The LEGO Batman Movie, 2017.
Directed by Chris McKay.
Featuring the voice talents of Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Mariah Carey, Jenny Slate, Billy Dee Williams, Hector Elizondo, Conan O’Brien, Jason Mantzoukas, Doug Benson, Zoe Kravitz, Kate Micucci, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Riki Lindhome, Eddie Izzard, Seth Green, Jermaine Clement, Ellie Kemper, Siri, and Adam DeVine.
Bruce Wayne must not only deal with the criminals of Gotham City, but also the responsibility of raising a boy he adopted.
If The LEGO Movie is proof that not every terrible sounding Hollywood cash grab is a recipe for an unmitigated disaster focused on putting asses in seats over producing something of quality, then The LEGO Batman Movie is confirmation that not every expansion of that phenomenal lightning in a bottle animated feature will result in diminishing returns along with a sensation of “been there, done that”. Granted, some of the details regarding the animation (which is once again a splendid hybrid of CGI and stop-motion) are less impressive this time around since it’s no longer new, but the real success is director Chris McKay’s ability to give the experience a great deal of substance instead of tarnishing all goodwill the first film generated with studio executives’ decision to whore out fan favorite bricked-out, narcissistic lone wolf superhero, Will Arnett’s Batman.
If one had to pinpoint why the first film’s portrayal of Batman caught fire and symbolically transformed into dollar signs, look no further than the absurd, over-the-top presentation of The Dark Knight and how Will Arnett oozes charisma playing up a ridiculously over-exaggerated interpretation. There is a heavy emphasis on embracing solo vigilante work, heavy metal music fueling the rage required to take down his arch-enemies saving Gotham in the process, and generally taking the darkness and tragic life of Batman only to flip it over into lighthearted fun that still acknowledges the history.
Fortunately for The LEGO Batman Movie, director Chris McKay and his team of screenwriters are able to funnel everything we know and love about Batman into a story that is surprisingly moderately emotional in its silliness, that will satisfy both children and adults alike. The central idea that crime-fighting has become sort of an addiction to Batman to the point where he refuses the help of others, let alone having interest in being part of a family again, is simply put, the perfect narrative for a kid friendly animated Batman movie. It’s true to the character while opening the door for a number of lessons to be learned, coupled with laughs and outrageous spins on the lore, AKA The Joker under the impression that their seemingly never-ending game of citywide threatening antics that Batman must stop is really an unhealthy relationship. Sadly, even when taken seriously, it’s a much better romantic story than Fifty Shades Darker.
Speaking of The Joker, his voice-work by Zach Galifianakis unfortunately doesn’t stack up to some of the more legendary interpretations of The Clown Prince of Crime. It’s always easily identifiable whose voice it is, but regardless there is just enough fun to be found in the character portrayal for these things to cancel each other out. However, Michael Cera as Robin (an orphan that Batman accidentally adopts while ignoring their conversation to gawk at newfound love interest Barbara Gordon) is a delight. Not only do Arnett and Cera strike the perfect chemistry together, but Robin here is an infectious creation of ditzy fun, longing for affection, acceptance, and most importantly a father.
I’m going to stop talking about characters now, because if I continue this review would end up well over 2,000 words. Similar to the first film, there is an astonishing amount of supporting characters and cameos, all of which hit their mark and generate some sort of reaction. Admittedly, sometimes there is an over-indulgence on referencing super obscure Batman characters and gadgets to the point where it can be seen as slightly elitist, but the most die-hard fans of Batman comics will probably feel as if they died and gone to heaven. Personally, this feature’s interpretation of Bane killed my funny-bone and is absolutely the best portrayal of the character in a movie thus far. Following the theme of “The LEGO Batman Movie works because it embraces literally everything good and bad regarding Batman history over the years”, there is a brilliant decision to have him essentially portrayed as the Tom Hardy version, which makes for painfully hilarious comedic dialogue delivery – “THAT WAS UNNECESSARY!” after randomly getting knocked out by Batman.
Here’s the thing, the cameos don’t have boundaries set to only the universe of Batman. And I don’t just mean that other DC characters like Superman show up, although it must be stated that their rivalry is better handled here than in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. No, there is a plot development during the final act that opens up a geeky grab bag of iconic characters ranging from long gone decades to recent times. There is so much goodness and shock that I don’t even want to imagine how much licensing paperwork and collaborative studio meetings were necessary just to compile all of this into one animated feature. It isn’t just limited to Warner Brothers’ properties, as there are enemies from Doctor Who present. The last act is utter madness and a total blast.
The only minor downside to The LEGO Batman Movie is that due to its instinct to aim for jokes every 10 seconds and extremely irreverent humor (factoring in that director Chris McKay has worked on Robot Chicken a lot, just imagine the unfunny parts of that show), some of it just doesn’t land. Still, the hit-to-miss ratio is still pretty successful, often eliciting major laughs when the jokes come from something rooted in Batman’s character or history. Furthermore, whoever was in charge of the musical cues (keep in mind, the original soundtrack and songs recorded specially for the movie are also catchy, but certainly no “Everything Is Awesome”) deserves some kind of award. When Batman first lays eyes on Barbara Gordon, all will become clear.
The LEGO Batman Movie may not be perfect or the unexpected heartstring pulling emotional masterpiece that the first film revealed itself to be, but it is a genuine love letter to all things Batman. The story works, the jokes work, and as a whole, the movie works as a wacky bizarro take on Batman, also serving as a deconstruction of the lore. Consider it your first contender for 2017’s Best Animated Feature.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★