Lego Batman Movie, The (United States, 2017)

February 09, 2017
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Lego Batman Movie, The Poster

Although not as good as the brilliantly subversive The Lego Movie, The Lego Batman Movie offers a PG dollop of the same self-mocking humor that made Deadpool so successful. By rejecting the pervasive darkness that has shrouded the character since Tim Burton brought him to the big-screen, this version of Batman is able to reconnect with the campiness of the beloved 1960s TV series. Overall, The Lego Batman Movie offers enough action and silliness to enthrall children while providing sufficient pop culture and Batman-through-the-years references to keep adults entertained. For those who have wondered what it might be like for Batman to take on the Daleks or King Kong, here’s your chance to see it realized.

A spin-off of 2014’s phenomenally successful The Lego Movie, The Lego Batman Movie brings back Will Arnett as the gravel-voiced superhero and surrounds him with friends and enemies who will be familiar to fans of the Batman comic books, television series (both live-action and animated), and movies. Since this is intended as a family film, the darker and more disturbing aspects of the title character’s history and personality have been dialed back. Tonally, it’s closer to the Adam West television program than to any of the subsequent incarnations, although (if possible) The Lego Batman Movie takes itself even less seriously.

Since the movie exclusively uses the Lego animation style, it is by nature more lively, colorful, and cartoonish than any previous Batman movie (either live-action or animated). Director Chris McKay, who was an animation co-director/supervisor for The Lego Movie, maintains the vibrant look of the 2014 film while adapting it to a more action-oriented type of story. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, McKay provides us with Lego re-enactments of moments from all of the previous Batman incarnations (Snyder, Nolan, Schumacher, Burton) with the exception of the ‘60s TV show (he shows a live-action clip instead).

The story is on the level one might expect from this sort of movie - that is to say, it’s bold, over-the-top, and completely nonsensical. It starts with an attempt by The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) to band together all of Batman’s past enemies from the comic books, TV series, and movies. Their attempt to blow up Gotham City ends in failure. In jail, The Joker seems to turn over a new leaf - something accepted by neither Batman nor the new commissioner, Barbara “daughter of Jim” Gordon (Rosario Dawson). However, while Barbara is willing to wait out The Joker, Batman decides to take decisive action by sending The Joker to The Phantom Zone. Accompanied by his new ward, Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), he pays Superman (Channing Tatum) a visit. While The Man of Steel is distracted, Dick steals The Phantom Zone weapon that Batman uses on The Joker soon thereafter. This proves to be a mistake because it allows The Joker to ally himself with a more powerful team (including King Kong, Voldemort, Sauron, the Gremlins, and the Daleks) that, when subsequently freed from The Phantom Zone, is more than a match for Gotham’s small group of heroes.

The Lego Batman Movie’s soundtrack is loaded with nostalgic elements. The TV series theme is ubiquitous and there are times when Lorne Balfe’s score either takes elements from or pays homage to the Danny Elman music from the Tim Burton features. The doorbell to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude uses a few notes from the John Williams “Superman Theme”. Pop songs are represented (tongue-in-cheek, of course) by “Man in the Mirror” and “I Just Died in Your Arms” (the latter going perfectly with Batman’s favorite movie, Jerry Maguire).

The movie offers a message, although its inclusion doesn’t do much to humanize the Lego figure Caped Crusader. At the film’s outset, Batman is presented as the ultimate loner - a vigilante who works outside of the system to capture criminals and thwart the plans of evil-doers. During the course of the narrative, he learns to care about others and work as part of a team. There’s a moment when he adopts the Fonz’s difficulty to say “Sorry” but, like the Henry Winkler character, he eventually spits it out.

It’s difficult to say how Batman neophytes will feel about this film since so much of what makes it work demands at least a cursory familiarity with the comic books, the films, and (especially) the Adam West TV series. Many of the in-jokes require a deeper knowledge (for example, some of the cheesier characters from the “Superfriends” TV series have cameos). Then again, it’s difficult to understand why anyone with a total ignorance of Batman would see this movie in the first place. It’s witty, bright, and entertaining and makes a great contrast/alternative to DC’s current line of serious live-action films. Far more than anything Zack Snyder is doing, The Lego Batman Movie offers an enjoyable superhero romp.

Lego Batman Movie, The (United States, 2017)

Director: Chris McKay
Cast: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Zach Galifianakis, Ralph Fiennes
Home Release Date: 2017-06-13
Screenplay: Seth Grahame-Smith and Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers
Music: Lorne Balfe
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers
Run Time: 1:45
U.S. Release Date: 2017-02-10
MPAA Rating: "PG"
Genre: Animated
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1