“Hey mom, hey dad, I um, I saved the city again today, I think you would have been really proud.”
LEGO Batman is back and he’s brought several friends including several amazing comedians plus new characters that build strong character development that expand this famous plastic construction toy line to new heights. This new “brand storytelling” enhances a memorable plot where the Batman character gets proper focus as his expansive experience reaches beyond his memorable work in the 2014 LEGO Movie.
Directed by Chris McKay (his first feature film) and co-produced by The LEGO Movie’s Phil Lord and Chris Miller, The LEGO Batman Movie spoils Batman’s secret identity (newbies beware), but it’s makes the funny, unpredictable plot work so well. This entertaining work also builds on the LEGO Movie series beyond just drawing from a huge character cache. Continuity is thankfully king here, which leads to comedic and dramatic payoffs.
The Bat brand keeps growing while taking “Warner Bros” along for the ride and borrowing a page from the Superman comic books to introduce an important setting. There is so much material here that even the responsibility of properly referencing each element becomes a joke (“ask your nerd friends”).
Endless references (e.g. Blüdhaven), surprises, well-timed character dialogue syncing (thank to CGI), hidden messages and sight gags that even work well when repeated with only the sound all sustain audiences through a surprising, but welcomed one hour and 44 minutes runtime. Usually a kid friendly hour and a half is the norm, but thankfully this LEGO Movie franchise continues to push that boundary.
This movie’s hilarious previews do not spoil the plot and largely provide an appetizing primer for the actual scenes. For example, audiences can enjoy some impressive homage bits from famous scenes in the previous Batman movies as Alfred delivers the familiar retrospective dialogue that reviews all the previous Batman movies and even the Adam West/Burt Ward TV series (“that weird one in 1966”).
Voiced again by Will Arnett, Batman/Bruce Wayne, Batman takes audiences on an unpredictable adventure set mainly in Gotham City. Audiences can experience several firsts in this Batman installment like Batman’s laugh (yes, he laughs a lot) as well as his disdain for one Marvel superhero (revealed in the Batcave’s voice password. He also unpacks his soft, emotional baggage during essential actions (e.g. revealing his emotional approach to life while teaching his stealth infiltration techniques).
Canadian actor Michael Cera (Juno, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) voices the orphan Dick Grayson (a.k.a. Robin). Robin already admires Batman as circumstances pull him even closer to the Caped Crusader. Cera gets the most emotional dialogue in the film and delivers well while capturing his journey into this universe. He is wide eyed (figuratively and emotionally) with an optimistic view that also challenges Batman’s self-centered views (e.g. check out his Good Ideas Tracker).
The screenwriting team of experienced producer/writers includes Seth Grahame-Smith (who also wrote the story), Chris McKenna (Community TV series), Erik Sommers (American Dad TV series), Jared Stern (Wreck-It-Ralph), and newcomer John Whittington. Conedy, continuity and closure are king here as they anchor this all animated movie with Batman’s gaze at a picture of him and his parents that launches a thousand words.
Their careful approach to each character works very well and naturally makes emotional connections to audiences because they use the most recognizable traits and expand them in new directions. As with Vitruvius’ fate in The LEGO Movie, look for some surprisingly strong emotional moments relating to Batman’s sidekick while the crew quickly diffuses any physical dangers of innocent characters caught up in collateral damage (e.g. cat hit by lava says “I’m OK”)
Ralph Fiennes plays Alfred Pennyworth, the butler at Batman’s Wayne Manor roost who is also Master Bruce Wayne’s father figure. Fiennes’ dry delivery is pitch perfect as he reveals more about his character as the action sequences demand. Alfred also creates important boundaries and challenges Batman’s emotional walls so he can let people into his life.
DC animated superhero movie veteran voice actor Rosario Dawson (Men in Black II) plays Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Commissioner James Gordon, voiced by Héctor Elizondo (Pretty Woman, The Princess Dairies). Her vision and principles challenge the Bat with approaches that were built on her admiration of him as a hero who is fast, strong, and smart.
Giddy audiences and avid fans get enough more franchises to wade through beyond the endless enemies and memorable core of Alfred, Robin and the Gordons.
Comedians continue getting great roles thanks to these LEGO movies. Zach Galifianakis plays the Joker as the predictable main antagonist/ringleader/mastermind in Gotham City. He also makes some key decisions that steer the plot after an important initial confrontation with Batman that setups the tone and motivation for future events.
It would have been great to see more of the talented Jenny Slate (The Secret Life of Pets) as the Joker’s close colleague in crime Dr. Harleen Quinzel (a.k.a. Harley Quinn) who might have easily stole the show from Batman (like he did from Emmet in The LEGO Movie) with more screen time.
Recognizable voice actor Susan Bennett (the voice of Apple’s assistant “Siri”) gets loads of screen time thanks to her function as the Batcomputer (a.k.a. “puter” – a long standing term in this reviewer’s family culture). Ellie Kemper (Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, TV’s The Office) also impresses in a similar voice role.
Bennett’s deadpan reading of Batman’s mail list is just one of several special moments where the usually mundane get audiences rolling on the floors. The crew takes full advantage of that strong connection of that familiar feeling of awe experience by audiences through the character (e.g. Robin’s reaction to the discovery of a famous underground setting that almost anyone would enjoy).
The villain role call alone creates laughs and showcases Conan O’Brien (Edward Nygma/Riddler), Billy Dee Williams (Harvey Dent; he also played Dent in Tim Burton’s 1989 live action Batman movie) and Doug Benson (Bane) who has a hilarious delivery that spoofs Bane’s role in live action role in the 2012 The Dark Knight Rises. Tom Hardy might not like this unflattering, but funny update.
More from Jason Mantzoukas (Parks and Rec TV series) as the villain Scarecrow and Adam DeVine (Modern Family TV series, The Intern) as the fast-moving hero The Flash would have been great too. Lord and Miller’s Jump Street movie series lead actors Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill also return to voice the superheroes Superman and Green Lantern.
Jemaine Clement (Moana, Men in Black 3, TV’s Flight of the Conchords), British comedian Eddie Izzard, and Seth Green (Austin Powers) provide powerfully hilarious voice talent to the expanded roles from the Warner Brother franchises. Even the musical comedy duo Garfunkel and Oates reunites with Kate Micucci (shapeshifting villain Clayface) and Riki Lindhome (Poison Ivy). Everyone gets in on the act with sustained appearances not just one-shot cameos including some new C-grade baddies like The Condiment King. “I did something,” says Croc.
The music showcases even more comedy while enhancing emotions with effective song covers throughout the plot. Richard Cheese and Lounge Against the Machine. That name should describe this comedic cover band/comedy act perfectly – perform modern songs in a lounge/swing style. You might recognize their “Everything is Awesome” version from the ending credits of The LEGO Movie plus “Night and Day” and “Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Music also has an important, hilarious function near the end of the film. The beat continues through the ending, three-count color credit sequences “that make parents and studio executives happy” (no extra scenes at the very end).
LEGO Batman Movie hits a high, entertaining note that satirically skewers big business and furthers franchises plus introduces audiences to talented comedians. Highly recommended (***1/2 out of four stars) and rated PG for rude humor and some action. Definitely not a hard pass so don’t miss out on great entertainment and some solid takeaways.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler