There’ve been many iterations of Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego Batman since creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger brought him to life in 1939’s Detective Comics #27. His legacy has endured in the subsequent years thanks to the admittedly cheesy TV series of the 1960’s and different visionaries behind Warner Brothers’ big screen tentpoles begun in 1989. The latest – and quite possibly the greatest – is the mini-fig version voiced by Will Arnett in 2014’s THE LEGO MOVIE. The breakout (brick-out?) character of that hugely successful, highly irreverent animated film now has his own equally fantastic sequel, THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE. Blending audacious, self-reflective humor, meta-driven ingenuity and a handful of heart makes for awesome, colorful escapism.
The struggle between good and evil continues to play out against the backdrop of Gotham City. In this case, vigilante Batman (Arnett) and maniacal arch-nemesis, the Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) are still locked in conflict – only this time, it’s a bit different. Uber-loner Batman refuses to admit he needs anyone, including his supposed Best-Enemy-Forever, and thereby unleashes the greatest weapon of all upon Joker: existential quandary. This propels their antagonism to a more nefarious next level when Joker hatches an elaborate scheme to make Batman respect their co-dependent relationship. Batman has also gotten himself into a sticky situation on the homefront as he’s forced into fatherhood after unwittingly adopting Richard Grayson (voiced by Michael Cera), something butler/ surrogate father Alfred (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) is determined to make work. If that’s not enough, Batman’s career is placed on shaky ground by new police commissioner Barbara Gordon (voiced by Rosario Dawson), who doesn’t exactly jibe with his unconventional, destructive crime-stopping ways.
Just like directors Philip Lord and Chris Miller’s original film, director Chris McKay’s snappy sequel contains plenty of Easter Eggs in the scenery. From the callbacks to the comics, TV shows and movies, to the background gags, it’s almost impossible to catch all the jokes in the first run. There are countless clever gags – like the laundry list of Batmans (specifically the BATMAN AND ROBIN visual), the “Man in the Mirror” jokes, goofs on Robin’s naive exuberance and the meta-commentary on studio-mandated comic book movie beats. The cataclysmic third act battle is lots of fun, as it brings more properties and characters into the brick-lined world. And credit to the animators for making this brick-and-nob world wonderfully immersive.
Perhaps one of the most ingenious things about this film is that it takes everything cheesy and terrible about DC’s missteps and spins them into something good with brilliant jokes that inform the narrative. That’s skillful execution by screenwriters Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern and John Whittington. They pull off SUICIDE SQUAD and BATMAN V SUPERMAN elements better than their live-action counterparts did – and are better framed as three-dimensional characters than those in the Joel Schumacher and Zac Snyder eras. Plus, the filmmakers are able to bring the homoerotic underpinnings of Batman and Joker’s rivalry to the forefront in a sly, subversive manner, positing ideas that add fuel to a psychologically complex breakdown of their decades-long feud.
Despite the overarching story being on smidge on the light side, the titular character’s predictable resolution and momentum lag in a few key spots, THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE does what other Batmans (Batmen? Either way, Michael Caine has buried too many) haven’t done before – use self-deprecation to augment a unique tale about a familiar icon. Replete with a nice message about unity in a time of chaos and ruin, this is something you’ll want to see (and should see) multiple times.
THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE opens on February 10.