History shows us that Batman just can’t be fun. From the laughably cheesy Joel Schumacher films in the late ’90s to the beloved-yet-dated ’60s TV show, the idea of a Batman that isn’t brooding just hasn’t meshed well with modern audiences.
However, this kid-friendly love letter to all things Batman proves that there’s room for more than one Caped Crusader in our moviegoer hearts.
The Lego Batman Movie is a spin-off of the humongously successful Lego Movie with Will Arnett (Arrested Development, Bojack Horseman) reprising his role as the Dark Knight. However, you won’t need to see that film to enjoy Lego Batman, just have a working knowledge of who the hero is and what he does.
The film, which is directed by Chris McKay (Lego Movie, Robot Chicken), follows our titular vigilante as he faces off with the Joker, who’s recruited a team of villains only bound by the copyright agreements Warner Bros. couldn’t work out. Along the way, Batman inadvertently adopts a son, Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), who begs his way into a sidekick position as Robin. We also meet Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), the new commissioner aiming to clean up Gotham by collaborating with Batman (an idea our loner hero scoffs at).
While this may seem like simple children’s fodder, void of any real substance, on a certain level it is. Most kids watching this film will see a simple adventure loaded with gags featuring a cool superhero. And that’s great in itself, but the real joy in the film comes from an older moviegoer’s point of view.
For one, the film’s loaded to the brim with not only a near constant onslaught of Batman in-jokes, but also pop culture references to Jerry Maguire, The Matrix and Harry Potter, among many others.
Lego Batman is also an extremely self-aware film in this regard. It pokes fun at the character’s past films, the mixed reception of Batman-cameo-featuring Suicide Squad and the numerous oddball enemies Batman’s faced off with, such as Condiment King and Crazy Quilt. There’s loads of cameos (particularly the ones involving the Hanna Barbera-era Super Friends lineup that made this reviewer grin extra big).
It also touches on the varying aspects of what makes the character tick, Whether it’s Bruce Wayne mourning the loss of his parents, he and the Joker’s (Zach Galifianakis) symbiotic rivalry or Alfred’s (Ralph Fiennes) adopted father role. The latter comes in a mix of ways, such as his devotion to helping Batman save the day, his insistence of Bruce and Dick bonding just as he once did and, in a comedic way, Alfred installing a parental lock on the Batcomputer after Bruce misbehaves. Their relationship is a prime example how this film works on multiple levels. It’s able to dive into what makes the characters interesting without wasting too much time or erring at the expense of silliness.
Performance-wise, the star-studded cast of comedic greats sell all the gags with ease and give each character a defined personality without straying too far from the comic’s blueprint.
Arnett as the arrogant Batman and Cera as the silly, naive Robin have excellent chemistry, even as animated bricks. Galifianakis’ Joker is unique in its shift away from insanity into emotional genuineness and helps it stand apart from Mark Hamill’s revered animated take on the character. Dawson shines as Gordon, giving the film a lot of its heart amongst the plethora of humor.
Plus, there’s a load of notable actors in bit parts that are a joy to hear such as Channing Tatum as Superman, Conan O’Brien as The Riddler, Billy Dee Williams as Two-Face and Apple personal assistant Siri as the Batcomputer.
Overall, The Lego Batman Movie succeeds at exactly what it sets out to do: provide a hilarious animated feature with heart a la The Lego Movie, but with a Batman twist. It serves a welcome entry to the Dark Knight for young viewers while providing adults with a worthwhile, entertaining comic book romp.