The Lego Batman Movie is fun (and funny), but not quite as awesome as its predecessor.
The Lego Movie surprised everyone in 2014. Nobody expected it to be good, much less one of the best films of the year—animated or not. I distinctly remember walking out of its screening and looking around at other critics like, “Did that just happen?” However, the writing-directing team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are only back as producers for The Lego Batman Movie, which may be the reason why this spinoff lacks the universal relatability and appeal of its predecessor. Or it could just be that a film focused on Batman—even if he’s in Lego form—is never going to be able to conjure up emotional memories from childhood (or parenthood) for everyone in the theater. We’ve all played with Legos, but not everyone knows Batman lore (especially younger children). Nor could The Lego Batman Movie ever be as peppy and uplifting as a tale featuring Chris Pratt’s optimistic Lego everyman Emmet; Batman is somber, dark and gritty by nature. And, let’s face it, there was no way any movie was ever going to have a catchier theme song than “Everything Is Awesome.”
So that’s the bad news.
The good news is that The Lego Batman Movie isn’t trying to be its predecessor, and it’s fun, funny and memorable in its own weird way. Will you (or your kids) be able to fully appreciate all of its jokes if you’re not familiar with older incarnations of Batman or his overall mythology? No. In fact, one of the highlights of the film is a series of quick flashes to previous versions of the caped crusader that prove just how ridiculous his small-and-big-screen journey has been. Another is its treatment of the villain Bane (Doug Benson), as infamously portrayed by Tom Hardy in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises.
But rest assured that there are still plenty of laughs to go around for those who are in the dark about the Dark Knight. From literally the very first second of the film where Will Arnett’s gravelly voiced title character provides a hilarious narrative guide to the opening credits, there’s silliness to spare, and much of it is based on Batman’s self-absorbed tough-guy persona. Running gags about our antihero’s inability to use everyday household technologies and his reaction to the “You had me at hello” line in Jerry Maguire (he busts out laughing) are perfect examples. There are also tons of totally-random-but-they-still-work pop-culture hat-tips that add to the melee. My fellow nerdy adults and most teens will be especially pleased with cameos by villains who would normally be found terrorizing Middle-earth and Hogwarts.
As far as the plot goes, it’s (thankfully) simple: After being deeply offended by Batman’s claim that the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) is not his “greatest enemy,” the spurned villain rounds up every baddie he can find (another humorous bit—Condiment King, anyone? He’s really a thing!) and goes on his version of a strike in order to prove that Batman really does care about him. First-time feature director Chris McKay (who was an animation co-director on The Lego Movie) keeps the pace moving, and the five-person (!) writing team keeps the one-liners coming as we watch Batman struggle to accept his weary butler Alfred’s (Ralph Fiennes) assertion that he might actually need other people in order to feel fulfilled. Those people come in the form of the ever-upbeat orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera, well cast) and Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), the new Gotham City police commissioner who’s not as reliant on the Bat Signal as her dad was. Her common-sense approach to crime-fighting is another highlight that adults will probably appreciate more than younger viewers.
In the end, what the film doesn’t have in heart it makes up for in action and creative animation (I still get a kick out of seeing some of my son’s more unique Lego pieces make an appearance, like Lego flames or the Lego shark), and you will certainly leave the theater with a smile on your face.
The Bottom-Line? The Lego Batman Movie is a fun, family-friendly romp—just don’t expect it to fill you with Lego Movie-like warm fuzzies.
Cast: Will Arnett (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Ralph Fiennes (Alfred), Zach Galifianakis (The Joker), Rosario Dawson (Barbara Gordon), Michael Cera (Dick Grayson), Jenny Slate (Harley Quinn), Mariah Carey (Mayor McCaskill)
Credits: Directed by Chris McKay. Written by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern and John Whittington.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Run Time: 1 hour 44 minutes
Erika Olson © February 9, 2017