Wait, a Batman film that doesn’t include an obligatory flashback to the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents? Thank you, The LEGO Batman Movie. We all know the Caped Crusader’s origins. Save the dramatics for a dissection of Bruce’s lonesome lifestyle as a crime-fighting bachelor, where character flaws and emotional scars are deeply hidden. The true darkness that engulfs Gotham’s darkest knight.
Don’t get me wrong – LEGO’s comedic Batman romp is tons of family-friendly, civilian-saving fun. Jokes range from deep-dives into Batman’s history (60s Adam West nostalgia) to pantsless uniform gags, but true relationship dramatics are also attempted here. I’m not saying they always work, but director Chris McKay furthers the LEGO movieverse with a superhero blockbuster (SEE WHAT I DID THERE?) chock-full of both dark and bright Batman meta humor. Brick by brick, a PG answer to Fox’s Deadpool success is built. Just with less curse words, and way more lobster dinners.
Will Arnett returns to voice the Dark Knight, who must face personal demons when all of Gotham’s villains turn themselves in. The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) suffers from heartbreak when Batman refuses to admit they’re each other’s greatest enemies, so he gets back at Bruce by ending their back-and-forth. With no villains to fight, Bruce is forced to face his lone-wolf emptiness with only Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) by his side – and the orphan boy he “accidentally” adopted (Dick Grayson, voiced by Michael Cera). Oh, but don’t fret. The Joker has an ace up his sleeve that threatens to tear Gotham City apart, as it’s revealed that he actually wanted to be arrested. Can Batman defeat his greatest enemies by teaming up with Alfred, Dick and Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson)?
I mean, of course he can – he’s Batman! That’s the personality Arnett brings to LEGO’s jokey iteration of billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. Every line (or song) that comes out of Bruce’s mouth has to do with Batman’s awesomeness, or his shredded abs, or his obvious overcompensation tactics. Arnett’s comedic tone nails the gruff ego machismo of LEGO’s guitar-rocking, isolated Batman, and zings through self-deprecating DC digs that roast not only Batman’s universe, but also DC movies on the whole. A host of writers poke fun at Amanda Waller’s “Suicide Squad,” Z-grade characters like Condiment King and Batman’s obsession with physical perfection – The LEGO Batman Movie earns its stripes as an expansive look into the character’s 78-year existence.
Then again, this is a children’s film. True Batman fans shouldn’t expect obscure treatments and true-to-form comic representation. The Joker and Bats have their rivalry represented as a bromantic relationship, where all Joker wants to hear is “I hate you” from his #1 adversary. Dialogue about fighting other people and quivering frowns explore how Batman’s inability to imprison criminals is because he needs villains like Joker to fulfill his purpose (A Bat’s Purpose?). Audiences are supposed to react positively when Batman preaches about the strength of meaningful connections to family and friends, teaching lessons instead of beating henchman for two hours. Admittedly, The LEGO Batman Movie does better when satirizing Batman culture instead of going all warm-and-fuzzy with uplifting messages of wholesome relationship building – but the messages are still there, and important for younger audiences.
Luckily, Batman’s latest animated adventure is a certifiable laugh-riot. A dynamite voice cast navigates hearty scripting full of zigs and zags throughout Batman’s weirdest times (Bat-nipple costume nod, shark repellant usage, etc.) But why stop at DC characters? Batman’s third-act battle crosses boundaries into more cinematic properties than you’ll be able to count.
Gremlins attack the Batplane, King Kong monkeys around Gotham, Dalek robots chase McKay’s heroes – and that’s only three small examples. Hilarious bits about Batman watching Jerry Maguire by himself score huge laughs from older audience members, while kiddies chuckle at Batman’s entrance password being “Iron Man Sucks.” References are endless, thoughtful and surprisingly non-repetitive, only made better by Arnett’s signature sense of snark. The LEGO Movie might have more to offer by way of wholesome cinematic value, but The LEGO Batman Movie retains the same amount of joyful, never-taken-seriously comedic enjoyment.
McKay was one of the many people involved in making The LEGO Movie underneath Phil Lord and Chris Miller, so don’t expect production quality to dip either. Animation is damn-near flawless, as shapeshifting Gotham cityscapes are constructed with plastic appeal. Once again, LEGO building blocks offer such a vivid, unique style that oozes visual charisma, erecting these massive playset spectacle pieces. Twenty supervillains might be on screen together, but they’re all dwarfed by designed landscapes that pop with playful intent. You’ll feel like your childhood toys are coming to life on a theater screen, except with a crisp, high-def makeover.
When it counts, The LEGO Batman Movie delivers everything you’d want from such a farcical superhero creation. Everyone revels in their moment. Diehard Batman fans are gifted their Orca references and an actual Nightwing representation, while mainstream moviegoers can embrace the sugary sweetness that is LEGO’s brand of vivacious entertainment. Sometimes this can feel surface-value, as jokes are cycled with Flash-like speed, but it’s all in tremendously good fun. You’re here for Arnett’s perfect casting, Catwoman meowing and Joker’s bromance with Bats – everything from the third-act on is just gravy. Delicious, shark-repelling gravy.
LEGO's Batman comedy is at its best when thumbing through a rolodex of obscure franchise references, which will please both Batfans and mainstream audiences alike.