Film Review: “The Lego Batman Movie”

“The Lego Movie” made a splash — it was whimsical, fun and more than a little silly. Not to mention, it was lucrative; so much so, Warner Animation and DC Entertainment formed a conglomerate power-block to give the film’s standout character, the caped crusader, his own flick to frolic and play. And, boy, does he!

Batman (Will Arnett, so juvenile it’s Oscar-worthy) blows past the fourth wall, narrating the introduction and cribbing a quote from Michael Jackson along the way. A sullen, emotionally underdeveloped man-child with a penchant for ultra-violence and bouts of explosive egotism, this particular incarnation of Gotham’s own superhero is a special wreck of Freudian anxiety. He beats the baddies and whoops ass, but the Bat can’t quell his own desire for family.

After a day spent thwarting the Joker’s plans (again), Batman ventures home to the Batcave. He settles in, microwaves some lobster thermidor and eats his meal in an empty dining room. (At this point during the showing, a little boy in the audience leaned over to his mother and stage-whispered, “He’s lonely!”) It’s true — after rejecting the Joker’s overtures of enemy-ship, Batman is starting to feel the isolation.

So, when the Joker and all of Gotham’s worst villains turn themselves in during Barbara Gordon’s (Rosario Dawson) police-chief inauguration, Batman panics. Without criminals to punch, what’s a Batman to a city? Nothing! In an ill-conceived revenge plan, Batman mistakenly adopts uber-cute local orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) and mounts a raid on Superman’s crib to steal the Phantom-Zone generator and perma-banish the Joker from Gotham. Can’t he just ask to borrow it? Well, that would involve a little something called “socialization.” Director Chris McKay understands, instinctively, that this Batman is a maladjusted child at heart.

Nothing goes as planned. Batman flails, wails and plunges the city into a full-scale disaster as a direct result of unresolved childhood trauma. And it’s really, really amusing. McKay infuses this romp with winking verve, ridiculous pop-culture references and callbacks to Batman’s past, and the mixture works. Bruce Wayne busts crazy moves, spins mad raps, shoots the villains and bonds with Grayson — his very own Robin! Somewhere, somehow, he also finds time to mature, too.

The animation is a step up from “The Lego Movie.” McKay blends traditional 3-D visuals with the distinctive blockiness of Lego, and the sets seem plausible as creations of a particularly imaginative child. The same rampant inventiveness is at work here, and Batman gets to flaunt his “master builder” chops by constructing vehicles out of buildings and stacking blocks on a whim. Occasionally, the backdrops are almost painterly, bursting with color and activity.

However, “The Lego Batman Movie” is at its most charming when it gives in fully to its zaniness. What’s the password to the Batcave? “Ironman sucks!” Who runs the Phantom Zone? A glowing brick that resembles a stoplight, of course. This kind of dream-logic infuses the film with more good humor than any well-placed wisecracks could. Pull on your mask, Batman, it’s time to go nuts!

Grade: B
Director: Chris McKay
Starring: Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes
Release Date: February 10, 2017
Rated: PG

Image Courtesy of Warner Brothers