Weekend Double Feature: 'The LEGO Batman Movie'
“The LEGO Batman Movie” has the unenviable, and yet inevitable, task of living up to the precedent set by the original “LEGO Movie.” A genuinely great film that was both riotously funny and incredibly clever, “LEGO Movie” also had a rock-solid emotional core. While “Lego Batman” doesn’t quite reach the thematic heights of its predecessor, it still ends up as an incredibly funny take on Batman, perhaps understanding the character better than the last decade of feature films featuring the superhero.
The breakout character from the “LEGO Movie,” Batman (Will Arnett) is the star and hero of Gotham City. Yet when he goes home to Wayne Manor, he sits alone watching “Jerry Maguire” and eating microwaved lobster thermidor.
When the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) hatches a plan to unleash all the universe’s biggest bad guys in Gotham City, Batman will need to learn to open up and accept the help and love of Robin (Michael Cera), Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) and his butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes).
These relationships and Batman’s dogged refusal of them are the heart of “LEGO Batman.” The movie seems to know that fans and media have long been enamored with Batman as a dark, brooding vigilante, yet that’s only a surface-level element to his character. Beneath the cape and cowl is a character who is ultimately very alone and very sad, rocked by the death of his family and unable to let himself get close to other people for fear of it happening all over again.
The movie manages to examine this core quality of Batman while also still being incredibly funny and appealing to kids. Will Arnett is perfectly cast as a parody of the brooding loner, gravelly voice Batman archetype, managing to make Batman’s trademark coolness seem like childish arrogance. Whether he’s constantly talking about his sick abs or how he credits his “bat rope” more than his friends, Arnett’s Batman is equally funny to laugh at as he is to sympathize with.
Speaking of voices, everyone on the cast is bringing their A-game. Michael Cera’s Dick Grayson/Robin is the definition of adorable. He’s a quick-witted and (literally) wide-eyed boy that just wants the approval of his daddies, Bruce Wayne and Batman. Practically every moment with him will elicit “awws” from the audience. Rosario Dawson’s Barbara Gordon manages to be just as funny and capable as her comedic counterparts, while also serving as the empathetic voice of reason and understanding in a crazy LEGO world. Ralph Fiennes’ Alfred is refined and fatherly, while also having his own moment of dry wit.
Zach Galifianakis’ Joker is a real stand out, especially considering that he now joins the company of every other Joker portrayal. He manages to find the right tone for a LEGO Joker – one that is both insane, clever and crazy for Batman. Again, this is a movie about relationships, and the Batman/Joker relationship is the biggest one. Because of this, “LEGO Batman” manages the surprising task of making the Joker a sympathetic figure. The villain only wants the “hate” of his longtime “nemesis” Batman and the confirmation that they are “destined to be together.”
Everything else in the movie is a whirling and charming cavalcade of color, jokes and the amazing animation technique that makes the LEGO figurines and toys actually look like have been brought to life. Taking a page from “The Muppets,” “LEGO Batman” even filled out its bit parts with celebrity voices. Doug Benson as Bane, Conan O’Brien as Riddler and Channing Tatum as Superman are just a sampling of the many, “Hey, it’s that voice!” moments in the movie.
While “The LEGO Batman Movie” errs more on the side of kid-friendly than the original “LEGO Movie,” it still manages to be a fun and heartwarming experience for all, and Will Arnett’s Batman may even be a more interesting version than Ben Affleck’s.