In a film full of cleverness, perhaps the cleverest thing in The LEGO Batman Movie is that the screenplay envisions a world in which all of the films about the titular Caped Crusader - from the 1960s television series to the film sagas variously directed by Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher, and Christopher Nolan to the newest iteration that will tie into a shared universe with the rest of the Justice League - are canon. The main character looks a little like Ben Affleck's take in 2016's Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, his sidekick Robin looks like he's still being played by Burt Ward, and even their nemesis, the Joker, looks like Cesar Romero was reincarnated to look like one of the popular construction toys that have spawned this unlikely series.
Perhaps after the likes of 2014's The LEGO Movie, this cleverness housed in nostalgic callbacks is to be expected. The earlier film, after all, used the history of the LEGO brand as its character base (Remember the appearance of the 2002 NBA All-Stars?), so it makes sense that a brand that has, over time, included blockish versions of all of the characters across the nine live-action Batman movies would reconstitute them in animated form. The whole of the third act here, in fact, sets Batman (voice of a note-perfect Will Arnett once again) and his compatriots against all of the villains (from Voldemort to Sauron) and monsters (from King Kong to the Creature from the Black Lagoon) currently licensed by distributor Warner Bros. It's a lot to take in, admittedly, and the film isn't always successful in that regard.
That only really means it's a bit of a step down from the earlier film, but this is still a movie that works two-fold. The first way is as a serious approach to the Dark Knight legend. No, we don't see the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents (Thank goodness for that), but we do come as close as possible to understanding the core of Batman's existence here: Without villains to fight, Batman considers himself to be nothing, and he likes it in that way that just means he's in denial about what he really wants. We can sense this when he tells the Joker (voice of Zach Galifianakis) that the Clown Prince of Crime means nothing to him. This wounds the Joker's pride in a terrific scene that also sets up the plot extremely well.
The idea, of course, is wrong: There is no dark without light, and there really is no Batman without the Joker. While Batman is fighting crime in Gotham, Superman (voice of Channing Tatum) has banished various baddies to the Phantom Zone, and in retaliation for Batman's dis, the Joker concocts to be banished there as well. He will then activate a hilariously obvious fail-safe and unleash all of those villains onto the populace. Meanwhile, Batman has accidentally adopted an orphan son in the form of Dick Grayson (voice of Michael Cera), who later becomes Robin, and joins forces with Barbara Gordon (voice of an outstanding Rosario Dawson), who also happens to be a costumed crime-fighter. Bruce's butler Alfred (voice of Ralph Fiennes), meanwhile, is as loyal as ever.
The second way the film works is as a cheeky comedy that moves like a shot. Batman is still a likable lug, after all, and the film gains a lot of mileage out of visual gags aplenty. It's something else to witness to the movie's animation style, which is once again computer-generated to look like it's stop-motion, be the source of sight gags that fill the screen. It's enough to make one want to sit in the front row of the theater to allow it to wash over you. The characters are all voiced spectacularly by actors clearly in on the joke, and the jabs at the previous Warner Bros. properties show a graceful sense of self-deprecation. The climax becomes a bit much, as mentioned, with so many characters accomplishing so much that it overwhelms the senses, but The LEGO Batman Movie is more delightful than it perhaps should be. Best of all, it takes its goofiness seriously, and that's a lot more preferable to insulting the children's intelligence.
Featuring the voices of Will Arnett (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Michael Cera (Dick Grayson/Robin), Rosario Dawson (Barbara Gordon/Batgirl), Ralph Fiennes (Alfred Pennyworth), Zach Galifianakis (Joker), Jenny Slate (Harley Quinn), Channing Tatum (Superman), Jonah Hill (Green Lantern), Jemaine Clement (Sauron), Zoe Kravitz (Catwoman), Eddie Izzard (Voldemort), Ellie Kemper (Phyllis), Adam Devine (The Flash), Seth Green (King Kong), Mariah Carey (Mayor McCaskill), Billy Dee Williams (Two-Face), Jason Mantzoukas (Scarecrow), Conan O'Brien (The Riddler), Doug Benson (Bane), and Hector Elizondo (Jim Gordon).
Directed by Chris McKay and written by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, and John Whittington, based on the characters of Batman, created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, and Superman, created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
Rated PG (rude humor, action).
Released on February 10, 2017.