MOVIE REVIEW: The LEGO Batman Movie
“THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE”-- 4 STARS
Chock full of more jokes, puns, and references than there are virtual plastic bricks, “The LEGO Batman Movie” is a breezy blast of unabashed fun. Twirling with dazzling animation and saturated with endless character possibilities, these two hours of zippy entertainment offer exhilarating playful engagement for young audiences and many absolute belly laughs for the adults. Like “The LEGO Movie” before it, the biggest flaw will always be the manic pace.
“The LEGO Batman Movie” swings us through a Gotham City dominated by the watchful guard of Batman (voiced by Will Arnett), jamming to his heavy metal mixtape and flexing his costumed nine-pack abs. Eschewing police assistance and foiling every diabolical plot with ease, including the latest plane hijacking and bomb scare from The Joker (Zach Galifianakis), the Caped Crusader leaves the adoration of his citizens after the hero work is done for the loneliness of Wayne Manor, the same microwave meal every night as Bruce Wayne, and DVRed queue of “Jerry Maguire.”
His only conversations that aren’t directly to himself are shared with his trusty butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) and the Batcave’s ‘Puter (voiced by Apple’s Siri). Reading the signs towards an unspoken desire for family, Alfred tries to shake a change of action in Bruce by getting him to play father-figure and enlist his adopted ward Richard Grayson (Michael Cera) into the crime-fighting scene as Robin. On the villains’ side, the Joker feels rebuffed when Batman wouldn’t admit that he was his greatest adversary. The unrequited longing and ensuing jealousy spark the Clown Prince of Crime to hatch a new scheme of infiltration and otherworldly reinforcements aimed to make Batman obsolete and overpower the remaining police force, led by newly installed commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson).
To say the narrative trajectory of “The LEGO Batman Movie” is all over the place is an understatement. This is cinematic carnival bumper cars with all of the wild tangents representing the carny food confection. Such is delicious, yet admittedly shallow and not all that healthy. Batman being a known commodity makes this tale less compelling than learning all about the new hero of Emmet Brickowski two years ago.
The film is a great deal of fun as big-screen entertainment, but is constantly frenetic with its breakneck pace. It stands as proof that you can’t make a movie entirely out of references, even if they are clever ones concocted by a five-man story team led by TV joke writer Chris McKenna (“Community”) and genre-bending author Seth Grahame-Smith (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”). The kids should come first and most of “The LEGO Batman movie” is going to zoom over their heads.
The roller coaster that can be praised without reservation or question is the technical and artistic achievement of the film’s sparklingly detailed animation. The CGI and 3D rendering is off the charts and better than “The LEGO Movie.” Every detail is so nimbly imagined, right down to the perceived-smooth LEGO surfaces with subtle chips and scratches of playtime weathering. This confection has unquestioned luster.
Another heap of praise goes to the ensemble voice cast of inspired choices, large and small. Galifianakis is a perfect frazzled Joker and Michael Cera steals scenes with his flamboyant Robin act. The real hidden gems are the clever casting matches for underlying characters, like Billy Dee Williams getting to play Two-Face nearly 30 years after playing Harvey Dent in 1989’s “Batman.” Test your ears to place the likes of Conan O’Brien, Eddie Izzard, Seth Green, Jemaine Clement, Hector Elizondo, Mariah Carey, Ellie Kemper, Riki Lindhome, Adam DeVine, Jason Mantzoukas, and plot the scavenger hunt of who they play. Let’s drop an extended lesson early.
LESSON #1: BATMAN IS THE BEST CHARACTER CREATION TO COME OUT OF THE WORLD OF COMIC BOOKS-- When done with gusto, what makes Batman unique and special is that he works in any tone. No one else can match his range of iconic interpretation. Not Superman and not a soul over at Marvel Comics.
He is, unequivocally, the Dark Knight with nearly 80 years worth of tomes written and drawn with infinite conflict, mood, and darkness that began with Bob Kane and Bill Finger. At the same time, when necessary he is, as TV star Adam West dubbed, the Bright Knight of zest, color, and camp, because he is still a regular man with no superpowers dressed up as a bat. Batman works in either setting because the human fortitude at the core of the character, his drive to right wrongs after personal tragedy, can be employed equally for heroic and virtuous causes and also for the vigilante and urban myth that takes matters into his own hands.
Will Arnett’s incarnation of Batman in “The LEGO Batman Movie” gets to play a delightful game of hopscotch between the dark and light. Aping the graveled voice tones of Michael Keaton and Christian Bale before him, this Batman fashions himself as the superior crimefighter and brooding loner dressed in black who would prefer to have a heart that matched the color of his outfit. However, he is also the Batman endlessly seeking and soaking up the public praise and love from the Gothamites for making their fair city a safer place which shows the capacity and desire to care hiding underneath the thick-headed selfishness. All that blatant tip-toeing makes for a hilarious treatment and a good time in this film
LESSON #2: EVERY HERO DESERVES A VILLAIN-- Like Chimera and Bellerophon from Greek mythology, Batman and The Joker deserve each other and need each other. The comics make their dichotomy gravely operatic. This film makes it cheeky and self-aware.
LESSON #3: A CRIMEFIGHTER CAN’T DO EVERYTHING HIMSELF-- Also in the “no man is an island” thematic territory, Batman has to embrace his vulnerability and learn to shift from being a selfish one-man show into a team player willing to collaborate and take on partners. In its own way, “The LEGO Batman Movie” begins to flesh out the famed Bat-Family starting with Alfred, Robin, and Barbara Gordon.