“Black. All important movies start with a black screen.” That’s the opening line from The Lego Batman Movie, that rolls even before any of the studio logos show up. It’s never an easy task building a movie spinoff around a side character from a previous movie or show, even when working from an established character. The Lego Batman Movie takes on that task with the characteristic snark and confidence of Batman himself.
In The Lego Movie, we saw a version of Batman who was snarky, full of himself, and served mainly as a foil for Emmet’s good-hearted innocence. The Lego Batman Movie takes on the tough challenge of giving this version of Batman more of a star treatment, filling out the character to be more than just a series of killer one-liners and bad emo, heavy-metal music.
The movie starts with Batman saving Gotham City (again) from an attempt by the Joker to destroy it. Batman’s refusal to acknowledge the Joker as his archenemy, in a sort of bromance gone bad, pushes the Joker to consider new ways to get Batman’s attention. Meanwhile, back in Wayne Manor, we see that Batman is totally alone, save for Alfred, preferring to be a loner, but still having a taste for rom-coms. Jerry Maguire is a particular favorite.
Change is forced on Batman when the Joker surrenders himself to new commissioner Barbara Gordon, while on the same night Bruce Wayne accidentally adopts orphaned Dick Grayson as his ward. Determined to thwart Joker’s new plan, no matter the cost, Batman decides to steal the key to the Phantom Zone from Superman and send the Joker there, rather than allow him to remain locked up in Arkham Asylum.
The entire movie is filled with references to previous incarnations of Batman. The wheel of Batmobiles in the Batcave, Bat Shark Repellent that’s given to Robin as being totally useless, Alfred’s references to Batman’s previous brooding times, are just a few. The Phantom Zone, as well, where the Joker goes to recruit a better class of villain, is a treasure trove of callbacks to every Warner Brothers owned IP plus a few others!
The Lego Batman Movie is a lot like watching my kids play Legos with each other. Fairies, Star Wars, Cities, Marvel and DC Superheroes, and Space all combine together in ways that really shouldn’t work, but do. Much like The Lego Movie itself, it’s almost fanfic in how it plays out sometimes, but somehow, it works. The kids in the theater, my eight-year-old Lego and Batman obsessed son included, loved the physical jokes and typically juvenile humor, while the adults were laughing at the retro callbacks, classic movie villains, and lampshading of typical Batman tropes.
Will Arnett (Batman), Rosario Dawson (Barbara Gordon), Ralph Fiennes (Alfred), and Zach Galifianakis (Joker) put in some excellent voice acting. Siri (as in the voice in your iPhone) as the voice of the Bat ‘Puter is a fantastic touch. The soundtrack isn’t quite as catchy as The Lego Movie, (“Friends are Family” just isn’t an earworm on the level of “Everything is Awesome”) but “Who’s the (Bat)Man” is a definite standout, and a many of the mood pieces hearken back to some of the best instrumental pieces of previous movies and TV shows.
Parents of kids obsessed with Legos, Batman, or both will have a great time at this movie. It’s not inappropriate and there’s plenty of humor to go around. Fans of Batman, or just superhero movies in general wanting to see a lighter take on the genre will also find a lot to enjoy here.