The first thing to say about “The Lego Batman Movie” is that it’s kicky, bedazzling, and super-fun. The second thing to say about it is that, like “The Lego Movie” (2014), it’s a kiddie flick that’s been made in a sophisticated spirit of lightning-fast, brain-bursting paradox. The movie uses digital animation to create the illusion that it’s set in a herky-jerky universe of plastic Lego bricks — but it has such a kaleidoscopic, anything-goes flow that it trumps the imagination of just about any animated feature you could name. The characters are Lego minifigures with pegs for heads and crudely etched faces that barely move, yet they have more personality than the majority of human actors. Most delicious of all: “The Lego Batman Movie” comes on like a kid-friendly sendup of the adult world, yet there’s a dizzying depth to its satirical observations that grows right out of the spectacularly fake settings, which are hypnotic to look at but have the effect of putting postmodern quotation marks around…everything.
The main satirical target of “The Lego Batman Movie” is Batman himself, voiced (once again) by Will Arnett in a deep low husky rasp, and with a narcissistic personality disorder that’s fantastically out of control. He somehow combines the voice of Clint Eastwood, the conceitedness of Derek Zoolander, and the fast-break observational avidity of Stephen Colbert. “We’re going to punch those guys so hard,” he growls, “words describing their impact are going to spontaneously materialize.” The movie opens with Batman offering the play-by-play of his own film (“All important movies start with a black screen”), followed by a sequence as madly choreographed as anything in an “Indiana Jones” film, as he takes on a screenful of famous and obscure villains led by the rascally but secretly sensitive Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis).
This Batman, still scarred by the loss of his parents, roots his competitive identity in being a lone avenger, valiant and guarded, with no feelings, no vulnerability, no need for anyone else. In his bat lair, feasting on microwaved lobster thermidor, watching “Jerry Maguire” as if it were a comedy, he’s the ultimate male who won’t commit, a cowled mask of solo cool whose only loyalty is to Gotham City — but deep down, he’s doing it for his own glory. Ever since Tim Burton’s “Batman,” the movies have acknowledged that the Caped Crusader is a dark freak, but “The Lego Batman Movie” doesn’t just freakify Batman. It subjects him to nothing less than a playfully merciless psychoanalysis.
The Joker wants Batman to acknowledge that the two need each other — that they’re the greatest of foes — but Batman won’t even concede that. Instead, he projects the Joker into the Phantom Zone, a metaphysical penal colony in the clouds where only the most epic villains (Sauron, King Kong, the Wicked Witch) are kept. The stage is set for a battle royale, but the real fight is between Batman and his own armored ego. To get over it, he’ll have to agree to form a team — a family — with his tough-love butler, Alfred (Ralph Fiennes); the eager-geek son, Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), he inadvertently adopted, who soon dons a Robin costume; and the new police commissioner, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), a flame-haired enforcer who causes Batman to stare, hypnotized, as choruses of “Died in Your Arms Tonight” flood the soundtrack. The feeling isn’t quite reciprocal. Says Barbara: “We don’t need an unsupervised man karate-chopping poor people in a Halloween costume.”
The director, Chris McKay (taking over from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller), is an imagistic wizard who stages this put-on epic with a nearly psychedelic toy grandeur. More than that, though, he gives it a vision. Three years ago, “The Lego Movie” used the building-block uniformity of Lego to tweak the consumerist mania of a society (namely, ours) in which people have become worker-bee drones and nothing ever changes because “everything is awesome.” “The Lego Batman Movie” uses the towering plasticity of Lego to tweak a superhero culture (namely, ours) that pretends to be about nobility but is really about the vain delusion of full-time fantasy. Your average Pixar comedy thumbs its nose at a great many things, but “The Lego Batman Movie” is a helter-skelter lampoon in the daftly exhilarating spirit of Mad magazine and the “Naked Gun” films. It’s that quick and cutthroat clever and self-knowing. There’s every chance it will soar at the box office, and make no mistake: It deserves to.
Film Review: 'The Lego Batman Movie'
Reviewed at Warner Bros., February 3, 2017. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 106 MIN.
Production: A Warner Bros. release of a Warner Animation Group, DC Entertainment, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, LEGO System A/S, Vertigo Entertainment, Animal Logic, Lord Miller Productions prod. Producers: Dan Lin, Roy Lee, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller. Executive producers: Will Allegra, Matthew Ashton, Ryan Harris, Brad Lewis, Benjamin Melniker, John Powers Middleton, Zareh Nalbandian, Michael Uslan.
Crew: Director: Chris McKay. Screenplay: Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, John Whittington. Editors: David Burrows, John Venzon, Matt Villa.
With: Will Arnett, Ralph Fiennes, Rosario Dawson, Zach Galifianakis, Jenny Slate, Michael Cera, Mariah Carey, Billy Dee Williams, Héctor Elizondo, Eddie Izzard.
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