The LEGO-fied version of Batman that we all loved in 2014’s The LEGO Movie is back, this time in his very own film. I thought the first LEGO film was surprisingly great, but I was really looking forward to The LEGO Batman Movie, as it’s more in line with my particular geeky interests.
Batman (Will Arnett) is used to working alone as the sole protector of his city and the people of Gotham adore him. This all changes, however, when Jim Gordon (Hector Elizondo) retires as Police Commissioner and is replaced by his highly-accomplished daughter, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson). Barbara has a new plan for fighting the city’s crime and it involves Batman working alongside the GCPD. Bats is not a big fan of the Commissioner’s new initiative, but when The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) becomes hell-bent on once and for all proving himself to be Batman’s greatest nemesis, the Dark Knight must learn to open up and start working well with others, including a young orphan he’s recently adopted by the name of Dick Grayson (Michael Cera).
The big theme of this movie is family. Like just about every other version of the character you see these days, LEGO Batman is the ultimate loner. The big difference is, this Batman has people around him that care enough to try and intervene. His loving butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) hates seeing Bruce push everyone away. He knows it’s unhealthy. Batman has fully immersed himself in his crusade, rarely even taking off his cowl and assuming his true identity of Bruce Wayne, which is true to form as any true Batman fan will know that the Bruce Wayne persona is the real mask he hides behind. He usually much better at hiding behind it than he is in this film, though.
The thing that really shines a spotlight on the film’s core theme is the Robin storyline and this is the part of the story that I found the most emotionally compelling. We may not see much of this sort of thing anymore in the mainstream Batman media, but family has long been a big part of Batman’s identity. The great thing is that if the filmmakers choose to make another LEGO Batman movie, there’s plenty of other great characters from the Bat-family to introduce down the line.
Across the board, all the characters are perfectly depicted (for a LEGO Batman movie) and the voice cast assembled here is amazing. Arnett again nails it in a truly hilarious take on Batman. I love it so much that I fear his voice might creep into my head from time to time while reading Batman comics (which is crazy, because I’ve only ever heard Kevin Conroy’s voice in my head since childhood). From the trailers, I thought Cera’s Robin would quickly grow tiresome, but I was happy to discover that it’s just too hard to hate the lovable young ward. This character often cracked me up with just a simple dumb facial expression. Rosario Dawson makes for a tremendous Barbara Gordon, displaying all of the things that make the character from the comics one of my all-time favorites: she’s brilliant, she’s brave and she doesn’t take crap from anybody, billionaire playboy superheroes included. Also, I can’t tell you how much I love seeing Batgirl in action on the big screen and done justice, for a change. Fiennes’ Alfred was spot on, but I do have to say that I found it utterly baffling that they didn’t have the actor voice another specific character in the film (if you’ve seen the film and know Fiennes’ work, then you should know who I’m referring to).
On the villain front, I love Zach Galifianakis, and though his Joker voice might not be able to contend with Mark Hamill’s (an impossibly high bar, I know), I found that I really dug it for this iteration. Filling out most of the remainder of the cast, the bulk of Batman’s Rogues Gallery is voiced by some excellent comedians such as Conan O’Brien as The Riddler, Doug Benson as Bane, Jenny Slate as Harley Quinn, Jason Mantzoukas as Scarecrow, Garfunkel & Oates’ Riki Lindhome as Poison Ivy and Kate Micucci as Clayface. As a big comedy fan, I enjoyed listening for these talented comedic performers as they embody some of my favorite villains from comics. I would have liked a bit more of some of these villains, though. And although she’s not a comedian, Zoë Kravitz’s Catwoman might have cracked me up the most, interjecting a particular phrase at some point during most of her lines (it’s so dumb, but I couldn’t help but chuckle every time).
One of the great things about a character that has stood the test of time like Batman is that he has changed so much in his 78-year history that a version like the LEGO Batman totally feels in character. It’s pretty apparent that director Chris McKay and his small army of writers truly know this character in and out (in fact, if McKay really wants to try his hand at a live-action DC film, I say let him). They struck just the right balance of honoring the storied history of the character, across all mediums, while knowing just what to poke fun at when it’s rightfully deserved. One amazing example of honoring the legacy came in the casting of Billy Dee Williams as the voice of Two-Face. Williams, who played Harvey Dent in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, never got to play Two-Face, so it was nice to finally see that wrong righted, even in such a minor way. In addition, the film not only honors Batman lore, but the DC Universe as a whole, with plenty of nods to various people/places/things from the comics, as well as some fun cameos from some of Batman’s Super Friends, like Superman (Channing Tatum), Green Lantern (Jonah Hill) and The Flash (Adam Devine).
This character’s world, as established in the comics, is so incredibly vast and this film somehow manages to explore aspects of it all in a way that works exceptionally well. However, this fact does bring me to the one problem I had with the movie. It’s a little tough to go into this completely without entering into spoiler territory, but I’m going to try and be vague enough about it, in case you haven’t seen the film yet (or if you’d prefer, maybe just skip the rest of this paragraph altogether). Joker’s big plan involves working with some people that are a bit unexpected and this took me out of the world that I had previously loved for being so beautifully crafted. I would have been totally fine with cameos in this vein, but I thought having them be such a big part of the film’s story was a mistake. It was cute, but it just didn’t work for me. There were so many other options here that would have felt more in line with what this film already established, but I shouldn’t get too specific.
My singular gripe aside, as a whole, this is a truly outstanding film. It’s pretty close, but I liked LEGO Batman better than The LEGO Movie, though that’s mostly because it’s all Batman, all the time. McKay and company delivered a fantastically fun and funny adventure that should please Bat-fans of any generation. And if you’re a parent, don’t fear, this is a perfect film to take your kids to. They’ll love it and you might just end up loving it yourself.