Almost everything is awesome in The Lego Batman Movie. The consensus is probably going to be that it’s not as good as The Lego Movie (2014), but I wonder how many people will agree with me that it’s one of the best Batman movies. For fans of the “Caped Crusader,” it honors his long history in a fresh, fun way, acknowledging the fact that he has evolved over the years into a truly dark knight. At the same time, it appeals to anyone who possesses only surface level information about the vigilante superhero, exploiting his trait of being a loner.
Here, this trait threatens to cripple Batman (Will Arnett). He won’t admit that he has any type of “relationship” with his archenemy, the Joker (Zach Galifianakis), much less with his surrogate father, Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), his adopted son, Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), or the new Gotham City Police Commissioner, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson). This is the movie’s kid-friendly moral: you can’t do everything by yourself… you need friends… you need family. Or, as its characters mention a couple of times, not so originally, “It takes a village.”
The message is a little obvious and more than a little heavy-handed at times, but I’ll give it a pass because The Lego Batman Movie is meant primarily for young ones, not their elders. At the same time, I don’t want to discourage us elders from seeing it. There is more than enough adult humor to colorfully fly over their heads while soaking into ours. For example, one of my favorite exchanges in the movie is:
Dick Grayson, “My name is Richard Grayson. The other kids call me Dick”
Batman, “Well, kids can be cruel.”
The movie is loaded with so many Easter eggs that if I watched it 10 times, I still wouldn’t catch them all. Blink and you’ll miss familiar Batman villains ranging from the 1966 TV series through the modern age of comic books. However, the cameos don’t stop there. Not only does it include Superman and members of the Justice League/Super Friends, but also a rogue’s gallery of pop culture villains and monsters outside the DC Comics universe. Where else could you possibly see both Egghead and the Creature from the Black Lagoon in the same movie?
As fun as that all is, even better are Lego recreations of famous comic book covers and scenes from Batman movies going back to his first onscreen appearance in serials from the mid-to-late 1940s. Also, the Batcave “closet” is full of alternative uniforms from what must be all of Batman’s previous adventures, including those from recent comic book storylines like Grant Morrison’s “Batman Incorporated,” in which different Batmen around the world function as a global crime fighting unit. My only complaint is how quickly they speed by my admiring eyes.
That’s another complaint for which I’ll give The Lego Batman Movie a pass. It is at times, especially in its opening, so energetic and fast moving that you think surely it will exhaust you in its first few moments. Be patient. It’s not that frenetic throughout and eventually slows down to tell its story. As if to acknowledge its pace, after returning to Wayne Manor following the initial battle, Batman pops some Lobster Thermidor in the microwave, sets the timer for two minutes, then stands waiting and whistling for what must be at least half that amount of real time.
It must be difficult to maintain control directing a movie like this, but Chris McKay (Robot Chicken) manages the chaos like a professional with his first feature-length film. The real heroes, though, are the writers, led by Seth Grahame-Smith (Dark Shadows, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) and including four others, at least two of whom worked on Community. The influence of the latter is strong in The Lego Batman Movie, full of in-jokes and “smart” humor. I smiled throughout its brisk 104 min. running time.