Right now, Warner Brothers’ big blockbuster The Batman is in trouble, seeking a director and desperately searching for a script that will somehow deliver a Bat-film that will make audiences at least pretend that they are ok with the fact that the Christopher Nolan era is over.The studio shouldn’t be too concerned though because over in the animation wing they just delivered a Batman flick that should please anyone with a passing or unhealthily obsessive relationship with The Caped Crusader. The Lego Batman Movie is a sheer giddy geeky delight. A loving piss-take on the most emo and human of superheroes that pays homage to all of the shadowy secrets and trauma hiding in the Batcave, while also delivering the goofiest rendition of the character since Adam West hung up his sweaty tights. Like The Lego Movie before it, this flick is somehow both a massive plastic toy advertisement and a glorious celebration of playing in a sandbox with pop culture icons. If you like Batman and don’t like The Lego Batman Movie there’s a chance that you don’t have a soul (well either that or you’re Joel Schumacher and are insanely jealous that somehow a good version of Batman & Robin now exists).
Things kick off with a hilarious parody of the super serious superhero blockbusters that Warner Brothers cranks out in earnest as Will Arrnett’s hilariously growly Batman sets up the “dark” world of Gotham City. From there, Zach Galifianakis’ plastic Joker rounds up almost every villain in Batman history (from Catwoman to Condiment Man) for a massive evil attack that good old Batman beats entirely by himself. Then Batty goes home to his massive cave n’ mansion and is utterly alone. The dark loner needs friends. That much is certain. He gets a pair of potential pals in Barbara Gordon’s (Rosario Dawson) new upstart police commissioner, along with a little precocious orphan boy named Dick (Michael Cera). Despite Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) desperately trying to get Batman to make friends, the tortured hero refuses. Obviously, there’s a lesson to be learned there. And he’s going to need to learn it quick too since The Joker’s new plan involves bringing in villains from a variety of other pop culture properties (all conveniently owned by Warner Brothers) that could finally destroy Gotham once and for all. What could possibly happen?
First things first, The Lego Batman movie is absolutely friggin’ hilarious. Unfortunately, commitments to a little franchise known as Star Wars meant that Lego Movie directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord only served as producers on this spin-off, but thankfully they left this baby in the right hands. A five-headed team of veteran comedy writers, and Robot Chicken director Chris McKay gamely stepped in to recapture that magical balance of anarchistic parody and loving homage. The movie throws jokes of every size, shape, and style at the screen seemingly every second. There are goofy visual gags for the kids, deep cut Batman references for the nerds, clever pop culture parodies for the parents, hysterical voice cameos for the comedy nerds, delightful dialogue for the verbally-minded, satire for the smart, farts for the dumb, and everything in between. The movie is relentless in its desire to entertain. The CGI-as-Lego-stop-motion visuals are just as eye-ticklingly delightful as they were in The Lego Movie and the action is every bit as ambitious and exciting. If you’re bored at any time during the proceedings, that’s your fault.
The filmmakers are also clearly enamoured with Batman. There are references to every single form of Batmedia to date in comics, film, television, and cliffhanger serials. Some are remarkably obscure, like the deep cut comic book villains, and the clever in-joke of casting Billy Dee Williams as Two-Face to fill the role he never got to play in the Burton Batflicks. There are certainly references to the dark n’ tortured Frank Miller/Christopher Nolan Batman, but only mockingly. If anything this is a modern equivalent of the old Adam West series. This is pure pop art, unabashedly self-aware and yet mocking everything with a sense of love. It’s complex enough for kids and goofy enough for adults (maybe that should be the other way around. Nope, nevermind. That’s right). If anything, the movie can sometimes be a little too in love with referencing pop culture, especially when the all-star villain team arrives. However, the worst you can say there is that it’s too much of a good thing. It’ll likely take several viewings to catch all the winks and in jokes, even for the most devoted nerd.
Yet, like the old Adam West Batman series, if there’s a problem here it’s that The Lego Batman Movie is so arch, ironic, and self-aware that there isn’t much room for heart. The story about Batman learning to embrace a family is one that’s been told endlessly in the comics, and the message of accepting others over selfish loner-dome is a family film cliché. Sure, it works. Michael Cera’s comically annoying, yet ultimately lovable Robin is the best big screen version of the character since the 60s. In fact, the movie shows that with jokes that are actually funny and a cast that cares, Joel Schumacher’s vision of Gotham might have worked. However, that message making is so telegraphed in the third act that it can feel a bit false and irritating. Sadly, the filmmakers couldn’t match the emotional pull of The Lego Movie and strive for much depth beyond their big old pop art explosion.
That’s OK though. The Lego Batman Movie isn’t pretending to be anything other than pure giddy fun and good lord does it ever deliver. The movie should please those exhausted with superheroes as much as those who can’t get enough of caped crimefighting adventures. It’s somehow both the best superhero movie parody of the era and the best Batman movie in almost a decade. The filmmakers pulled everything that they loved about the character, dressed it in Lego, shoved it in a blender, and delivered the best possible form of blockbuster bliss. Sure, the movie has about as much depth as the face of a Lego figure, but who cares. When a Batman movie can serve up this much fun again, we’re all winners. Instead of struggling to pull together another Ben Affleck Batflick by a rushed release date, Warner Brothers should just make another one of these instead.