“Batman works alone.”
From its impressively staged opening sequence to the final scene, The LEGO Batman Movie leaps off the high dive of hilarity and performs a cannonball into the canon of the well-known masked vigilante. This outing couldn’t exist with all of the other entries, nor would it want to, ranging from the best (The Dark Knight) to the absolute worst (Batman & Robin). And what’s so remarkable about this movie is its mastery of mixology, crafting a cocktail for children and adults alike out of rich ingredients as well as scraps tossed in the bin and wheeled out come collection day. Full of obscure cultural references (especially a clever Gymkata nod), surprising emotional depth, and a visual palette likened to that of Pop Rocks candy, The LEGO Batman Movie earns its place as one of the superhero’s best forays into feature film.
At his most fundamental level, the basic premise of the Batman character is rather simple: Billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne has boatloads of money and no otherworldly abilities. He’s a penthouse version of an everyman, and The LEGO Batman Movie understands the sadness behind his decision-making. It’s this solitary confinement, as well as his profound self-righteousness, which pushes him into the suit. In this film, Batman (Will Arnett) is a deadpan dummy, getting love drunk off the showering praise for his actions and then retreating to his lavish life of loneliness in Wayne Manor. He eats lobster thermidor nightly, talks to his AI computer like one of those new Amazon Echo speakers, and regularly saves Gotham City, not because he wants to protect its people, but because his ego feasts on adoration. This is a deeply disturbed and troubled character, which is a stunning achievement for such an adrenalized and fever-pitched animated movie.
The script for this adventure is as thorough as a fine-tooth comb, nary allowing any opportunity for a good joke to fall between the cracks. While the visuals are mesmerizing and explode onto the screen like a shaken can of soda, Chris McKay’s film actually has a self-effacing story to tell beneath all of the firecrackers and roman candles. Here, Batman’s built a reliance on how the citizens rely on him. But once Commissioner Gordon (Hector Elizondo) retires, his daughter Barbara (Rosario Dawson) comes in to set a new course for the sinking ship; get Batman to work within the law and with the lawmakers. It’s upheaval of the highest degree. Batman’s reaction is complex though, partially because it forces him to check the expiration date on his own purpose, and due to the fact he’s attracted to Barbara, so much so that he unknowingly adopts the orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) while gawking at the woman’s beauty. Watching a team assemble to fight off formidable bad guys rarely ever feels this fun or offers this much visceral laughter. I recommend you see this one with a tourniquet wrapped around your funny bone.
As Batman eventually suits up against the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) and his Hollywood Squares gallery of bad guys, what’s chiefly called into question is the appeal of tragic heroes and the vulnerability of villains. McKay and his writers plant this seed as an on-again off-again bromance, the good and the bad their own entities that can only ever feel entirely fulfilled so long as the other exists. That’s the ludicrous nature of the Batman legacy; the guy wants to rid Gotham of crime, but without fighting crime, he has no ambition or worth. This picture lives and breathes every contradictory statement and acts as an architect for the well established legacy of the character, building a solid fortress of funny by intricately piecing together the blueprints of previous chapters in the most fashionable and sensible way. The LEGO Batman Movie is like a family friendly Comedy Central Roast of the caped crusader, critiquing and pointing out every fault at the core of his being, all while finishing up the snide remarks with flattery, congratulations, and an appreciative hug. The bar for animated films in 2017 has already been set.
“I’m always one step ahead of you.”
Rating: 4 out of 5