Nobody’s better at defending Gotham City from legions of supervillians like Batman (Will Arnett), as the city’s many citizens and fans of the Caped Crusader are all too happy to remind the Dark Knight, whenever he saves the day… again. At the same time though, Batman’s solitary lifestyle and loner mentality draws the ire of not only his loyal butler and father figure Alfred Pennyworth (Ralph Fiennes), but also the newly-instated Gotham City Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), who wants Batman to cooperate with the police so they may battle crime together.
Despite his best efforts to avoid teamwork with others and ever being part of a family again, Batman is forced into changing his ways after he inadvertently adopts a young, upbeat, orphan named Dick Grayson (Michael Cera). It’s a good thing too, as The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) – determined to get the Dark Knight to acknowledge that the Clown Prince of Crime is his greatest enemy – initiates a plan that involves the world’s most dangerous supervillains, all of which are locked away in the Phantom Zone… and the only way that Batman can stop him is with a little help from his “friends”.
The first spinoff of The LEGO Movie, The LEGO Batman Movie succeeds at both upholding the standard for quality established by its predecessor and delivering a good story about the Will Arnett-voiced LEGO block version of the world-famous Caped Crusader. Even with LEGO Movie directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller serving as producers only this time around, The LEGO Batman Movie offers a similar blend of wacky humor and heartfelt storytelling – putting a fresh spin on the established LEGO Movie “brand,” in the process. The LEGO Batman Movie works as not only a funny riff on the Batman character and his legacy, but also as a great action/comedy on its own terms.
Taking Lord and Miller’s place at the helm on The LEGO Batman Movie is Chris McKay, the animation supervisor/co-director of the original LEGO Movie. Structurally, LEGO Batman Movie bears the strongest resemblance to McKay’s previous work as a longtime director on the animated sketch comedy TV show Robot Chicken – in turn delivering a continuous stream of visual gags and pop cultural references to the many different iterations of the Batman franchise over the years, as well as jokes driven by the LEGO Batman character himself. Although the film’s pacing borders on frenetic in the first act, The LEGO Batman Movie eventually settles into a more comfortable, but still energetic rhythm thereafter and even finds times for quieter moments of character development along the way. Credit for that no doubt belongs in part to the film’s screenwriters; a group that includes writers from a cartoon sketch comedy background (American Dad! veterans Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers), as well as those better-versed in three-act narratives (Wreck-It Ralph writer Jared Stern and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter writer Seth Grahame-Smith).
The LEGO Batman Movie also has fun playing with the “rules” of the sandbox established by The LEGO Movie, in terms of the LEGO universe’s comedy-friendly mechanics and “mythos” (Master-Building again plays a key role in the proceedings here). However, The LEGO Batman Movie does not delve as deeply into the thematic and philosophical implications of the LEGO universe as LEGO Movie before it – resulting in a very good action/comedy, but one that lacks the layered story and subtext of its predecessor. While The LEGO Batman Movie isn’t as narratively innovative as the original LEGO Movie, it does match and in some ways eclipse the first LEGO film in the visuals department. The LEGO Batman Movie draws from a variety of Batman franchise installments (Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and Batman: The Animated Series especially), putting a funny, yet at the same time visually-striking, LEGO spin on classic Batman iconography and imagery in the process.
Will Arnett as LEGO Batman himself really gets to cut loose in the character’s solo movie, playing up his loner attitude and egotistical manner to comical extremes (including, via a new “dark and edgy” original LEGO Batman rap song). The LEGO Batman Movie also goes beyond stringing together a collection of action/comedy set pieces and sequences that revolved around the LEGO Batman character, instead giving him a proper arc and even touching on interesting facets of the LEGO Caped Crusader’s psyche. Batman’s dynamic with Dick Grayson/Robin works all the better thanks to Arnett and Michael Cera’s comedic chemistry, as the latter similarly plays up Robin’s naivety and adoration of his Bat-father figure in a way that’s funny, yet even touching in its own quirky way. The LEGO versions of Barbara Gordon and Alfred Pennyworth are more secondary players here behind Batman and Robin, but Rosario Dawson and Ralph Fiennes’ vocal performances (and sense of comedic timing) help to give the characters memorable personalities of their own.
The LEGO Batman Movie smartly explores not only the psychology of its eponymous superhero and his relationships with his closest allies, but that of his definitive foil and self-proclaimed “greatest enemy,” The Joker. Zack Galifinakis’ take on the Clown Prince of Crime isn’t as distinct or maniacal as the best Joker voice actors before him, but his unhinged-yet-insecure manner is befitting of what is (funny it may sound to say) one of the most vulnerable and multi-dimensional iterations of the supervillain in recent memory. While the Joker is easily the Bat-villain here who gets the most time in the spotlight, The LEGO Batman Movie still includes brief, but entertaining “appearances” by Jenny Slate as Harley Quinn, Doug Benson as Bane, Billy Dee Williams as Two-Face and numerous other name actors as both familiar and comically obscure supervillains of the Batman/DC and non-DC variety – to put it without spoiling the fun.
Between delivering a constant stream of jokes (ranging from humor for hardcore Batman fans to universally-relatable physical and visual comedy) and taking its title character on a fully-realized personal journey of introspection, The LEGO Batman Movie proves to be far more than either a film built (no pun intended) around on a one-joke premise or a spinoff wherein a standout character from The LEGO Movie overstays their welcome. While the film doesn’t so much break the mold that was established with the first LEGO movie installment, The LEGO Batman Movie does succeed at being a genre parody with a surprisingly meaningful storyline, like its predecessor. The end result is a Batman movie that most everyone should find something to like about, be they young, old or even someone who doesn’t necessarily consider themselves a steady fan of the Caped Crusader.