Blame Frank Miller. Blame Christopher Nolan. Blame fandom. Whoever you assign blame to doesn’t change the fact that Batman hasn’t really been too much fun for quite some time. Grim and gritty has been the defining quality of the Caped Crusader in filmed media since the neon-infused take of Joel Schumacher stained the reputation of the character in the late ‘90s. There must be some fun to be had in a masked vigilante patrolling the streets dressed as a bat, right? Thankfully, The LEGO Batman Movie has swooped in to make Batman fun again. Expanding upon the hilarious take on the character from The LEGO Movie, The LEGO Batman Movie is a loving homage to the character and his various incarnations over the years as it rattles off jokes at a rapid fire pace in this hilarious animated comedy. The live action films of the DC Universe may be standing on shaky ground, but in LEGO form the DC characters come to blocked-life with energy and humor that is unrivaled in any superhero tale on the big screen.
This version of Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) enjoys his solitary life in the shadows. He battles the forces of evil in cape and cowl while enjoying his own songs that highlight his immense powers and immaculate abs. When the Joker (Zack Galifianakis) and practically every Batman villain in existence (and some new ones) hijack a plane with a bunch of explosives, Batman swoops in and defeats the villains to save the good people of Gotham City. But this Batman is such a loner that he refuses to admit to the Joker that the Clown Prince of Crime is his number one enemy, he unwittingly sets the supervillain on a path to another level of cartoonish super-villainy.
In his personal life, Batman rarely removes his cowl and lives a life of almost complete solitude if not for the presence of his ever-trustworthy butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), who constantly pressures the orphan billionaire to find a life outside of his dominant alter ego. Meanwhile, Commissioner Gordon (Hector Elizondo) is retiring and is going to be replaced by his daughter Barbara (Rosario Dawson), a crime fighting expert educated at Harvard for Police and promises to defeat crime using statistics and compassion instead of relying on Batman. Despite objecting to her plans, Batman still finds himself smitten with Barbara and inadvertently adopts the young orphan Dick Greyson (Michael Cera) while entranced at the sight of her from a distance. But the Joker devises a threat to bring the worst villains in all of existence out of the Phantom Zone, threatening more than just Gotham City as Batman will so have to realize that he can’t defeat this massive threat all by himself.
The tone of director Chris McKay’s film is established in before the studio titles cards are even presented. “Black. All important movies begin with black,” Arnett’s Batman informs us as he then riffs on each subsequent production logo. There’s an irreverent sense of humor on display within The LEGO Batman Movie and it just keeps the wide array of jokes coming even after the end credits roll. But there’s also just an overwhelming sense of love for the creation of Bob Kane and Bill Finger that permeates through the screenplay (credited to Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stein, and John Whittington). No matter what era of Batman, there’s a well-placed joke about it in the film (even Suicide Squad), though it should really be noted that The LEGO Batman Movie seems really indebted to the legendary 1966 television show. Any fan of Batman should be delighted in this hilarious take on the character and his expansive, ever-evolving history.
What stands out about The LEGO Batman Movie is the fact that this isn’t just a riff on the character and his history. There’s a genuinely interesting take on Batman found in this minifig form, one that sees Batman go through a genuine emotional change in a level never found in prior movies. Will Arnett’s Batman is endlessly egotistical and strong-willed in working alone and doing things his way. Like all previous versions of Batman on the screen, he fears emotional attachment. But this version actually evolves by the time the credits roll, one that sees a gleeful subversion of the scowling loner that defined Christopher Nolan’s trilogy.
Not everything is awesome in The LEGO Batman Movie as the film has some stretches where the jokes don’t land as well as they did before and the movie does run a bit too long. But that’s simply due to the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink nature of the movie, as it’s overflowing with jokes and characters – Superman and the rest of the Justice League make an appearance as do an expansive roster of other infamous villains. The flaws of The LEGO Batman Movie are minor never dampen the constant irreverence on display in this good natured piece of animated filmmaking.
The LEGO Batman Movie isn’t quite as awesome as The LEGO Movie, but that’s an incredibly high standard. What it does do is craft a wildly entertaining yarn that spoofs Batman with reverence. People of all ages will find something to admire in The LEGO Batman Movie, and the relentless stream of jokes ensures that there are obscure jokes inserted for even the most die-hard fans. The character of Batman hasn’t always been so grim and dreary, and The LEGO Batman Movie assures us that the character doesn’t have to simply occupy the shadows to work. Here’s a movie that finds that rare middle ground that entertain kids and appeal to adults, a formula that has eluded the live action DC movies. The LEGO Batman Movie is just what the character needs to stand apart from the irrepressibly grim version last on display in Zack Snyder’s Batman v Superman. Batman is allowed to be both dark and fun. That, my friends, is awesome.
The LEGO Batman Movie
A well-rounded homage and spoof of the Caped Crusader, The LEGO Batman Movie features a non-stop barrage of clever jokes in a surprisingly emotional examination of the Batman character.