9 out of 10
Will Arnett as Batman / Bruce Wayne (voice)
Directed by Chris McKay
The LEGO Batman Movie Review:
2014’s The LEGO Movie had no business being as good as it was, and in the three years since its release, the film has only gotten better in my estimation. I can legitimately say that it could be the best American animated movie of the Tens. There is such rich imagination on display, and a movie that could have been a 100-minute commercial instead became a movie about the power of play and breaking from conformity. It also gave us, debatably, the greatest cinematic Batman of all time. Yeah, I went there, and I’ll continue to go there in this review, because Will Arnett manages to find not only the intrinsic silliness of the character, but he even found the pathos and emotion as well. In The LEGO Batman Movie, Arnett gives us the whole package – the grimdark, the ridiculous, and even a real emotional weight that hasn’t really been there in even Christopher Nolan’s Batfilms. So, yeah, I’m saying it – LEGO Batman is best Batman.
The LEGO Batman Movie doesn’t quite hit the highs of The LEGO Movie, and that’s almost entirely because the levels the first film reached were so unexpected. But anyone who has been a fan of this character – from the comics, the camp TV show, the Frank Miller run, the animated series, the Keaton/Kilmer/Clooney/Bale/Affleck turns; it’s all in here to one degree or another – will adore The LEGO Batman Movie. More so than any of the previous films, which all had their directors’ distinctive stamp and look on them, The LEGO Batman Movie is only interested in exploring the character and having a blast doing it. True, it’s in a movie about a world made of LEGO, but the places this movie goes are just as poignant and emotional, and watching it, we realize just how much Batman has shaped and molded American pop culture. But it never makes fun of that, and that is all the difference. The joys of The LEGO Batman Movie are all in the material and the respect it shows not only the character but its fans.
And man, do the jokes fly. Even more than The LEGO Movie, The LEGO Batman Movie is packed to the brim with them, and this is a film I fully intend to revisit just so I can attempt to catch them all. Not just visual puns, either. Some of the dialogue goes by so fast that you will miss two jokes for laughing at one. The LEGO Batman Movie is an abundance of riches and humor. Much of that is Arnett, Ralph Fiennes’ Alfred, and Michael Cera’s Robin, who have a wonderful chemistry together and throw so many jokes around it’s practically verbal juggling. But everyone is terrific – Rosario Dawson as Barbara Gordon is no mere sidekick – in fact, she is much of the guiding force of the story. Zach Galifianakis finds a genuinely-different take on the Joker, and keeps his style of humor intact in the character. If you’ve ever heard Doug Benson’s Bane in his stand-up, he brings that same humor here, and every time that character spoke I laughed. There are a few character cameos that brought out big laughs in the audience, and while I won’t spoil them here, one in particular made this fantasy geek very happy.
But The LEGO Batman Movie has a compelling story too. Batman (Arnett), it seems, has saved Gotham so many times that the city is practically taking him for granted. But Barbara Gordon (Dawson), taking over from her father Jim Gordon (Hector Elizondo), doesn’t just want Batman to take on all the crime himself. She thinks that with a proper police force, and with Batman and the community’s help, together they can stop crime in Gotham without relying on one person to take care of the problem for them. Batman, of course, is having none of it – he works alone. Batman also has some personal issues to deal with – he has a new adopted son in Dick Grayson (Cera), and Alfred (Fiennes) is pressuring him to take some parental responsibility. But Batman’s last encounter with the Joker gives the Joker an idea – an idea so fiendish that it threatens to take Batman out of the picture altogether.
The same aesthetic of The LEGO Movie carries over to The LEGO Batman Movie, with amazing cityscapes, colors, and visual splendor. These films always had a “blink and you miss something” quality to them — from the billboards to movie theater marquees to the many vehicles and toys Batman has in Wayne Manor — and every aspect of Batman throughout the years is referenced. We even get his rogue’s gallery, from the most prominent and well-known to some of the more ridiculous and obscure villains in the Bat-pantheon (Condiment King is a real Batman villain, by the way). But it’s all done with love, and The LEGO Batman Movie made me realize while watching it just how important this character is. We all have our favorite iterations of Batman — mine is the work that Denny O’Neil did with the character in the 1970s — but the character itself is a cypher for so much of our ideals, our morality, and our ideas of heroism. That’s a lot of weight for an animated film to carry, but The LEGO Batman Movie does it with aplomb. That’s only there, of course, if you want to dive that deeply into it. The movie is just so fun that you can enjoy it for the ride. The action is thrilling, the humor is omnipresent, and the love of this character is in every frame.
But my favorite moment in The LEGO Batman Movie was the ending, where everything we love about Batman comes through in one shining moment, and we understand why this character has resonated with us so much over the almost 80 years since Bob Kane and Bill Finger put pen to paper. For anyone who has ever grieved for a lost loved one, who has found the inner strength to keep going, this moment rings so honest, true, and so complete that I was wiping away tears through the cheering. The LEGO Batman Movie is wonderful, inspiring, uproariously funny, and worth dragging the family to multiple times this weekend. This is, without a doubt, the most fun Batman movie ever made.