By Jason Cueto
From the opening title sequence of “Lego Batman” we get a voice-over narration from the Caped Crusader (brilliantly voiced by Will Arnett) giving meta-commentary with the dark tone, music and momentum à la Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. From there, it quickly sets the tone for the whole film where I was laughing uproariously, more so than with any recent comedy. 2017 is proving to be a dire period for animated films with Dreamworks’ “Boss Baby” and Sony’s “Smurfs: Lost Village,” and “Emoji Movie” slated to release later this year. “The Lego Batman Movie” is not the masterpiece 2014’s “Lego Movie” was, but the film is definitely the latest good kids movie for both kids and adults to enjoy, following 2016’s strong year of animation.
“Lego Batman” is not just a spiritual successor to the original, but a kickstart to a cinematic universe in the vein of the Marvel Cinematic Franchise (with the next film, “Lego Ninjago” coming out in September). Chris McCay, whose past works include episodes of Adult Swim’s “Robot Chicken” and animation for “The Lego Movie,” directs in his theatrical film debut. The original film’s directors, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, took producer credit, while six writers helmed the script this time. The film follows Batman issuing justice across Gotham City for his own public image against the Joker (Zach Galifanakis) and his gang of iconic villains from the comics (as well as a few made-up villains in a funny sight gag). But the Caped Crusader meets a new, difficult challenge: family. In the mix, we are given our favorite dry butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Ralph Fiennes), Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) and young orphan-turned-adoptive son and sidekick, Dick Grayson a.k.a Robin (Michael Cera). Batman’s story follows a predictable arc, but given this is the same creative team behind the original Lego film, it is still a refreshing take rendered in Lego bricks. For instance, the Joker/Batman dynamic is treated like a rom-com parody as Joker struggles to restore his villain-image complex by diabolically recruiting the greatest villains in popular culture, all for Batman’s approval.
The film itself is a screwball, fun-filled smorgasboard of Batman, pop culture and superhero movie references combined into one clever meta-joke. The first hour is probably the best comedy of this year with neat references, sight gags and physical humor. There are plenty of callbacks to previous Batman films and even the 1960s television show told in with hilarious jokes that, sitting in the theatre between two families, I found myself laughing more than the kids and their parents. More importantly, the film pokes fun at typical conventions of modern superhero films, including the flaws of recent DC Extended Universe films (most notably, the constant self-loathing for Superman). The animation is as stunning and fun as “The Lego Movie,” with the added bonus of dozens of hidden visual references and sight gags, to be enjoyed for future viewings.
“Lego: Batman” is almost a near-perfect kids movie until we dig into the third act. The climax concludes in the typical battle sequence similar to recent blockbusters and superhero films. But instead of doing a clever spin on this trope, the film descends into eye-popping, ADHD-paced action that becomes mind-numbing overkill. Though it is admirable that the film stayed self-contained and didn’t retread the same twist as the original “Lego Movie,” the action falls at the expense of jokes and pop culture references which, despite winning a few chuckles, fall flat. At their core, these two films sincerely celebrate our love and imagination for toys. However, the film suffers from maintaining the charm and cleverness from its first hour that eventually turns satire into a cliché.
“The Lego Batman Movie” is a better Batman film than 2016’s disappointing interpretations on the Caped Crusader (“Batman V. Superman,” “Suicide Squad,” and “Killing Joke”) and for the most part, it’s a great kids movie. Despite its shortcomings, the film is a hysterical, fun movie for kids to enjoy, while adults can find plenty more laughs. In this golden age of comic-book films, Zack Snyder’s upcoming “Justice League” might be the film DC fans need, but “Lego Batman” is the Batman film we truly deserve.
Reviewer Notes: 3-D is already a dying trend so I have to quickly express my disappointment in the 3-D experience. The 3-D for “Lego Batman Movie” felt flat and tedious to endure that I found myself removing the glasses mid-way in the film to get more coverage on the movie and the image quality looked brighter and indifferent even with the glasses on. Regardless, “Lego Batman” worth the full price, but avoid the 3-D surcharge.