Between the three console video games bearing his name and the assortment of direct to DVD/Blu-Ray DC JUSTICE LEAGUE films he also stars in, the Lego Batman character has become a fixture in my home, available to me or my sons at a moment’s notice. He’s the DC hero of choice almost every time when the age-old question of “Which superhero would you want to be if you could be one?” comes up. When he made his first film appearance in The Lego Movie, his stock soared to new heights and when the trailer dropped for Lego Batman, my sons were beside themselves in anticipation for its release. I was a little more skeptical learning that the director making this spinoff film wasn’t the same as the ones who made the original.
As the movie starts, we are dropped into it with The Joker (along with an impressive roster of fellow Arkham Asylum inmates) executing an elaborate plot to take over Gotham City. While The Clown Prince of Crime rightfully expects Batman to swoop in and attempt to stop him, he isn’t prepared for the extra salty Dark Knight adding insult to injury by not only foiling his scheme in epic musical fashion but also spurning his diabolical counterpart’s request to acknowledge him as his forever evil soul mate and most hated enemy. When Batman is forced to choose between saving the city or apprehending him, the utterly demoralized and heartbroken arch-villain is allowed to escape while Gotham City erupts in jubilation and praise for their inflated ego driven hero. Once Batman returns to Wayne Manor, the praise and adoration of Gotham are quickly replaced with silence and boredom as we see that the Caped Crusader is terribly lonely. While Batman argues with Alfred about whether or not he needs to cultivate a healthy social life, The Joker (fresh off of Batman’s “you meant nothing to me this is just a fling” breakup) hatches a plan that will not only destroy Gotham but utterly humiliate its savior in the process.
The opening action scene is damn near flawless; a finely tuned symphony of heart pumping music, cheesy sound effects, and jokes that hit with expert precision. By the time it’s done, I’m totally comfy and made to feel at home in this version of the Batman mythos. It’s also full of bit character Easter eggs, my favorite being the voice casting of Billy Dee Williams as Two-Face, who, as some of you may already know, was cast to play the same character in Batman Forever alongside Jim Carrey but was bumped (wrongfully in my opinion) for Tommy Lee Jones. Will Arnett is a solid pick for the lead role but when he’s as douchey as he is in this movie, I think of Bojack Horseman instead of Batman and that’s a problem. Having Zach Galifianakis play The Joker was a surprise to me and a welcomed one at that. He plays the role more as a spurned lover than a psychotic menace which, based on the dialogue between him and Bats, was certainly by design. Michael Cera lending his voice as the wide-eyed, hopelessly naïve and optimistic Richard Grayson (insert dick joke here… it’s ok Batman does it) adds immensely to the fun lighthearted intent of the movie. Rosario Dawson and Ralph Fiennes as Barbara Gordon and Alfred round out the supporting cast. However, Barbara only seems to be there to prod Batman further along his journey from being a hideously selfish man baby to a less selfish, responsible vigilante. Lego Batman has the same crisp look and bright feel as its predecessor The Lego Movie but the added effort put into its musical elements makes it stand out from under its shadow. Now, don’t get me wrong, I liked “Everything is Awesome” the first time I heard it but by the time The Lego Movie was over with, I wanted to shove that song in a box and toss that box off a bridge. Lego Batman uses music in a much more palatable fashion. I want the soundtrack to this movie just so I can rock out to the opening song Batman performs while kicking Lego ass in the opening action scene – “who doesn’t miss leg day? BATMAAAAAN!!!”
So with all this being said here’s the rub: this movie tried it’s hardest to make me actively hate Batman and that’s not acceptable. The Lego Movie directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller gave us a slightly annoying yet still lovable Batman along with a dynamic host of other characters to enhance and contrast their bland and boring blank slate hero Emmit. “Bojack Batman” worked perfectly in that movie in smaller doses as a supporting character and, if the plan is to give him a full feature movie, then you’ve gotta dial the narcissism down a couple notches. Instead, director Chris McKay decided to turn it up to eleven and, when the movie has an hour and forty-four minute run time, that’s close to being too much. When I walked out of the theater with my eleven and seven year old sons, I asked them what they thought of it and, after the initial “I liked it!” and “it was super cool!” comments, my youngest casually turned to me and said in almost an undertone “Batman’s a jerk”. The Lego Batman movie gives us a saccharin sweet dangerously self-serving VH1 behind the music rock star version of him and, while it’s definitely fun and entertaining, it’s also surprisingly off-putting as well.
Between the music, the jokes, the brick building and exploding action this is a must see if you have children (I’d say 4 to 12). For everyone else, I’d say it’s worth a look in the theater also but, if you’re looking for it to be as charming as The Lego Movie, you’ll be disappointed.
RATING: 2.5 STARS (Out of 5)
WHAT YOU CAN WATCH ALONG WITH THIS:
Since DC’s live action films keep shitting the bed like they have dysentery, I’ll refer to their animated library and recommend to you the 2014 Suicide Squad movie we should have received in 2016 but didn’t “Batman: Assault on Arkham”. Put the little kiddos to bed, turn this on, and enjoy The Dark Knight and his rogue’s gallery as they were intended to be.