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Hits Like a Ton of LEGO Bricks

Will Arnett
Will Arnett
Warner Brothers
 104 Minutes
Rated: R
Directed by: Chris McKay
Starring: Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis
The LEGO Batman Movie

Of all the superheroes who have appeared on the big screen over the last quarter century, Batman has undoubtedly been the gloomiest, and his movies have had the least amount of humor. No matter whether the Caped Crusader has been played by Michael Keaton, Christian Bale, or, now, Ben Affleck (the less said about George Clooney, the better), the films have been about as funny as Schindler’s List. Needless to say, such a dour character facing over-the-top challenges from wildly overacting villains is ripe for parody. But the best spoof of Batman was actually the campy TV-version from the 1960’s. Until now, that is. For now we have the perfect parody, and it comes courtesy of a pile of children’s building blocks.


That latter statement is actually a bit of a misstatement. The LEGO Batman Movie does feature characters and settings that look remarkably like an overpriced specialty kit from the venerated toy company. However, while the original LEGO Movie actually used a stop-motion photographic technique for the most part, this time it’s all computer generated, much like every other animated movie these days. But while the look may be familiar, the comic minds behind it are quite fresh.


For those unfamiliar with the original LEGO Movie, it featured a mythical world where a few heroic figures rose up against the ruling Lord Business. The film was quite tongue-in-cheek, and, since it was produced by Warner Brothers, owners of the DC Comic franchise, it wasn’t surprising that some DC superheroes, including, of course, Batman, came to the aid of the heroes. However, Batman didn’t just come to the aid of the heroes; in addition, as voiced by Will Arnett to gravelly monotone perfection, he stole every scene in which he appeared. So, knowing a good thing when they saw it, especially when contrasted with the less than overwhelming critical response to Ben Affleck’s first outing as Batman, Warner greenlit the sequel.


But while the first movie directed its comic barbs in a lot of direction, The LEGO Batman Movie concentrates on the mythos of Batman himself. The movie is about insecurity: the insecurity that the Joker (Zach Galiafinakis) faces in seeking recognition as Batman’s greatest enemy, and the parallel insecurity Batman faces in his solitude. Of course, that solitude is the key to the Batman mythos in every serious version of the comic, so it stands to reason that the team of screenwriters will go after it hard.


They do so by giving Batman a “family” starting, of course, with Robin (Michael Cera), an overly spunky orphan played as a modern-day Little Orphan Annie. Add to that the new Police Commissioner (and daughter of the incumbent), Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), soon to become Batgirl, and, of course, Batman’s trusty factotum, Alfred (Ralph Fiennes). Since the Joker’s usual bunch of flunkies and sycophants have proved remarkably unsuccessful against Batman in the past, he goes into the Phantom Zone to find some new henchmen from other Warner franchises, including Lord Voldemort, Sauron, the Gremlins, the Daleks, and the Wicked Witch of the West.


As befitting a film of this nature with as many heroes and villains crammed into it, The LEGO Batman Movie has plenty of action, much of it silly, and some of it annoyingly monotonous. At an hour and forty-five minutes, the film feels a bit long and considerably repetitive, with a number of characters introduced and then immediately tossed away as sight gags that only those rather familiar with the underlying superhero universes will understand.


Understandably, comic book geeks and kids craving action will be in seventh heaven as The LEGO Batman Movie delivers over and over. But the rest of us generally want something a bit more substantive, and, in that regard, the movie delivers as well. The humor begins with Will Arnett’s dead-on deadpan humor. His muffled, deepened voice is remarkably similar to the “sound” of Batman that actors like Christian Bale and Ben Affleck have trademarked over the years. Building on Arnett’s spot-on impression of Batman, the film goes after almost every sacred tenet in the DC comic universe, and, more generally, in the other franchises that are spoofed.


Arnett gets solid support from his new “family,” especially Cera, whose gung ho, eager-to-please attitude resembles the world’s largest puppy dog. Galiafinakis is also quite good, with his Joker the successor in spirit to Cesar Romero’s version on the old television series. Speaking of that series, LEGO Batman delivers a number of shout outs to the campy “Biff! Pow!” action scenes on the show. It’s pretty clear that the bright color schemes inherent in a movie based on LEGO building blocks fits in much better with the TV show than the much darker cinematic versions since then.


The LEGO Batman Movie boasts a plethora of name actors in small supporting roles, as opposed to most animated films nowadays in which a talented but largely unknown crew of vocal artists does the rest of the work. Instead, we get Channing Tatum as Superman, Hector Elizondo as Commisioner Gordon, Jenny Slate as Harley Quinn, Conan O’Brien as the Riddler, Mariah Carey as Gotham’s mayor, and Eddie Izzard as Voldemort. That most of them have only a couple of lines is a tribute to the care and team spirit that went into this undertaking.   


The originality of the concept in The LEGO Movie is gone here, replaced with some inspired meta-comedy that perfectly skewers superhero films, and the statements about family, which were actually sincere in the original film’s clever ending, are replaced with knowing gimmickry. Still, The LEGO Batman Movie winds up being funnier than most live action comedies of recent months, and it’s likely to achieve the same cult status as its predecessor due to the superhero tie-in. I have a strong suspicion that Warners and LEGO may soon dip into the well once too often (a LEGO Ninjago Movie is scheduled this fall), but for now, we can comfort ourselves that Batman finally does have a sense of humor, even if it’s built of plastic bricks. 

In this scene, Batman's greatest villains unleash a plan to take over Gotham City.

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The LEGO Batman Movie (2017) on IMDb