Three years ago, no one thought that a movie about Lego plastic construction toys could be such a funny, warm, and delightful little comedy. But it was. And among the The Lego Movie’s secret weapons was its often hilarious send-up of one pop culture icon after another, with the arrogant, boastful, and self-obsessed Batman (as voiced by Will Arnett) perhaps lingering the most in the pop culture consciousness.
So it’s not much of a surprise at all that this version of the Caped Crusader has now gotten his own movie, and it’s our pleasure to report that The Lego Batman Movie not only is a second straight victory for the Lego franchise on the big screen, but it’s a terrific movie about the Dark Knight in its own right. As funny and satiric as it is, director Chris McKay’s film gets to the heart of the character more insightfully than some of the live-action iterations and pays tribute not just to the colorful cast of villains that the Bat has battled over the years, but his entire screen canon.
When we catch up with Arnett’s Batman (the first thing we hear is his gravelly voice over a black background, telling us that all “important” movies start with black), he’s as narcissistic and full of braggadocio as ever, but there’s a new wrinkle: as he tells a heartbroken Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), he doesn’t “do” relationships, not even the symbiotic one that the Clown Prince of Crime thought he and the Bat shared. This Batman, we soon learn, is deeply lonely and secretly scared to let anyone get too close to him, for reasons that any Batman fan should know by now, and despite being encouraged by loyal butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) to open up a little.
Meanwhile, the Joker hatches a new scheme in which he’ll show Batman just how much they really do need each other, and as the plan’s ramifications unfold, Batman is forced to work with others, including newly appointed police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), who’s taking over for her retiring father, and the orphan he’s inadvertently adopted, Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), who’s delighted to help the Batman but worried that his adopted father Bruce Wayne will wonder where he is.
The rest of the movie is a nonstop barrage of often laugh-out-loud puns, one-liners, and sight gags, although remarkably (considering it has five credited screenwriters), the movie never loses its focus or its central narrative thread. The references to Batman’s past screen adventures are plentiful and fun, and admittedly a few of them might sail over the heads of audience members who are not well-versed in Batman’s film and TV history.
Those don’t get in the way of one’s enjoyment of the film at all, however. Its main cast is ably supported by a galaxy of cameos, with Batman’s extensive rogues gallery (ranging from A-listers like Riddler to some hilarious bottom-scrapers) and his alleged friends in the Justice League (we say “alleged” because they conveniently forget to invite the downer Dark Knight to their anniversary party) all showing up at various junctures. Meanwhile, the launch of the Joker’s master plan involves the introduction of a whole new batch of pop culture villains that offer up their own amusing vignettes.
The Lego Batman Movie does sag a bit under the weight and speed of its scores of references and over-the-top climactic battles, and the story also does not achieve the genuinely moving impact that The Lego Movie made with its surprising closing scenes. We would also hesitate to compare it directly to a masterful live-action Batman film like The Dark Knight.
But it does capture the essence of the Batman mythology and the character quite well, while gently poking fun at its clichés and at the same time paying loving homage to its long history. The film is also a marvelous indication that the Lego film series can continue to have a nice long life if it keeps generating efforts as clever and energetic as its first two have been. Best of all, it’s fun — something the recent DC Extended Universe entries can’t claim.
The Lego Batman Movie opens in theaters on Feb. 10.