‘The Lego Batman Movie’
Director: Chris McKay
Voices of: Will Arnett, Michael Cera
3 (out of 5) Globes
The only major flaw of “The Lego Batman Movie” is it didn’t arrive a year earlier. Imagine an alternate universe in which “Deadpool” wasn’t our era’s first comic book movie to stick it to comic book movies. What if it had arrived after a PG-rated toon that mocked, among other things, the overly-serious bummers cranked out by its own parent company, DC? It might have seemed less like a breath of alleged fresh air. More might have seen it for what it was: obnoxious, self-satisfied, stupidly “edgy.” We could have even been spared that serious Oscar talk.
That assumes comic book take-downs are a great idea anyway. Our cynical side wants to point out that the big corporate behemoths have found a way to profit off Superhero Fatigue while keeping them coming anyway. Such grumbling is less a concern with something as delightful and boisterous as “The Lego Batman Movie.” If “Deadpool” was the tired but loyal comic book nerd, this is the smart kid playing in the basement with too many toys. Like “The Lego Movie,” it’s better than it ever had to be while doing far more than rise above low expectations. In fact, it’s a very good comic book on its own, and not only because it has the gift of self-awareness.
For one thing, it gets what fellow killjoys have been saying about the Caped Crusader for eons: that if he were a real guy, he’d be a sociopath whose lack of regulations are troubling. Voiced again by a never-gravelier Will Arnett, the plastic Batman is like a worse BoJack Horseman — a wealthy egomaniac and braggy douchebag with no close friends, who has unchecked daddy issues, who says he alone can solve Gotham’s problems. Also like You Know Who, he’s not even very good at fighting evil. Unlike in most superhero movies, the supervillains — not just Joker and Catwoman but obscure yet totally not-made-up baddies like Zebraman and Condiment King — always get away, always wreak more havoc. They ensure the city will always need some weirdo vigilante with a disposable mega-income and a leather fetish.
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The hook of “The Lego Batman Movie” is a good one: Our hero finds himself in a position where he’s no longer needed. Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) has bequeathed the police commissionership from her dad (Hector Elizondo), and wants to start policing her city’s friendly neighborhood batman. Bats is not a fan of this, and proves even less happy when Gotham’s villains suddenly surrender themselves to Arkham Asylum. Meanwhile, the solitary, lonely, intransigent Bruce Wayne finds that he accidentally adopted one Richard Grayson (Michael Cera), a gee-willikers orphan with Coke-bottle glasses. This young scamp is so powerfully oblivious he doesn’t smell a rat when Batman — driven mad with boredom and obsolescence — manipulates him into help him get rid of Joker (Zach Galifianakis) for good, only after gifting him with a loud outfit sporting a reggae theme.
This sounds pretty dark and honest for a kid’s film, though not as dark as the movie where Ben Affleck tags Batman logos into the heads of criminals then dumps them into prisons to be abused or killed. So it’s amazing the vibe is still very “The Lego Movie”: The tone is light and manic, the pace fleet-footed, the jokes fast and loopy. Sending up tired tropes and psychoanalyzing Batman as a psycho is simply part of the fun — a task as hard to resist as dropping references as diverse as “Doctor Who,” “Serendipity” and (true props) “Gymkata.” It’s the kind of movie that opens with a Michael Jackson song quote and where the sound design for guns is simply voice performers spouting “pew pew!”
Blocky CGI animation and actual jokes aside, “The Lego Batman Movie” is the kind of superhero movie we deserve more often. It’s easy to forget comic book media used to be fun. We used to get cartoons like “Super Friends” and the ’90s “Batman,” where the stories were self-contained, where villains never died and it didn’t take two hours of plotting to get too many superheroes in place. “The Lego Batman” has more DNA in common with the old shows than the still-nascent DC-verse, for which it often plays like an apology: “We’re sorry our overlords keep making these incoherent drags your kids don’t want to watch and neither do you. Here’s Batgirl fighting Godzilla.” Maybe all superhero movies should all in Lego. After all, in this universe, Billy Dee Williams still plays Harvey Dent.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge