THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (8 out of 10) Directed by Chris McKay; Written by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern and John Whittington; Starring Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Zach Galifianakis; Rated PG for rude humor and some action; 104 minutes; In wide release Feb 10, 2017.
The best part of The Lego Movie -- Will Arnett's Batman -- gets his own spinoff, and it's every bit as good as you expect it to be. Not only is it a worthy followup to the Lego franchise, but also one of the best Batman movies ever made.
Batman faces off against his greatest foe -- The Joker? Well, not entirely. It seems Batman doesn't do "ships"-- not interested in relationships of any kind. And even when Joker shows up with a dastardly plan uniting all of Gotham's villains, our self-absorbed, melancholy Caped Crusader cares more about his ego and his isolation than telling his arch nemesis how much he hates him.
Enter Barbara Gordon, taking over as Chief of Police, who is calling Batman "in" to ask him to work with the police instead of on his own. Even though there is a romantic attraction between Bruce Wayne and Barbara, Bats's narcissism gets in the way of that, and even makes him overlook the fact he accidentally adopts dim-witted but agile orphan Dick Grayson.
Batman ends up training the "expendable" boy for a suicide mission to steal Superman's Phantom Zone generator, so he can send Joker there for good. Of course, this has been Joker's plan all along-- so he can engineer a jailbreak from The Phantom Zone of the greatest (Lego) villains of all time to destroy Gotham and Batman.
And this is where the movie really shines. Just as with The Lego Move, the playful way in which playing with toys can allow for the greatest of crossovers, so too does Lego Batman play with this formula, bringing in villains from Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Wizard of Oz, etc. One of the few problems with the film is it drags a little in the plot-heavy-middle, while its opening battle scene and final climactic clash are simply golden.
The only other problem is the film's weak Joker. While Zach Galifinakis is good, he simply doesn't bring the mania balanced with menace to the role that, say, Mark Hamill or Heath Ledger have, or even Caesar Romero. He is, however, far better than whatever-the-hell-it-was Jared Leto was doing in Suicide Squad.
That is all balanced out by a supporting cast that includes (drumroll please): Jenny Slate as Harley Quinn, Jason Mantzoukas as Scarecrow, Conan O'Brien as The Riddler, Doug Benson as Bane (aka the best part of the movie), Billy Dee Williams as Two-Face (ingenious reference!), Zoë Kravitz as Catwoman, Kate Micucci as Clayface, Riki Lindhome as Poison Ivy, Eddie Izzard as Voldemort, Seth Green as King Kong, Jemaine Clement as Sauron (aka the second best part of the movie), Ellie Kemper as Phyllis (the keeper of the Phantom Zone), Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill reprising their roles as Superman and Green Lantern, Adam Devine as The Flash, and Hector Elizondo as Jim Gordon.
The only problem? With this many talented people and roles, most of them are little more than a few lines and extended cameos. But they are brilliant in their light touch and no one overstaying their welcome. This is, after all, Batman's movie.
Also in the vein of don't blink or you'll miss it, are dozens of easter eggs and nods to previous iterations of Batman. Especially if you're a fan of the campy '60's Batman series, and some of the more esoteric pieces of the Nolan and Burton films, you're going to be very happy. But these references are really deep, but also hilarious to Bat-fans.
It's really sad that Warner Brothers can't seem to capitalize on the same love and depth of knowledge in their live action films. This is a film made by Batman fans for Batman fans where nothing ever felt like it was forced or fanservice. It's also heavy on fun, something sorely missing from any DC movies in over two decades (save a few, shining moments in Suicide Squad) that their animated and Berlanti-verse television counterparts rarely seem to forget. (Let's hope this year's Wonder Woman and Justice League get the balance right).
On top of all of this, there's a beautiful message in here about family, opening your heart to others, teamwork, and vulnerability. Lego Batman is a hero for the Trump era. He (and we) might get so self-absorbed and focused on past pain. But the real heroism is being able to shed some of those vestiges of toxic masculinity to become the hero Gotham-- and Dick, and Barbara, and the world -- need. Kids and adults can learn a lesson from that AND will have equal amounts of fun with this. See it, and make plans to see it again as soon as possible to catch all of the things you missed the first time.
8 out of 10