is actually frontloaded with its main ideas. In the midst of an exciting and hilarious opening action sequence that pits Batman against practically every single member of his expansive rogue’s gallery (scored to the Bat’s own self-written theme song), we are made aware of the Caped Crusader’s issues with relationships. Further taking a toll on Batman’s psyche is the idea of the city no-longer needing him thanks to efforts being put forward by the new commissioner, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson). It all allows for an adventure involving Batman and his new adopted son, Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), which will test Batman’s character and see if he can truly change for the better.
Strangely, this film is not too far away in structure from the (I would say overly) reviled Batman & Robin. That film, amidst the chaotic visual style more fitting of an animated world such as this, had an interesting idea of threatening Alfred’s life, while challenging Bruce Wayne to take the patriarchal role of his new surrogate family (Robin and Batgirl). This film doesn’t quite go that far with Alfred (voiced by a game Ralph Fiennes), but it does tackle a fear Batman has of creating a real and meaningful life outside of the cowl that allows for a relationship with his “son” and others. That idea also makes The Joker’s presence that much more interesting.
Galifianakis proves to be a great choice for the Clown Prince of Crime, as he is both hilarious as the infamous character, but also willing to inject a level of pathos into The Joker, which we rarely see. Some may not recall this right away, but Galifianakis was similarly great as Humpty Dumpty in the Puss In Boots spin-off film, making me hope his work in animated films can continue to be this strong. In no way was I expecting to feel anything for this latest portrayal of the Batman/Joker relationship, but The LEGO Batman Movie made a case for exploring elements mainly seen in the comics.
If you’re tired of hearing the analysis of themes, then also know just how funny, clever and exciting this movie is. Chris McKay (co-director on The LEGO Movie and Robot Chicken mainstay) nails the design of a film like this, which packs in jokes and plays on how to imitate a superhero blockbuster. Lorne Balfe’s score goes a long way to support the visual splendor onscreen, which portrays the wildest ways kids could develop full-on LEGO action set pieces. Thanks to a clever script developed by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern and John Whittington, this is a film that really throws all the LEGO bricks to the wall and manages to make a good majority of them stick.
Not hurting is the terrific voice cast that goes along with the ones mentioned. There is a great use of comedic talent here, as well as other fun choices (Billy Dee Williams as Two-Face) and even ones that amount to obscure references (Doug Benson podcast fans will be proud) and big surprises. While some are quite brief, the film’s momentum is able to pack so much in, without feeling overstuffed. There is a rhythm to the chaos, which plays well for such an action and comedy-packed movie.
The LEGO Batman Movie also looks great. The work to make an animated feature that feels like a LEGO movie composed of stop-animation is certainly no easy task, but that aspect allows for a level of charm that keeps the film from feeling to abrasive. That certainly has to be the case for Batman, as the portrayal is one that is so jarringly jerk-ish, yet you can’t help but enjoy his attitude (or Bat-titude). A lot of that has to be a credit to both the animation style, as well as just how well Arnett works in voicing this version of the character.
Thanks to a combination of imagination, irreverence and intelligence, The Lego Batman Movie succeeds in all sorts of ways. It doesn’t hide its cleverness, but it also doesn’t risk alienating a younger audience with adult-oriented jokes. This is the kind of all-ages entertainment we should be getting from characters designed to inspire so many for the past 70+ years. Sure, it amounts to seeing a bunch of LEGOs being put together in intricate ways, which will no doubt sell a lot of toys, but it also shows just how great it can be to watch a lot of effort be put into something seemingly so silly, but also plenty inventive. Regardless of how much Batman wants to show you the darkness in his life, this is a film that brings out a lot of lighthearted fun.