Last year, critics savaged “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” deriding its convoluted story and underwhelming characters, and audience response was mixed. The failure of “Dawn of Justice” hit Warner Bros. hard, which makes it all the more imperative that “The Lego Batman Movie” sticks the landing.
Fortunately, this unapologetic cash grab of a movie is DC Comics’ finest film since “The Dark Knight.” “The Lego Batman Movie” lampoons the Caped Crusader’s ego, emotional immaturity and lifestyle with razor sharp wit and tells a surprisingly heartfelt story that will delight children and adults alike.
As with most classic Batman narratives, “The Lego Batman Movie” finds Batman/Bruce Wayne (Will Arnett) haunted by the death of his parents. While we don’t see their murders, we see Batman push away others so he will never experience the pain of loss again. Not even the surprisingly-sensitive Joker (Zach Galifianakis), who desperately wants Batman to acknowledge him as his greatest enemy, can break down the vigilante’s emotional barriers. Only his loyal butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Ralph Fiennes), manages to get through to him.
Batman’s world falls apart when he accidentally adopts an orphan, Dick Grayson (Michael Cera). Dick quickly discovers the Batcave beneath Wayne Manor and, assuming Batman and Bruce Wayne are roommates, becomes Robin.
Batman begrudgingly takes Robin along on a mission to banish the Joker to the Phantom Zone, where Sauron, Voldemort and all the other baddies of the Lego multiverse are imprisoned. Gotham City’s new police commissioner, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), believes the Joker wants to reach the Phantom Zone and recruit the supervillains, but Batman is too stubborn to listen and succeeds in his plan. Of course, chaos ensues.
Director Chris McKay preserves the feel of “The Lego Movie” with a zanily crafted Lego Gotham City that will make viewers giddy. Batman constructs vehicles from multicolored bricks and battles monstrosities that move like the stop-motion animations on YouTube. Guns don’t make sounds – their users have to make literal “pew pew” noises. At one point, the citizens of Gotham form chains by snapping their heads to each other’s feet to help save their city. These moments demonstrate an awareness for how children think and play, and they lend “The Lego Batman Movie” a wondrous element of imagination.
Each of the characters receives ample development and smart, funny dialogue that will consistently make moviegoers laugh. There is rarely a moment where “The Lego Batman Movie” is not telling a joke, no matter how subtle. Even its more serious moments are underscored by the absurdity that comes with watching brick people talk about their emotions.
Yet, in spite of its bizarre, toy-based landscape, “The Lego Batman Movie” manages to be both irreverent and respectful as a comic book adaptation. The film relentlessly mocks Batman’s persistent rage, characterizing him as a man-child who has still not outgrown his tantrums. When presented with the possibility of being held accountable for his destructive actions, he throws a hissy fit and turns to beat-boxing for solace. Nonetheless, this iteration of the Dark Knight displays a fundamental understanding of who he is: A broken child whose wounds have not healed. The psychoanalysis may be on-the-nose, but it refreshingly illuminates the character’s flaws instead of portraying him as the pinnacle of superheroism.
“The Lego Batman Movie” will make you believe why Batman, even with his cool gadgets and fighting skills, would have trouble convincing himself that it’s fun to be him. Luckily for us, we won’t need any convincing to have fun with this joyous comic movie romp.