Review: “The LEGO Batman Movie”

Eric Anderson, A&E Editor

The zany, self-referential and ridiculous antics of the Dark Knight’s LEGO equivalent continue in Warner Animation Group’s new animated feature, “The LEGO Batman Movie,” a spin-off of the 2014 smash hit, “The LEGO Movie” focusing on the Batman character.

Will Arnett returns as the titular character, the widely beloved vigilante of Gotham City who foils a nefarious scheme by the Joker (Zack Galifanakis) to seize power, while also ignoring his pleas to be recognized as the Caped Crusader’s arch-enemy. Soon afterwards, a new police commissioner, Barbara Gordon, steps up the town’s police force to more even footing with Batman, and the town’s supervillains are quickly imprisoned. Batman soon finds himself unable to handle a world without villains, and is left to handle the task of raising his accidentally adopted son, Dick Grayson, while continuing to investigate what he believes to be a plot against Gotham.

Much like “The LEGO Movie,” this new spinoff has the organic feel of a child imagining a plot out of their favorite characters, without any particular regard to “Batman” series mythology. That said, however, it feels much more like a “Batman” movie than a “LEGO” movie. Aside from some brief references to “master builders” and a few unexpected characters late in the film, it generally seems to be taking place in a wacky cartoon version of the DC Comics universe, which just happens to be made out of LEGO bricks. The film focuses less on its universe than it does on its characters.

On the voice acting front, Arnett once again delivers a stellar performance as a pompous, self-aggrandizing and overcompensating Batman. The film somewhat expands on his characterization from the original film, exploring his inability to properly cope with his lack of a family and the consequences of his loner lifestyle. Michael Cera shines as Dick Grayson, giving an exuberant, bouncy performance as Batman’s adorably naive young ward. Ralph Fiennes, who takes on the role of Batman’s butler Alfred, achieves a stellar mix of wit and sympathy in his interactions with Arnett’s manchild Dark Knight. This main trio is the core of the film; the remainder of the characters are largely serviceable, but don’t add a lot. Rosario Dawson is adequate as Barbara Gordon, while Galifanakis feels generally miscast as the Joker.

Much like its predecessor, “LEGO Batman” features gorgeously detailed animation, truly immersing viewers in the feeling of the onscreen world. The Batcave is particularly stunning, with Batman’s signature devices and vehicles rendered rather creatively in the format. Furthermore, the film is jam-packed with delightful Easter eggs for fans of any era of Batman. These range from Batman quoting his counterpart from the 1989 film “Batman,” to musical cues directly recalling similar ones from “The Dark Knight,” to Batman recalling his feud with Superman in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice,” to even the delightfully infamous “Shark-Repellent Bat-Spray” from Adam West’s “Batman: The Movie” on display in the Batcave. While the references risk coming across as pandering at times, they are generally good-natured and amusing enough to work both in and out of context.

Overall, “The LEGO Batman Movie” is a giddy, hyperactive and laugh-at-loud animated funfest that makes no reservations about its intent to provide a silly good time for all. It never reaches the existential and narrative heights of “The LEGO Movie,” but when a character that generally functioned as comic relief the first time around is moved to center stage without a fundamental change in character, that’s to be expected. The film comes at a strong recommendation for fans of animation, LEGOs, Batman, silly humor and old-fashioned cartoon antics.