Film Review: THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE Provides Solid Blocks of Fun
Hell hath no fury like The Joker scorned, or in this case perhaps Gotham hath no fury, but you get the pixelated picture. After a brick-built, self-involved Batman refuses the criminal mastermind’s entreaties, the dejected enemy qua lover vows revenge, and the mostly amusing plot of a mostly entertaining movie is born.
In The LEGO Batman Movie most of the wily creative gang is back (former animator Chris McKay is now making his directorial debut) for a sequel that will leave Lego fans delighted. D.C. Comics fans, meanwhile, will be squealing with joy, wondering if the solution to all that ails their beloved franchises is the obsession with taking itself too seriously, a problem which The Lego Batman Movie knows nothing of.
The mostly silly and self-analytical humor that characterized the greatly successful Lego Movie is repeated and telegraphed from the get-go here, when the raspy low voice of Batman explains the importance of black screens, studio logos, and voice overs in the opening scenes of a film. The voice belongs to a delightful Will Arnett doing his best impersonation of Alec Baldwin impersonating Donald Trump, complete with the exaggerated megalomaniac tones, those that belong to a secretly needy and misunderstood larger-than-life persona.
The Batman in this incarnation is infinitely more entertaining than, say, Ben Affleck’s growling caped crusader, not to speak of any real-life political leader. The repeated shout-outs in this film, both in musical and graphical form, to Batmans of the past also help you appreciate the brick and plastic one’s sense of humor. This Batman is both tremendously insecure and bombastically conceited, speaking of his nine pack while cowering away at the thought of anything resembling relationships. He scowls at his manservant Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) and refuses the invitation by the new commissioner of police Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) to fight crime together rather than apart. In secret, there’s obviously something missing, his love-hate relationship with rom-coms like Jerry Maguire leaving no doubt.
But his real problems start when the always demonic Joker (a brilliant Zach Galifianakis) demands that Batman finally treat him as he deserves and declare his undying hatred, as the Joker so open-heartedly does for Batman. The entire sequence, which is the joke that underlies the movie, is an effective riff on a pathetic relationship between a rejected lover and a disinterested one, with the Joker playing the vengeful lunatic girl/boyfriend that didn’t get his way.
An evil plan is thus set in motion which will bring all sorts of baddies to Gotham—and not just those that fans are familiar with from the D.C. universe. Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate) has a minor role, as do Poison Ivy, The Riddler (Conan O’Brien), Bane, and Scarecrow, among many others. But the clever Joker—or perhaps the clever writers—reached for the stars, not content with these known quantities but pining instead for even more legendary ones, from Lord Voldemort to King Kong and Sauron. The mélange makes for an amusing potpourri of talent—everyone and their mothers, including Mariah Carey, seems to have a role—and the bloated cast permits the quips to move around enough so that you’re never bored. Did I mention that even Superman (Channing Tatum), The Flash, and Green Lantern make appearances?
Last but not least is Michael Cera as Dick Grayson, who becomes infatuated with Bruce Wayne and The Batman only to find himself also at the receiving end of the cold shoulder the enigmatic figure is protectively giving those around him. As a comedic artifact, the dopey kid is the perfect straight man to Batman’s hilariously frustrated and often thwarted superhero.
If The LEGO Batman Movie suffers from one flaw it is that it veers much too often into that corny realm of attempting a more meaningful message in a movie from which audiences expect and require none. The LEGO Batman Movie packs a strong punch of laughs per minute, coupled with dazzling 3D animation over the signature building blocks, together with exciting music reminiscent of the first film. Some of the movie’s funniest moments come during the wink-wink ventures into sentimentality, where the screenwriters deftly invert male/female expectations and make a mockery of almost everyone’s excessive feelings. There was no need to go to that well one too many times as the writers do, perhaps betraying some exhaustion with their own material by the time they approached the end of the second hour.
But other than one or two groans understandably caused by the unnecessary platitudes about life, love, finding oneself, discovering oneself, letting oneself go, etc., you’ll be charmed by the quirky fun that comedians continue to demonstrate in the genre of animation.
The LEGO Batman Movie may not necessarily be the first building block for a new franchise spinoff, but it may prove the foundation on which the struggling D.C. Universe adaptations could find new footing—even if those feet have to click perfectly into the blocks and figures below them.