REVIEW – THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE. With the voices of Will Arnett , Ralph Fiennes, Rosario Dawson, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera. Written by Seth Grahame-Smith and Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers and Jared Stern & John Whittington. Directed by Chris McKay. Rated PG for rude humor and some action. 104 minutes.
As one of the few critics who didn’t find “The LEGO Movie” (2014) the least bit amusing, the arrival of THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE was not greeted with enthusiasm. Thus let’s say at the outset that this new release may be one of the very best films based on the DC Comics universe. For those who enjoy superhero movies, this is one of the most insightful–and funniest–entries in the genre.
Animated with all of the characters in LEGO form (including legal notices inside the plastic tiles), it is actually a brilliant satire of the superhero genre and the Batman movies in particular. It explores the psyche of Batman in ways even the recent live action Batman films didn’t dare. It should tell you that this was a movie where the script came first, something that was sorely lacking in the earlier effort.
Batman (voice of Will Arnett) is a loner who is used to fighting crime in Gotham City without assistance. Then he goes home and, as millionaire Bruce Wayne, dines on lobster thermidor and secretly sheds tears watching movies like “Jerry Maguire.” When Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) replaces her father as Gotham’s police commissioner, Batman discovers that she’s looking for his cooperation, not simply summoning him to clean up the mess.
Unfortunately, the Batman’s greatest foe, the Joker (Zach Galifianakis), isn’t cooperating either. When Batman refuses to acknowledge the Joker as his archenemy, the villain surrenders to Commission Gordon as the first step for his most nefarious scheme yet. In the course of the story Batman will have to acknowledge that he needs help, not only from Gordon, but from his newly-adopted son Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) and his long-suffering butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes).
Along the way the five (!) writers who worked on the script take pot shots at a variety of targets, from rival Marvel Comics to Superman (voice of Channing Tatum) to other franchises including “Lord of the Rings,” “Gremlins,” “Godzilla,” “King Kong,” and even “Doctor Who.” At one point Batman faces an army of Daleks, the automated bad guys from the long-running British series “Doctor Who,” and we’re told if we don’t get it we should ask our “nerd friends.”
What makes this especially fun is that it’s not only throwing zingers at recent “Batman” movies like last year’s “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016), which divided viewers, but to the older films, even including the campy 1960’s Batman of Adam West. A big complaint about the DC movies is that they lack the sense of fun that runs through the Marvel adaptations. It worked for the Christopher Nolan/Christian Bale Batman movies like “Batman Begins” (2005) and “The Dark Knight” (2008), but has been a stumbling block elsewhere.
“The LEGO Batman Movie” takes that notion by the horns and doesn’t let go. It’s raucous, comic, and a wonderful entertaining commentary on one of the major movie genres of our time.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new novel, Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel, will be released this month. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.