The Lego Batman Movie is a delightful satire of Batman as a pop culture icon, and a pretty decent Batman movie at the same time. The DC Comics Extended Universe, the Dark Knight trilogy, the first four Batman movies and even the old Batman TV show are referenced with a sly wink and smile. But that’s not all: Voldemort, King Kong, and Sauron also appear. The only thing all these properties have in common is that Warner Bros. owns them, and they’re part of what makes this movie so amusing.
This spinoff of the 2014 animated hit The Lego Movie finds Batman (Will Arnett) more alone and stubborn than ever. He likes it this way, he says. He even, after saving Gotham City for the umpteenth time in a rousing opening sequence, tells the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) that he’s not Batman’s arch nemesis, and in fact he means nothing to Batman. He’s just another bad guy.
Crushed, the Joker convinces all of Gotham’s villains to surrender themselves during new commissioner Barbara Gordon’s (Rosario Dawson) swearing-in ceremony. Suddenly, Batman has no one to fight and nothing to do. Worse, while enamored with Gordon, he unwittingly agrees to become orphan Dick Grayson’s (Michael Cera) guardian, so now he has a kid to worry about too. Determined to have something to do, Batman allows Grayson to become his sidekick and sets out to send the Joker to the Phantom Zone (where Superman sent Zod).
The action scenes are exciting and visually impressive, the zany gags are funny and plentiful, and the movie is chock full of more characters than it rightly needs. Ordinarily, this would be a bad thing, but the story is contained well enough that the cameos are part of the fun and not a distraction.
What’s interesting and surprising about director Chris McKay’s film is the amount of time spent on Batman’s emotions. Batman only cares about Batman, ostensibly, until we find him alone in the vast Bat Cave staring at a picture of his slain parents while Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) cleans bathroom floors. It seems the tough billionaire alpha who has spent his life fighting crime (and not doing that great of a job, considering he also ensures there’s crime to fight) is covering up an empty hole where his heart used to be. Given that it’s played for laughs and offers a welcome change from the “Wham!” and “Bang!” of the rest of the movie, this actually works quite well.
Everything was awesome for Warner Bros. when The Lego Movie built its way to a $258 million domestic gross, and for viewers watching The Lego Batman Movie the awesomeness continues. The two movies are kind of like creating different toys with the same box of Legos — the similarities are there, but the differences allow each to feel new. To do this with a movie full of characters we’ve seen before is a rare and creative accomplishment.