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After the surprisingly fun and well-made The LEGO Movie had both critics and audiences praising the mix of comedy and adventure with truly impressive animation, the breakout star of the story was a brief appearance by Batman, one of many pop culture references made in the movie. Now he gets his own feature length tale, and while it’s a high-energy production with more visually-stunning animation, it’s a dizzying ride that has some truly funny moments that plays into the over-saturation of the genre itself but also compounds it with a film packed to the bat-cave rafters with an exhausting run of gags, in-jokes, and action that wears it thin.
It begins big, with our hero Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) saving the city again, his efforts cause for tremendous celebration as legions of fans throng to praise their constant savior. Over and over he defeats the best the bad guys can hurl at him, most especially villains such as Riddler (Conan O’Brien), Bane (Doug Benson), and Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz). But as wildly popular as he is on the streets of Gotham, at home in his expansive estate and hi-tech bat cave, he lives in isolation with his only pal Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), his lifelong butler. Cooking microwave meals alone and enjoying them in solitary silence, he is constantly reminded of his choice to be on his own.
Then along comes Gotham’s most feared evil-doer, The Joker (Zach Galifianakis), back to cause mayhem, freeing the prisoners of Arkham Asylum to start but then going one step further in releasing epic movie bad guys from the “Phantom Zone” to pour into the city, including Sauron (Jemaine Clement) from The Lord of the Rings, Voldemort (Eddie Izzard) from Harry Potter, and even King Kong, all of whom effort to destroy Batman’s beloved hometown.
Naturally, it’s too much for the Caped Crusader who gets help from a new friend in Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), becoming Robin, and police woman Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), daughter of the Commissioner and alter ego of Batgirl. Now Batman, who has spent his life working alone, has got to put his trust in teamwork if he’s to save the city and earn the friends he desperately needs.
Directed by Chris McKay, working off a screenplay credited to five writers, The LEGO Batman Movie is a parody that plays into the very concepts it pokes fun at, a conceit probably unavoidable given the very nature of the story and characters. Like any film in the hopefully waning superhero genre, it relies on long sequences of action rather than plot, though admittedly, the colorfully-created LEGO designs and some great voice acting make much of it easy to digest. Kicking off well into the career of Batman instead of (thankfully) doing another origin story, the film at least works fresh in setting up a new conflict, even if all of it is undeniably familiar. All of this gives the character, one that has dominated the genre since the 1960s, plenty of material for the writers to harvest jokes, and yet there are some good moments on their own, especially with some bits at the start that reveals a Batman who likes to remain in character in his house, chilling alone in his home theater ripping on Jerry Maguire and shredding on his guitar while lounging in his huge underground pool.
Clearly fans of the universe, McKay and his team do a great job in the details, loading up on well-known and highly obscure villains and a near impossible to catch the first time stream of sight gags and in-jokes that will most likely go well over the heads of the intended family audience but are sure-fire winners for die hard fans. From musical clips to dialogue and props, Batman memorabilia is thrown from every corner and there’s no doubt it can be fun keeping an eye and ear open for them. However, when Warner Bros. unleashes its own set of movie references on top of this in the already crowded second half, it becomes a distraction more than a source of laughs and the satire weakens the experience.
The LEGO Batman Movie is without a doubt, a wonderfully animated film with some startlingly good attention to detail by people who clearly love the vast source material. While children will enjoy the fast pace and funny characters, the film itself starts strong before imploding on itself, lacking the punch and pure joy of the first, even if it generates a few smirks along the way.
Movie description: The LEGO Batman Movie is a 2017 computer animated superhero movie and spin-off of the hit 2014 film The LEGO Movie.
Director(s): Chris McKay
Actor(s): Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson
Genre: Animation, Superhero