There have been a lot of Batman movies and no one is more aware of this than the people behind “The LEGO Batman Movie.” Over and over again throughout this “LEGO Movie” spinoff, we are reminded of the plethora of Batman movies (and TV series) that have come before.
The references not only come fast and furious, but are wide-ranging. Even better, they aren’t just winks to the audience, the characters themselves know that this history exists. At one point, when the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) tells Batman (Will Arnett) that the villain’s new plan is his greatest yet, Batman asks if it’s better than the one with the two boats (“The Dark Knight”) or the one with the parade and the Prince music (Tim Burton’s “Batman”).
One of the great successes of the Chris McKay directed film is that while this level of enjoyment exists for those who know the characters’ long history, there are plenty of other things—things that don’t require knowledge going in—to enjoy about the film as well. Front and center is, as expected, Arnett’s vigilante, and while he may be broody, he is always over the top in it and consequently is regularly quite funny. At Batman’s side here is the other half of the Dynamic Duo, Dick Grayson/Robin (Michael Cera). Cera’s take on the character is the absolute polar opposite of Arnett’s on Bruce Wayne/Batman, which makes the difference that much more striking and the humor that much more palpable.
If “The LEGO Batman Movie” has an Achilles’ heel it is its “kitchen sink” attitude towards the material. So, we don’t just get Joker, we get Joker, Harley Quinn, Scarecrow, Riddler, Bane, Two-Face, Catwoman, Clayface, and Posion Ivy (and while they are all there briefly, all are played by notable actors and actresses). Batgirl/Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) plays a large role in the movie as well, while the rest of the Justice League put in brief appearance. It doesn’t stop there either. Voldemort, King Kong, Sauron, Daleks, and more are all present as well. Plus, as is all the rage with superhero movies, there is a great hole in the sky from which evil emerges.
Is it funny seeing Daleks fight Batman (and having the movie ask you to ask your geeky friends to explain who the Daleks are)? Oh, it absolutely is, but the Daleks remain even after the joke has worn out its welcome. It is also a little inexplicable that while Voldemort appears, and Ralph Fiennes is in the movie voicing Alfred, he doesn’t pull double duty and reprise his role as Harry Potter’s nemesis as well (Eddie Izzard takes that on).
“The LEGO Batman Movie” is at its best not when focusing on villains and throwing out as many as it possibly can, but rather when it focuses on Batman’s insecurities and loneliness. A lot of the action is enjoyable—if perhaps slightly too fast and choppy—but the heart and soul and humor of the movie is Arnett’s character, which he voices with gusto. In fact, the entire voice cast does an admirable job situating themselves in this insane world that has been created for them.
In short, it’s a good movie. It isn’t as good or as clever as “The LEGO Movie” but it is going to find fans of all ages. Beyond that, it broadens this LEGO filmic universe in ways that are more interesting, more diverse, and more amusing than any franchise based on a toy ought to be.
Now, if it was just 90 minutes of watching Batman himself dance and sing and brood and eat Lobster Thermidor, it would have been spectacular.
photo credit: Warner Bros.