‘The LEGO Batman Movie’ Is Awesome at Times, Less So at Others
There’s less wonder and surprise this time around, but it’s still plenty of fun.
2014’s The LEGO Movie is a still-delightful movie that at the time came somewhat out of left-field. Sure the directors/writers – Phil Lord & Christopher Miller – had already proven their comedy chops with 21 Jump Street and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, but neither prepared viewers for just how relentlessly joyful and funny their LEGO-branded film would be.
Three years later that film’s breakout character, a previously unknown superhero named Batman (voiced by Will Arnett), has gotten his own movie with The LEGO Batman Movie. It doesn’t pack the same surprise and wonder this time around and is nearly running on fumes by the time the credits roll, but fans of the first film will still find plenty to love and laugh along with here as jokes, gags, and Easter eggs fly fast and furious across the screen.
Batman is the most well-known man in Gotham – in case you thought I was serious with the “unknown” bit above – and the entire populace is aware of his crime-fighting ways. That recognition doesn’t change the fact that his home life is one of near-solace though as he lives on an island in a giant manor with only his butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) and personal computer (Siri) to keep him company. Family photos on the wall remind him of everything he lost and of his need to never risk that pain again – he prefers isolation, and while he watches romantic comedies (Jerry Maguire is a favorite) he’s only interested in the lolz.
When Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) is promoted to commissioner she implements a new initiative requiring Batman work with the police instead of as a solo crime fighter. Her argument is sound – for all of Batman’s efforts the city’s worst criminals remain a constant threat. That includes the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) who’s saddened by the caped crusader’s assertion that no one, not even the Joker, means anything to him. Chaos ensues as Batman tries to prove he’s an island of one, even as he accidentally adopts an orphan named Dick Grayson aka Robin (Michael Cera), while everyone else attempts to convince him that he’s nothing without the people in his life.
Director Chris McKay fills his animated feature debut with the same steady stream of visual gags and energetic sequences as its predecessor, and while the majority seem more likely to connect with adults there’s plenty of whiz-bang shenanigans for the little ones too. The script – from a five-man collective including Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) – loads the film, both foreground and background, with pop culture characters and references. The majority come in the form of big villains released from the Phantom Zone including the likes of Voldemort, Sauron, Dr. Who’s Daleks, and others, but the truly detailed bits are related to Batman himself.
Iconic images from past Batman incarnations are brought to life brick by hilarious brick from films (including Christopher Nolan’s, Joel Schumacher’s, and Tim Burton’s) and television alike. There’s a solid Suicide Squad dig, made even funnier when these heroes do the exact same thing they just criticized, and we even get callbacks to ridiculously-named DC villains that can’t possibly be rea – holy hell Gentleman Caller and Condiment King are legitimately actual villains from Batman’s past.
When the screen’s near-constant buzz does slow down it’s to explore some emotional beats the likes of which live-action Batmans would be hesitant to approach outside of Michael Caine’s verbal chastisement. It doesn’t reach the level of tearjerking and heartache, but the vocal performers do good work inferring sadness, loss, and angst onto their little CG faces. Scenes like these offer a break from the mayhem, but like the frenetic action even the emotional beats sometimes feel like they’re going on past the point of necessity. The third act feels like a repeated sequence of big action, emotional beat, big action, emotional beat, etc, and then the credits roll.
The film’s CG once again looks stunning with sharp, detailed visuals and an abundance of color guaranteeing that your eyes are constantly being drawn to something new and possibly necessitating a second viewing to see what you missed. The score is lively, and some of you will be happy to know that while it features an end-credits pop song replete with the film’s theme of family and friends there’s absolutely zero chance of this one getting stuck in your head. (Sorry Oh, Hush!)
The LEGO Batman Movie is a fun ride that manages to keep you smiling even after you start feeling its length. Arnett’s Batman manages to avoid the curse of supporting characters elevated to lead only to reveal they’re better in short bursts, and the supporting players deliver laughs with equal success. Only time will tell if it finds the same success of The LEGO Movie, but if nothing else it confirms that this is a shared universe worth being excited about.