Lego Batman returns, only this time he’s gotten an upgrade from his scene-stealing supporting role in 2014’s fantastic The Lego Movie. Still as egotistic, brilliant, and humorously dense as before, Batman was the natural choice for a spin-off with many genuine opportunities for send-up and clever homages which the film dolls out in nonstop fashion. From the opening title narration to the final end-credit musical number, The Lego Batman Movie hardly ever lets up, outputting an unrelenting barrage of jokes, references, and visual gags without overtly dishonoring the character and his long comic book legacy.
When Batman (Will Arnett) doesn’t confirm his platonic relationship status with the Joker (Zach Galifianakis), the Joker vows vengeance by releasing a plethora of supervillains from Superman’s (Channing Tatum) Phantom Zone to wreak havoc on Gotham. With the city literally teeter-tottering on collapse, the stubbornly independent Caped Crusader must learn to work as a team with Batgirl (Rosario Dawson), Robin (Michael Cera), and Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) as a last resort hope to recapture the newly escaped band of cross-branding villainy, which include Harry Potter‘s Lord Voldemort (Eddie Izzard), King Kong (Seth Green), Lord of the Ring‘s Sauron (Jemaine Clement), and more.
While there have been many onscreen takes on the Dark Knight since his comic book debut in 1939, such as Adam West’s campy television series, Tim Burton‘s Gothic fantasy, Christopher Nolan’s gritty saga, and Zack Snyder’s whatever it was, there has never been an approach quite like this one in a feature film. Lego’s humorous interpretation in The Lego Movie was a breathe of fresh air for a character that has for the last few decades lingered in the dark, gloomy corners of the comic book film world. While many will make the argument that that is exactly where the character belongs and that straying too far could lead to a swift pitfall such as Batman & Robin, the Lego series provides the perfect (and safest) outlet for something different…
With that said, this take on Batman leaves something to be desired. While it worked perfectly in smaller doses in The Lego Movie, here it wanes with a larger influx of rapid fire gags and noise to fill in any quiet gaps in the film. This leaves little breathing room with the jokes flying so fast in succession that you hardly have time to catch one before its successor has already shot out. One clever sequence where Batman recollects his appearances in each of his previous live-action outings plays out so hastily that the only ones I was able to catch were Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Batman Begins – the very definition of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it. It’s as if the studio has been plagued with such a great fear of the shorter attention spans of the younger generation that it resorts to fill every frame with an incessant bombardment of content – all punchlines without the build up.
The Lego Batman Movie takes the most suitable approach to a children’s Batman story adaptation by exploring the character’s apprehensive yet deep-seated need for a family – a moral that it hammers in more aggressively than Harley Quinn playing whac-a-mole with her signature weapon. Just when you think that Batman has learned the value of the lesson, the film keeps prolonging the arc again and again, with continuous flashbacks and call backs that serve to inspire one to email the definition of the term “subtlety” to its large team of writers.
On the plus side, the film is visually stunning with bright colors, cityscapes, and designs that are simply incredible; heck, one cannot imagine a Lego-branded film where the designs wouldn’t be awesome (yes, everything is indeed awesome). The full gamut of Batman’s celebrated rogues gallery makes an appearance from familiar faces including Two-Face (Billy Dee Williams – a gag on his brief appearance in the Burton original), The Riddler (Conan O’Brien), and Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz) to the (far) more obscure such as the Condiment King. What’s his superpower? Intimidating innocents through the terror of mustard stains?
This just exemplifies the filmmaker’s reverence towards the Bat mythology, from the terrific to the bizarre. If nothing else, The Lego Batman Movie is a frenetic Valentine to the comic book hero that continues to inspire generations. For its ups and downs, Lego Batman is a silly but harmless take on the iconic character, neither outright insulting the mythos or attaining anything higher than an afternoon diversion. If you ever had ambitions of seeing a quasi-love story between Batman and the Joker (which I swear stops just short of smooches!) or Batman and Robin beatboxing in a musical number, then this is worth a look. If that sentence terrifies you beyond measure, Logan is just a couple of weeks away.