The LEGO Batman Movie (2017) / Animation-Comedy
MPAA Rated: PG for rude humor and some action
Running Time: 104 min.
Cast (voices): Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Zach Galifianakis, Jenny Slate
Small parts (voices): Doug Benson, Jason Mantzoukas, Conan O'Brien, Billy Dee Williams, Zoe Kravitz, Kate Micucci, Riki Lindhome, Eddie Izzard, Seth Green, Jemaine Clement, Ellie Kemper, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Adam Devine, Hector Elizondo, Mariah Carey, Brent Musberger, Ralph Garman, Chris Hardwick, Chris McKay
Director: Chris McKay
Screenplay: Sean Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, John Whittington
Review published February 17, 2017
Spinning off from the surprise 2014 hit, The LEGO Movie, The LEGO Batman Movie gives further exploration into one of its small bit characters, Batman (again voiced here by Will Arnett, TNMT: Out of the Shadows), and gives us the full treatment in satirization on the Batman mythos as it has appeared in movies and TV shows over the last several decades. Similar to the relatively clean-slate and much more filthy Deadpool, The LEGO Batman Movie is a meta comedy full of in-jokes, broader humor, and complete mockery of its own existence. However, this one is of a property that is much more well-known, which means the spoofing is more pointed, so the more invested you are in Batman as a film character, the more mileage you'll get from the many allusions thrown at you from the five-man team of comedic screenwriters.
The Joker (Galifianakis, Birdman) here is a bit more of a softie -- still a madman, but one that knows the bond of hatred between himself and the Batman needs to be reciprocal so that he can be the yin to his yang. "You complete me," is a theme, pointed out early when Batman decides to watch Jerry Maguire, though the irony that he chooses to push everyone away and watch the film alone doesn't seem to connect in his mind, despite Joker's continuous implorations. To cement himself as #1 on Batman's hate list, Joker and a host of other baddies of assorted popularity (Condiment Man, an actual villain from "Batman: The Animated Series", being the silliest among them) are out to destroy Gotham City. Batman catches Joker in the act, but still sees him as just another perp to thwart, hatching bigger and bolder ideas to come from the clown madman in trying to assure arch-nemesis status, starting with springing the worst of them from the dreaded Phantom Zone.
Bolder crime will also be a challenge to Gotham's new police commissioner, Barbara Gordon (Dawson, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For), whose main mission is to join forces with a Batman who prefers to do all his work solo. Despite his every effort to keep everyone at arm's length, Batman must deal with fatherhood when he accidentally ends up adopting a young teen named Dick Grayson (Cera, Sausage Party), who he ends up having to keep an eye on as his partner in crime fighting vigilantism.
The LEGO Batman Movie is directed by Chris McKay, best known for his work on "Robot Chicken", and indeed, the film plays out like a property you might find on Adult Swim. Although, in that vein, the downside to The LEGO Batman Movie is that it's a bit long for a sketch comedy premise, which comes at you so fast and filled with so many references to other works (the villains go beyond Batman's rogues gallery to include other IP baddies licensed by Warner Bros.), it's not the easiest thing to stay focused on for nearly two hours with the kind of attention to detail necessary to get it all. Expect to get more mileage on it when it goes to home video, where smaller chunks, and repeat viewings, may yield greater rewards.
Unlike most of the other Batman properties, there is no effort here to give much of a backstory or origin to Bruce Wayne, as we find him already in full-blown Batman mode, only occasionally calling back to his tragic past as he looks at a selfie he took as a kid that captures his parents, still alive, in the frame. The meta-textual aspects in the humor means that those with less knowledge of Batman as he has been portrayed in all forms of media will find this a great deal less amusing than those who do, and kids in particular who are probably too young to watch the hard PG-13 films that have come out in the Nolan and Burton/Schumacher era may only like the film for its color and energy more so than in getting all of the references.
If you get it, you get it, and if not, it's not a very inclusive film, which means that it is about as wide in its appeal as Batman is. Given that, there are plenty of Batman and LEGO lovers around that should make this a profitable undertaking for Warner Bros.
©2017 Vince Leo