A film review by Craig J. Koban February 21, 2017

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE jjj
 

2017, PG, 129 mins.

 

Will Arnett as Batman / Bruce Wayne (voice)  /  Ralph Fiennes as Alfred Pennyworth (voice)  /  Michael Cera as Robin / Dick Grayson (voice)  /  Rosario Dawson as Batgirl / Barbara Gordon (voice)  /  Zach Galifianakis as The Joker (voice)  /  Jenny Slate as Harley Quinn (voice)  /  Mariah Carey as Mayor McCaskill (voice)  /  Billy Dee Williams as Two-Face (voice)

Directed by Chris McKay  /  Written by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, and John Whittington

SCREENED IN
3D

One thing dawned on me while watching - to quote its ultra specific title - THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE.

There have been so very few comedic portrayals of DC Comics' most popular and iconic character.  

With the exception of the joyously campy 1960's TV series, there are not many incarnations of the Caped Crusader that tickled our collective funny bones and had ridiculing fun with his persona.  Don't get me wrong, though: I worship at the church of the dark, brooding, and nocturnal prowling Christopher Nolan-verse Dark Knight (which, I would argue, remains the odds on favorite for most serious Batman-ites).  Yet, considering the near 80-year-old mythology of the immortal Bob Kane and Bill Finger creation, the fact that we've not had more amusing iterations of Batman is kind of astounding. 

This is a character, to be fair, that has been ripe for multiple interpretations over the years, and one thing that THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE wisely understands is that it doesn't need to dwell on his origins.  We all know very well how Batman came to be.  Instead, and unlike so many other comic book cinematic efforts, this film grounds us in his crime fighting world during the zenith of his prowess, showing us a menacing super hero that's about as good as he'll get at thwarting evil.  There's just one problem: this Batman is lonely.  Parentless and without flesh and blood offspring of his own, Batman wages a struggle within himself for finding personal meaning in his life.  When he's not trying to relax in his custom Bat-home theatre room watching JERRY MAGUIRE or munching on his favorite supper dish (Lobster Thermidor) or stringing his electric guitar while singing his own theme song...the outwardly stoic and stern Batman is mournfully sad on the inside.  He just wants to be loved by people he can call a family...at least as much as he egotistically loves himself.   

 

 

Oh...and this film is made with Legos.  Did I mention that? 

Of course, I also forgot to mention that THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is the spiritual sequel to the brilliantly engineered THE LEGO MOVIE, which was a wondrous feast for the eyes and imagination that also just happened to be a sly and subversive satire.  That 2014 film was, in short, the best film ever made based on a toy line.  Batman, of course, made a riotously funny cameo in the cameo-stuffed THE LEGO MOVIE, which made a feature film Lego movie devoted to him an inevitability.  I'm proud to say that just about everything in THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is awesome; it's THE LEGO MOVIE's equal on a level of pure visual inventiveness and tries just as hard to cram in as many spirited, self referential gags as well.  THE LEGO BATMAN movie is perhaps a bit too hyper caffeinated in tone for its own good, which makes its non-stop assault of pop culture riddled zingers feel more exhausting than entertaining at times.  However, when films like this score huge laughs as frequently as they do...it's almost a moot point. 

For those that believe - as I sure do - that super hero films are often too overstuffed with villains for their own good, THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE cheekily acknowledges your complaint...and then amps it up to level 11.  In the beginning of the film it appears that Gotham City's protector in Batman (voiced with gleeful amounts of infectious narcissism by Will Arnett) is unstoppable, which leads to his greatness nemesis in The Joker (a refreshingly subdued Zack Galifianakis) wanting to band together all - and I do mean all - of Batman's rogues gallery to defeat him once and for all.  It's during this time when THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE goes positively super sonic in terms of call backs to the Batman films, TV shows, and comics of yesteryear.  Hell, Joker is so desperate to beat Batman that he even recruits absurdly obscure Batman villains like...Condiment Man (you may have to Google him). 

Now, Batman shrugs this all off and is able to very easily defeat the Joker and his massive goon squad, even managing to send the Clown Prince of Crime to the Phantom Zone.  During Batman's newfound off time, he begins to notice the shallowness of his personal life.  His loyal butler Alfred (a refined and well cast Ralph Fiennes) pleads with his surrogate son to find meaning in his existence and raise his new ward Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), but Batman refuses to accept the fact that he's lonesome...mostly because his massive ego won't allow it.  Unfortunately, the Joker manages to break free of the Phantom Zone and brings back a vast menagerie of seemingly unstoppable super villains that most viewers familiar with Warner Brothers films will recognize, forcing Batman on the offensive to begrudgingly team up with new allies. 

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE achieves a nearly impossible to pull off dichotomy: It manages to portray the grim faced avenging angel Batman that die-hard comic book fanboys have grown to cherish while simultaneously spoofing that image up to hysterical effect.  The Batman presented here, much like Adam West's iconic version, takes himself as seriously as a heart attack, which paradoxically allows for the inherent ludicrousness of the character's methodology to shine through and generate ample laughs at his expense.  THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is also incredibly democratic at honing in its satiric crosshairs on multiple Batman iterations of the past: Not only does it poke fun at the current crop of Batman films like BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, but even the past Tim Burton entries and it even goes as far back to give amusing shout outs to the B-grade black and white adventure serials of the 1940's.  On a level of comedic ambition, THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is in a class to itself. 

The voice cast here is just as enthusiastically game, and Arnett, as mentioned, is pitch perfectly cast here to make his deeply morose, but deeply self-serving Batman funnier than the character has any business of being.  Batman here is so indefensibly selfish and immaturely standoffish in the film that it almost makes you sympathize - for arguably the first time ever - with the plight of the Joker, who just wants Batman to respect him as a worthy adversary (the manner that Batman hilariously refuses to acknowledge him as his number one baddie during one scene nearly drives the very needy criminal to tears).  I also like Michael Cera's voice work as the monumentally and adorably naive Dick Grayson that unavoidably becomes Robin.  The Boy Wonder here is so dense that when he's all but granted entrance to the Batcave via Wayne Manor he's still incapable of piecing both together to instantly deduce that his guardian is Batman. 

When the film is not winning us over in the humor department it's wowing us on a level of visual dynamism, and director Chris McKay (replacing THE LEGO MOVIE's Phil Lord and Chris Miller, serving as producers this time) lovingly crafts a Batman adventure that looks and feels like Lego toy sets come breathtakingly to life.  Unlike so many other 3D animated films, THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE makes solid usage of its three dimensionality to allow for its title character and company to have an authentically tactile quality.   The film's visual innovation is nothing short of mesmerizing to behold and no expense was spared to make this film a sublime audio-visual nirvana.  The sheer density of imagery detail that occupies every inch of the frame here will preclude multiple repeat viewings.  

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is one of the most reference heavy movies of all time, which sometimes hinders its overall effectiveness.  The film is the product of nearly half a dozen writers, and it's clear that every element that was presented for inclusion by them wasn't discarded.  The film's unrelenting pacing combined with its aggressive need to bombard us with Batman lore shout-outs can be tiring for old and young viewers alike (and will most likely leave many young ones scratching their heads in confusion).  So many of the in-jokes here require a vast knowledge of Batman's astoundingly broad history in various mediums, and the rapid fire manner that McKay and his team unleash them can be eye strainingly fatiguing.  That might be nitpicky, because THE LEGO BATMAN FILM is still so effervescently lively, colorful, and endlessly amusing that most criticisms of it seem to vanish.  This is probably the finest plastic bricked interpretation of Batman we'll ever get.  

Not that many exited before, mind you...but ya get my drift.    

 

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