In an age when each month’s obligatory superhero movie is a lot darker and grittier than one would really want, “The Lego Batman Movie” is both the superhero movie we deserve, and the one we need right now. A terrific satire of the superhero genre, mixed with loads of humor, excellent voice work and more bat-puns than you can shake a stick at, the film delivers something upbeat and heartwarming, but still action-packed, that is quite unlike any superhero movie to hit theaters, perhaps, ever.
“The Lego Batman Movie” stars Will Arnett as the voice of the title character, in a portrayal of the Dark Knight that is truly unique. Arnett’s Batman is very aware of the traits one expects of the character — the quiet, brooding, self-important nature — and revels in pointing these traits out to the other characters. Yet, despite the arrogant facade, the character is sympathetic because his loneliness is palpable in multiple scenes, and because he displays a capacity to improve himself that, admittedly, takes much of the movie to kick in.
Batman is not complete without his Joker, in this case played to hilarious effect by Zach Galifianakis. While not the most original rendition of the character, Galifianakis’ Joker plays strongly to the symbiotic relationship between himself and Batman, which is best reflected in the banter between the two that is wonderfully suggestive of a romantic relationship. Similarly, where there is Batman, there is also a Robin, here played by Michael Cera in a ridiculously cute version of the famed sidekick. Rounding out the main cast are Rosario Dawson as Barbara Gordon, the police commissioner of Gotham City, and Ralph Fiennes as Batman’s butler, Alfred Pennyworth.
The plot is relatively par for the course when it comes to superhero movies: Batman needs to team up with others to save Gotham City from the Joker. What makes the film stand out is the interaction between the characters, and the movie’s willingness (even eagerness) to poke fun at superheroes, and itself. Batman’s reaction to the situation thrown at him early in the movie is almost entirely the driving force behind the action, much to his detriment, though not to the viewer’s. The film’s writing throws out jokes at almost a nonstop pace, and the humor is overall kid-friendly, though with goodies for a more mature audience.
Though not necessary for watching and enjoying this film, a decent knowledge of Batman lore, or at least familiarity with previous Batman movies, adds an extra dimension to the humor in “The Lego Batman Movie.” There is a relentless bombardment of references to and jokes about last year’s “Batman vs. Superman,” “The Dark Knight” and even the 1960s TV series, among others. There are dozens of villains featured, many of whom are “worth a Google” (and might even trip up a hardcore DC fan). There are also references to other DC media (e.g. the Superman movies), attacks on other superhero franchises (e.g. “Iron Man sucks!”) and crossovers with other movies (exactly which ones will not be mentioned here), which place this film square in the middle of a funny metanarrative, leaving little untouched by the mark of satire.
The movie, as a follow-up to 2014’s “The Lego Movie,” was produced with the same excellent Lego animation, not to mention the same imagination, which gives life to what would otherwise be, well, plastic blocks. At the same time, there is always a feeling that the figures are still playthings, made alive by the imagination of a child, as in “The Lego Movie;” when someone fires a gun, it makes “pew pew” sounds, the city exists on a flat surface over an infinite abyss (which is to say that the city is a bunch of Legos on a table in the real world) and the figures can stack onto each other in the way that only Lego minifigures can. The Lego design of the world, though colorful at times, still manages to fit the vibe that one associates with Gotham City — a dark atmosphere that befits the world’s most crime-ridden city.
“The Lego Batman Movie” is in every way the equal of its Lego predecessor, and is the best Batman movie (perhaps even the best superhero movie) in almost a decade. So listen up DC: This is what the public wants from a superhero movie — a film that has the capacity to mock “Suicide Squad,” not what we got from “Suicide Squad.”