Film Review: The LEGO Batman Movie

The comedy Batman deserves.
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It doesn’t mean much to say that a movie that comes out in early February is the funniest movie of the year, does it? The year is only six weeks old, after all, and it’s not like the notoriously lackluster January is particularly awash in chuckles. What’s the competition? Monster Trucks? xXx: Return of Xander Cage, in which Vin Diesel skis through the forest to a blaring dubstep soundtrack despite the fact that we’re quite a ways out from 2002? Regardless. 2017 could use a good comedy, and it finally has one, in the form of The LEGO Batman Movie.

It was inevitable that The LEGO Movie’s mini-fig version of Batman—all growly self-importance, but in a funny, self-aware way, not a Christopher Nolan way—would get his own spinoff. What was less certain was whether said spinoff, directed by TV animation vet Chris McKay (“Robot Chicken,” “Moral Orel”) would live up to the promise of its predecessor.

Happily, it does…mostly. I’ll get this out of the way: The LEGO Movie is a masterpiece. Its third-act twist made me cry. The LEGO Batman Movie doesn’t have that same poignancy; compared to its predecessor, it’s more of a straight-up animated action comedy. But that’s fine. From the first frame to the last, The LEGO Batman Movie may not be as transcendently wonderful as The LEGO Movie, but it is funnier.

Will Arnett suits back up—metaphorically, from within a recording booth—as Batman/Bruce Wayne, whose day-to-day life swings back and forth between basking in adulation for saving Gotham City to sitting alone in his mansion, eating microwaved Lobster Thermidor provided by his sole companion/surrogate father, Alfred (Ralph Fiennes). Though Batman claims, with the stubbornness of a particularly obstinate toddler, that he’s fine with the way his life is, Alfred knows that what he really needs is a family. How convenient, then, that Batman accidentally adopts a plucky young orphan, Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), at a gala. And wouldn’t you know it, new Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) is also after him to work with the police force to take down Gotham’s rogues gallery, led by the Joker (Zach Galifianakis), instead of always trying to go it alone.

The plot here is pretty standard, as far as superhero movies go. All the expected emotional and story beats are hit, though there are some nice surprises for those of the nerd persuasion. Yes, there is a sky portal. Yes, there is a Big Moment where Batman realizes having friends isn’t such a bad thing, after all. (But hey, a lot of movie Batmans—Batmen?— never get to that point, so kudos to McKay for taking the forever-brooding Caped Crusader in a different direction.)

In fact, the superhero movie The LEGO Batman Movie bears the most similarity to isn’t any previous Batman outing, but 20th Century Fox’s R-rated Deadpool, which similarly paired a more-or-less generic plot with crackling meta-humor. (Needless to say, the PG-rated LEGO Batman Movie is still very much kid-friendly; you won’t find any jokes about International Women’s Day.) No element of the Batman mythos is safe from skewering, from Adam West Batman’s use of “Shark Repellent Bat Spray” to the dour nature of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. (There’s even a Suicide Squad burn, proving that at least part of Warner Bros. has a sense of humor about itself.) As befitting McKay’s past with “Robot Chicken,” a stop-motion show comprised of short quips and sketches, the jokes here come fast and furious. (No Fast and Furious jokes, though. Wrong studio. Sorry.) You’ll need multiple viewings just to catch all the in-jokes and Easter eggs littered in the background. With a movie this funny, that’s no real hardship.

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