(4 out of 5 reels)
The Lego Batman Movie is impossible to dislike. It is also the best Batman movie since The Dark Knight and the best spoof since Spaceballs. The picture’s success comes primarily from channeling every viewer’s nine-year-old self, harkening back to when Legos provided an endless stream of imaginary permutations. The additional advantage this specific incarnation has over its predecessor is that Batman’s narrative is already well established, so it can have a grand old time making fun of the caped crusader as well. Couple this with an easygoing but nonetheless positive message about family, and you have the perfect family film: exciting, funny, and full of heart. But not too much heart because that would be mushy and totally “unawesome.”
The movie begins with a black screen. “All great movies start with a black screen,” Batman (Will Arnett) informs the audience. A few minutes later, Batman has saved all of Gotham not only from Joker but nearly every other villain in the franchise. Yet when the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) tests him by making him choose between letting him go free or saving a Gotham citizen, Batman saves the citizen without hesitation. “I thought there was something special between us,” Joker whines. “There is no us!” Batman snarls. His loneliness is further underlined when returns home to an empty Bat Cave to watch romantic movies and eat lobster solo. After his victory, the new Police Commissioner, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), suggests the Gotham police and Batman should join together to fight crime. Add in an orphan with a love for green and red spandex whom Batman accidentally adopts, and the Caped Crusader’s vision of a life free from attachments quickly crumbles.
This thin plot, however, is just the framework for an endless series of riffs, puns, and jokes more of a stand-up routine than a cohesive narrative. Much of this humor is self-deprecating. When Barbara suggests that they employ Joker’s former friends to fight a new set of villains, Batman scoffs. “A team of bad guys to fight other bad guys. That would never work.” Later, he warns Robin that he “punches so hard that animated words will suddenly appear.” The purpose of a spoof is to remind that audience that even a work of art can have flaws and humor can be found in any situation. By riffing on pre-existing material, a person can add their own thoughts and observations. People do this naturally in life, but it’s easy to worry about being offensive. Since this is not the real Batman series but a Lego incarnation, it gives the characters and the audience permission to make fun, which can be a freeing experience if not used too harshly. For a poor example, see (or, better, don’t see) Deadpool.
In an attempt to impress Batman and win his anti-affections, Joker sends himself to the Phantom Zone to set free all of the Universe’s greatest villains upon Gotham. This includes a who’s who of Warner Brothers properties including King Kong, Voldemort, Sauron, Agent Smith, the Wicked Witch of the West, and some famous British sci-fi robots. “Go ask your nerd friends,” Batman tells Robin. This trope was made famous by the film Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters where Godzilla had to team up with his allies to defeat his greatest enemies. Seeing Voldemort and Sauron work together is the kind of cool set-up only a nine year old could imagine, and thus Legos are a perfect medium for that kind of storytelling. Finally, Batman is forced to admit he needs the help of others in his life and gives Joker those three special words. “I hate you,” he speaks from the bottom of his heart. “I really, really hate you.” Joker smiles. “That’s all I wanted to hear.”
Admittedly, The Lego Batman Movie doesn’t hold much weight but neither do Legos. This film is proof that its 2014 predecessor The Lego Movie has spawned a viable franchise that already has three other films in production. Critics will no doubt argue that these films are simply ninety minute commercials for toys. That is a 100% correct and makes 0% difference. There is only one correct adjective for this masterpiece, and it’s the same word used to describe the first one. But, for the sake of keeping the song out of your head, I will neglect to mention it again.