As much as I like Christopher Nolan’s gritty, noir-ish “Batman” pictures (“Batman Begins,” “The Dark Knight,” and “The Dark Knight Rises”) there’s something refreshing about Chris McKay’s animated feature “The Lego Batman Movie” and its silly, freewheeling take on the Caped Crusader. In fact it might the most fun Batman movie to date.
From the very beginning, “The Lego Batman Movie” cleverly mocks the brooding grey and blue toned seriousness of the Nolan films (and all the other DC superhero movies that aimed to copy them, often times poorly. See “Batman v Superman” and you’ll know what I mean) along with the stale tropes associated with the superhero genre as well as action movies in general.
The film is packed to the gills with witty banter and pop culture references. In that regard it’s the first Batman comedy/satire. Not all of the jokes land but I found myself laughing more often than not. And sometimes the more mundane, understated gags hit harder than those the winky, snarky pop culture references. For example, Batman (voiced by Will Arnett, pitch perfect casting) walking around his giant mansion wearing a red bathrobe and his Batman mask, waiting for his lobster dinner to reheat in the microwave and then watching “Jerry Maguire” by himself in his home theater.
Considering that the premise of the movie involves a vigilante that wears a bat themed costume, and who fights antagonists like The Joker or The Riddler, it’s nice to see a movie that embraces that inherent silliness. Superhero movies don’t all have to be dour and grounded in reality. “The Lego Batman Movie” is a frenetic, fast paced, bright colored diversion that oozes with charm.
Yet, maybe the most unexpected thing about “The Lego Batman Movie” (a spin off of “The Lego Movie” from a few years ago) is the well-constructed and endearing story at its center that stresses the importance of family and companionship. Batman is portrayed as deeply egocentric, the most egocentric of any onscreen Batmans. Though he saves the city of Gotham from crime on a regular basis he’s more interested in himself and how awesome he looks (he has a “nine pack,” instead of a six pack!) However, beneath his reckless, arrogant exterior lies a deeply damaged and vulnerable man afraid of commitment and companionship.
I also got a kick out of the neglected bromance side plot between him and The Joker (Zac Galfianakis). The Joker is hurt that Batman doesn’t consider him his greatest enemy, acting like a wounded partner in a romantic relationship. Again and again, Mckay mixes absurdity with sincerity rather beautifully.
Instead of simply being a collection of gags and pop culture references poorly strung together, “The Lego Batman Movie” crafts a compelling narrative and fashions a fleshed out protagonist, making the humor more palpable.
Admittedly, the film can be a bit much. The screenplay (credited to five people) is occasionally messy as it attempts to cram as many pop culture references/gags as possible into its hour and forty-four minute run time. It can be overwhelming. On top of that, from the middle of the second act until the end, “The Lego Batman Movie” becomes more epic than it needs to be. When the film moves outside the world of Batman and DC it gets chaotic, resulting in a slightly tedious and cluttered finale involving yet another inter dimensional portal--the one stale superhero movie trope that this movie mocks but also falls victim to.
Even so, “The Lego Batman Movie” is a lot fun. I’m not sure whether it will stand the test of time like, say, “The Dark Knight” or “Batman Begins” (or even the Tim Burton Batman films) but in the moment it provides an amusing and endearing riff on the Batman mythology.