The LEGO Batman Movie is a movie made with a very specific audience in mind: those who love Batman in every variation, from the dark and brooding to the bright and wacky and all that comes in between. The film is both a love letter to and a send-up of everything Batman; a loving lampoon of, arguably, the most famous superhero ever. (Take that, Superman.)
The LEGO Batman Movie is also a delightful family comedy that should please just about everyone (assuming they weren’t already tired of the LEGO Batman character or turned off by the zany humor of The LEGO Movie). Directed by Chris McKay from a story by Seth Grahame-Smith (and a screenplay with like five other writers), The LEGO Batman Movie takes the formula of The LEGO Movie — in where there’s a living universe comprised entirely of LEGO bricks and minifigs — and focuses it squarely on Batman, with only a few appearances from other LEGO properties and only the smallest hint at the child’s imagination behind it all.
Because of the limited focus, The LEGO Batman Movie isn’t as complex as The LEGO Movie, nor is its lesson as deeply felt. There also isn’t as heavy an investment in the world being made of LEGO bricks, and therefor ripe for creation and inventiveness as there was in The LEGO Movie. There are cool moments, like Batman assembling a new Bat-vehicle to get out of a tricky situation, but they fall more on the side of product placement than something more. (And it works because I badly want the Scuttler.)
All that being said, The LEGO Batman Movie is one of the best Batman movies, capturing the essence of the character in ways many interpretations either can’t or won’t. This Batman — here a macho, selfish jerk blinded by his obvious awesomeness — is put on a journey where he learns not only the value of friendship and family, but in trusting others to have your back. Sound familiar? It’s a classic arc, one in which Batman shuts out the world after the death of his parents and it’s only through letting the world back in that he can save the day. This movie just manages to tackle that key narrative while also working in every Batman joke imaginable, from digs at the current WB/DC film slate to hardcore throwbacks like Crazy Quilt and Condiment King (both 100%, legit Batman villains, look it up).
Will Arnett is back again voicing the Dark Knight and it’s just as fiercely funny as its was in The LEGO Movie. This Batman thinks himself a true loner, but very quickly that idea gets dismantled as more and more people are thrust into Batman’s life. There’s Michael Cera’s adorably earnest Dick Grayson, absentmindedly adopted while attending Commissioner Gordon’s retirement party; Rosario Dawson’s compassionate but tough Barbara Gordon, taking over for her father and determined for the police and Batman to work together; and Ralph Fiennes’ Alfred, Batman’s loyal butler.
Together, they dispel with this idea that Batman is better off alone (no matter how much Batman might fight against it). His friends are is family and that is his strength, his Bat-Family — a core tenet of the character’s mythos that so many adaptations choose to ignore. Nowhere is this more apparent than in his relationship with Alfred, which this film sets up brilliantly. Alfred is both a servant and father figure, and his importance to Batman cannot be over-stated — a fact only the best Batman stories tend play up, like Batman: The Animated Series, Scott Snyder’s New 52 run, and even the Christopher Nolan films.
Along with establishing the Bat-Family, another of Batman’s core elements gets examined in this farcical telling — his relationship with The Joker. Zach Galifianakis’ portrayal is good though not necessarily ground-breaking, but it speaks volumes about the push and pull between these characters that you actually feel sorry for The Joker when Batman rejects him as his “greatest enemy”. That sort of deep understanding of what makes these characters resonate permeates the whole movie, so that even when it’s mocking Batman’s grim attitude or Robin’s wide-eye enthusiasm, it’s celebrating it, too.
The LEGO Batman Movie is loaded with cameos, and to the extent that it actually under serves how brilliant they are. Billy Dee Williams finally getting the chance at Two-Face is a stroke of genius, but it’s so brief it can be easily missed. Still, the in-jokes and winks and nods to Batman’s storied history are delightful, only further cementing this movie as a perfect encapsulation of all things Batman. The animation is stunning and shows a marked improvement over what was done for The LEGO Movie. That too gives the film ample opportunity to slip in more references, with its massively rendered LEGO sets chocked full of easter eggs for fans to hunt.
With this movie the jokes come early (like over the logos early) and hardly ever stop. Uproariously funny but also sentimental, The LEGO Batman Movie gets right at the core of the character and lovingly ridicules everything about him and his world. LEGO Batman may not be the Batman we deserve right now, but he is certainly the one we need — brash, irreverent, and most importantly, funny.