The Lego Batman Movie

There’s only one man who can out-dark Fifty Shades. Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson and Academy Award nominee Ralph Fiennes lend their voices to The Lego Batman Movie.

The Lego Batman MovieCast of Characters:
Bruce Wayne / Batman – voiced by Will Arnett
The Joker – voiced by Zach Galifianakis
Dick Grayson / Robin – voiced by Michael Cera
Barbara Gordon / Batgirl – voiced by Rosario Dawson
Alfred Pennyworth – voiced by Ralph Fiennes
Commissioner James Gordon – voiced by Hector Elizondo
Dr. Harleen Quinzel / Harley Quinn – voiced by Jenny Slate
Mayor McCaskill – voiced by Mariah Carey
Phyllis – voiced by Ellie Kemper
Clark Kent / Superman – voiced by Channing Tatum

Director – Chris McKay
Screenplay – Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern & John Wittington
Based on characters created by Bob Kane, Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster
Producer – Dan Lin, Roy Lee, Phil Lord & Chris Miller
Rated PG for rude humor and some action

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A couple years after helping save the Lego Universe, Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) is back to fighting crime in Gotham City, but this time, things are different. With Commissioner James Gordon (voiced by Hector Elizondo) retiring, his daughter Barbara (voiced by Rosario Dawson) is taking over the position and implementing a new crime fighting program that aims to rely less on the Batman.

As you’d expect, that is met with much displeasure by the Caped Crusader himself.

Still, despite Gotham’s change in how much reliance they place on him and the myriad of irresponsible, knee-jerk decisions he makes – namely, adopting orphan Dick Grayson (voiced by Michael Cera) on a whim – Batman’s desire to fight crime can never be quenched, especially with the Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), running wild in the city. However, after suspecting his arch-nemesis has something a little more devious than normal hidden up his sleeves, Batman must realize that he may need more help if he’s to save Gotham City.

2014’s The Lego Movie was one of the movies that was initially met, upon first hearing of its green light, with a nationwide “bottom of the barrel” sigh. Then everyone saw the film, and those sighs turned into cries when the following it not only didn’t win Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, it wasn’t even nominated.

And that is why no matter how bad I think a film sounds, I don’t make the final call on it until after I’ve seen it.

So after much praise from both the fans and critics, and earning enough cash back to entice the studio execs to start buying hundred dollar bill toilet paper, it’s no surprise that sequels and spinoffs would soon follow. Well, here we are with the first spinoff: The Lego Batman Movie.

It’d be easy to say this film isn’t as good as The Lego Movie simply ’cause The Lego Movie came first, so, of course, the novelty factor is gone. However, that’s really an unfair criticism when all this film really has to do is accomplish two things – look good (normally, I’d say that’s a done deal with animation in the 21st century, but Norm of the North blew that argument out of the water) and be funny. Regardless of whether or not The Lego Batman Movie lacks the uniqueness of its predecessor, it’s still a sharply animated, hysterical laugh riot.

With co-directing team Phil Lord and Chris Miller stepping down from the director’s chair(s), though still returning as executive producers, Warner Bros. brought in Chris McKay (who served as an animation co-director on The Lego Movie) to take over the directing reins. McKay’s prior background has mostly revolved around Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim shows Robot Chicken and Morel Orel, and given the wacky, absurdist world of Adult Swim, McKay’s a suitable fit here. Of course, whether or not he could adapt from sketch shows that are no longer than 15-20 minutes to a feature-length project was the initial concern, but such worries are thankfully put to rest here. McKay keeps the film’s wheels turning for the entire duration, never falls prey to repetition and excessive padding (an obstacle some transitioning from the sitcom time constraints to feature-length films have stumbled over), and at just a little over an hour and a half, knows when to keep both a particular gig and the overall film in general from going on longer than it should.

Once again, the animation team behind the first film gives us a another creative world made entirely of Lego pieces. Be it the clicking of pieces being put together, fire or water bursting in the form of hundreds of pieces to the stiff, the clunky way characters walk, or the abrupt, albeit humorously abrupt, way their expressions change on a dime, McKay and his team of animators do a wonderful job of creating as “authentic” of a Lego world as possible.

Equally creative, the team of five writers jam-pack their script with a maximum density’s worth of irreverent jokes where no property is too sacred to parody. Not only do a variety of DC characters, chiefly every incarnation of Batman that has ever graced the screen – Zack Snyder, Christopher Nolan, Joel Schumacher, Tim Burton and “that weird one in 1966” – get the parody treatment, a surprisingly good amount of non-DC related properties (King Kong, Sauron, Voldemort, Agent Smith from The Matrix) also pop up for a laugh or two. Like its predecessor, the jokes are fast paced and come flying at you like machine gun fire, so chances are repeated viewings will reveal jokes you might’ve missed before. That said, for a film parodies everything and anything, including the kitchen sink, that has to do with any sort of fictional property, it’s pretty amazing as to how many jokes they’re able to have hit their mark.

Even with all the jokes, the writers are still able to infuse some sweetness into the story. That’s not too surprising to those that have seen the first film and know its reveal toward the end. Anyone that’s seen any version of Batman knows past tragedies have made him emotionally shut-off, and as odd as it sounds in regard to a film about Legos, The Lego Batman Movie explores that distance Batman has with the world. While the film does have some fun with that aspect of the character, there’s a layer of heart given to the relationships Batman shares with Alfred, Robin and Barbara Gordon, and it’s heart that develops naturally and doesn’t feel like a flip of the switch tone shift amidst all the gags.

The voice cast here may not be as A-list heavy as what we got in The Lego Movie, but it’s still a strong, well-cast collection of voice performances. Will Arnett overcomes any doubt as to whether or not his scene-stealing take on Batman in the first film would be a case of it working only in smaller, supporting doses as opposed to his own film. This version of the Batman isn’t afraid to take a beloved, universally recognized hero and turn him into a daft, narcissistic, egotistical jack-ass, while giving him a touch of warmth deep down inside, and that perhaps is why Arnett is such a great fit for this role. Those that remember what Arnett brought to his character G.O.B. Bluth in Arrested Development, another egotistical jack-ass with a hidden layer of heart, can see the similarities between that role and his lampooning of Batman, which is easily the funniest portrayal of the Dark Knight.

Unless we’re counting George Clooney… and we’re also counting unintentional humor.

Supporting players are also given more than their share of moments to shine. Zach Galifianakis is all manic mayhem as the Joker, and the parallels his villain and Arnett’s Batman share with Jerry Maguire provide a nice touch of pop-culture absurdity to the iconic rivals. Michael Cera, reuniting with his former Arrested Development co-star Arnett, is gleefully game in poking fun at the butt of every joke that has befallen the character of Robin. Rosario Dawson may not get as many gags as her co-stars do, but she still gets to make do as an intelligent, straight character foil for Batman. Ralph Fiennes, whose droll sense of comic timing in The Grand Budapest Hotel and In Bruges deserves more credit than it seems to get, brings a great deal of dry wit to Batman / Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler Alfred. In a smaller but nonetheless funny turn, Ellie Kemper voices the bubbly and upbeat Phyllis, a Lego brick scanner who gauges the evilness of villains before granting them entrance into the Phantom Zone.

Brought to energetic life by its vibrant animation and healthy dose of rapid-fire, laugh-out-loud gags, while also developing a surprising amount of warmth and heart, The Lego Batman Movie is another home run by the creators of the Lego Movie franchise that will surely entertain both parents and children alike. The early winter months may feel like quite a drag for moviegoers, but this second entry to the series, which is every bit as good as its predecessor, is a welcome jolt of madcap joy.

I give The Lego Batman Movie an A (★★★½).


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