THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE – Review
When it comes to movie concepts, this flick may have the oddest, most tangled roots of all. But somehow things just snapped together (excuse the pun). Three years ago the movie world was stunned when a little kids’ flick, starring a beloved toy, became a box office (ahem) blockbuster! That may be because the WB folks thought outside the (toy) box and enlisted film makers and writers who brought something totally unexpected to the project: satire. Oh, and parody, and a big dose of zany anarchy. It was inevitable that THE LEGO MOVIE would spawn a sequel. But this is more of a spin-off. That earlier flick focused on the journey of everyman Emmet Brickowski and the folks he encountered. Since the Lego company makes themed toys around classic licenced characters, Emmet and his pals teamed up with Batman, whose gravelly voice was supplied by the great comic actor Will Arnett. Though a “super-friend”, Arnett’s Batman stole a Batboat full of scenes. And so, while we wait for Ben Affleck to don that suit, let’s spend some time with a “not quite so” dark knight in THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE.
After a very funny opening title sequence (shades of DEADPOOL), we’re taken to the candy-colored big block streets of Lego Gotham City. The Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) has enlisted almost all the residents of Arkham Asylum to grab an airliner full of explosives. Where’s the city’s hero?! Why right on top of things, as Batman (Arnett) easily thwarts this plot (after telling a heartbroken Joker that he’s not his main enemy). Joker slithers away as Batman returns to the Batcave for some microwaved lobster thermadore. While channel surfing he stumbles across a news interview with Superman (Channing Tatum) who explains how he banished his arch foe General Zod to the Phantom Zone via a special projector. Of course Batman is not impressed. But life goes on , as Bruce Wayne visits a local orphanage the next day and encounters one very excited, kinda’ nerdy lad, Dick Grayson (Michael Cera). That evening, Bruce attends a retirement party for police commissioner James Gordon (Hector Elizondo). His successor is announced, his daughter Barbara (Rosario Dawson). Bruce is disgusted when she says that her main goal is for the police force is to form a close partnership with Batman. The festivities come to a halt when the Joker and his gang arrive. But he surrenders without a fight. Bruce is livid. Returning to the Batcave, where Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) reminds him that he has adopted Grayson, Batman hatches a plan: he’ll steals Superman’s projector and send the Joker to the Phantom Zone. Unfortunately the clown prince of crime ends up sending hordes of pop culture monsters and menaces to Earth. Now Batman faces his greatest challenge: accepting help from others and becoming a team player.
The vocal dream team seems to be having a real blast (the feeling’s contagious). All appear to be following the lead of the, well, film’s lead. Arnett’s got that all too somber growl down perfectly which makes his absurd boasting riffs (bragging about his 9 pack) and opening battle rap musical number real comic highlights. But he’s not afraid to show us the vulnerable side as Batman finally must ask for help, all while battling that out-of-control ego. And he’s got a great rapport with his co-stars. Cera’s bumbling, hyper-excited Robin is a perfect complement to his grimacing mentor. That goofy youngster delights in living out his dreams, ignoring that garish uniform (“it doesn’t blend in anywhere!”). Bruce’s mentor (kind of an uncle, I suppose) is Fiennes as the dry, acerbic Alfred (very close to John Gielgud in ARTHUR). He’s the scolding voice of reason, the only person who can put Bruce in his place (though he’s often too stubborn to listen). Galifianakis expands on the notion of the Joker as Batman’s mirror image, but twists that with a bit of the jilted or spurned suitor (he dies a bit when Batman says he likes to “fight around”). His own partner, Harley Quinn, is voiced with naughty girl relish by the great Jenny Slate. The whole “bad guy gang” boasts a roster of terrific comic talent (special kudos for Two Face). Rounding out the cast are two superb actresses who give the caped crusader a great assist. Dawson ‘s a quite tough, but tender Babs AKA Batgirl, while Ellie Kemper endows a rainbow-colored brick with loads of personality.
TV vet Chris Mckay (“Moral Orel” and “Robot Chicken”) makes spectacular use of his big screen canvas. Every frame is chock full of bits of whimsy and wonder (lots to see when you hit the pause button on the disc). The big problem is that second half lull, which seems like a let-down after the manic barrage of gags and slapstick in the movie’s first half hour (no way they could keep up that pace). Perhaps the disjointed nature is the result of far too many cooks (five screenwriters) trying add too much spice. But the jokes that land really hit hard, delivering big laughs. The best gags may be those centering around our collective nostalgia for the main character. Loving jabs at all the incarnations of Batman jump out, from the comic books to TV to animation, and, of course, the big blockbusters. If we haven’t “Made America Great Again”, at least they’ve “Made Batman Fun Again”. It’s a nice break before that “gloomy Gus” is back with the JUSTICE LEAGUE. Like that 2014 flick, this is a wry satire that’s truly perfect for the whole family. THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is “dada-dada-dada-dada-delightful”.
4 Out of 5