Movie Review: ‘The Lego Batman Movie’
It’s hard to say who exactly stole scenes the most in The Lego Movie. Everyone involved from top to bottom knocked it out of the park. The film hit in 2014 and became an instant classic. One of those spokes in that successful wheel was Will Arnett’s mind-blowingly awesome take as the Dark Knight, aka Batman. Well, he’s got his own (Lego) movie and now the world should ready itself for The Lego Batman Movie.
This film is firmly set in Gotham and has more heart, hilarity (of course), depth and emotional grounded-ness than any previous effort that featured the Dark Knight. Yes, you read that correctly. Who would have ever thought that a toy Lego Batman-centric film could achieve such greatness? Well, given why The Lego Movie was such a success and how it achieved many of the same things, we should actually not be so surprised.
This is a smart script, with whip-sharp dialogue, action and character development that truly gets the Batman character, plus the other souls that inhabit his world, and why The Bat is one of the, if not the most popular superhero in the entire world. The best part is it is terrific for children, five and older, as well as adults. The humor, the story — all of it — plays to that wide spectrum.
Our story commences with Batman doing what he does best… saving Gotham (again and again). He’s played up to be this wildly popular civic hero who no one can figure out his true identity. Meanwhile, we know he is Bruce Wayne. He is the playboy millionaire who must be living the life — except, that is not the case at all. Wayne is lonely. Batman is lonely. After a tough day being a hero, he saunters home to Wayne Manor and has only his butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) to talk to. He eats alone. He watches movies (like Jerry Maguire) alone. It is a solitary existence. This man is clearly haunted by the death of his parents at a young age and that has psychologically crippled him for developing and maintaining any kind of relationship… both as Batman and as the orphan billionaire.
What is so fascinating and just one example of why this particular film gets Batman so brilliantly is a scene involving one of his many villains, the Joker (expertly voiced by Zach Galifianakis). He goes on a long-winded and hilarious monologue where he tells his foe that there is no “us. There is only me. You mean nothing to me.” As the Joker wells up in tears, the audience may be laughing hysterically at the terrific ridiculousness of the scene. But, if one goes a little deeper, it is easy to see that this is just one more example of a character pushing away people who seek to find some sort of connection to him. See, told you this film gets the Dark Knight like no other!
After that emotional takedown, the Joker sets off on a plan to unleash the world’s worst villains on Gotham as a means to bring his lifelong foe to his knees. No spoilers here, but some of those evildoers come from not only the DC Comics library, but also the Warner Bros. vault. We’re talking some inspired villains here.
Batman — and Wayne — is going to need some help. Through a moment of cluelessness (and another great scene), Wayne has adopted a boy Dick Grayson akakRobin (Michael Cera, in a sort of Arrested Development reunion). He also has to forge a new relationship with the newly appointed Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson),who takes over for her father. Fiennes’ Alfred may even get in on the action as this uniquely connected “family” gives Batman the extra ammo he needs to achieve what appears to be the impossible.
Director Chris McKay was the animation director of The Lego Movie and giving him the reins to the follow-up film was a stroke of genius by everyone involved at Warner’s. He truly gets the Lego world but also, and most importantly, he understands the universe of Batman. There are eight writing credits of those who contributed to the screenplay, but the big one who has had the most influence over the creative decisions for this film is Seth Grahame-Greene. This is the guy who penned the books Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. He knows how to push the envelope and his work on screenplays for Dark Shadows and now The Lego Batman Movie shows that his literary work has laid the groundwork for some serious creativity in the realm of cinema.
Arnett once again shows why he may be one of our greatest Batmans. Not only does he get the gravitas of the character, but the emotional turmoil and oftentimes absurdity of this entire superhero world where a billionaire could do anything with his life, but has chosen to dress up as a giant bat and risk his life, night after night, somehow finding solace in putting away bad guys as a way of filling the hole in his heart left by his parents’ murder in front of his eyes. He finds new levels of hilarity and emotive power in The Lego Batman Movie and we cannot wait until he gets a chance to don the mask and put on the costume once again in the near future.
The voice cast is equally as impressive as Arnett’s performance. Dawson is game for some serious silliness, but also gives her Gordon a serious ass-kicking modus operandi that should inspire a whole lot of little (and big) girls out there. Cera is equally innocent as he is wide-eyed and willing to do anything to be liked as Robin. Fiennes could not have been better cast as Alfred and Galifianakis takes this Joker to places we wish Jared Leto had in Suicide Squad. He’s just as conflicted as Batman and despite what the hero says in the film, they do need each other and, honestly, they are a perfect yin and yang.
There’s a who’s-who of talent that you will have to wait until the credits roll to see who voices who, because it is impressive. It just shows that a smart script and a novel idea for a film will attract talent willing to do anything (however small or large) to be a part of something truly unique and smart. The Lego Batman Movie is special. It’s a film that everyone needs to see.
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