Distributor: Warner Bros.
Director: Chris McKay
Writers: Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, & John Whittington (screenplay); Seth Grahame-Smith (story); Bob Kane & Bill Finger (Batman created by); Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster (Superman created by)
Stars: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Siri (no joke), Zach Galifianakis, Jenny Slate, Jason Mantzoukas, Conan O’Brien, Doug Benson, Billy Dee Williams, Zoë Kravitz, Kate Micucci, Riki Lindhome, Eddie Izzard, and many, many more.
Genre: Action/Adventure, Animation, Comedy, Sci-fi/Fantasy
Rating: PG (for rude humor and some action)
In 2014, The LEGO Movie surprised many when it hit theaters (read our review; we kind of liked it). Finally bringing the incredibly popular children’s building blocks to the big screen, it came with just the right mix of crazy and randomness, that fun element that results from making whatever comes to you as you play.
When the toys started out, playsets were pretty generic, but in recent years, every licensed property you can think of show up on store shelves LEGO-fied. Batman, one of the most popular LEGO properties, showed up in that film as a character, and immediately, he became a fan favorite. Narcissistic and played with a gloomy grimace by Will Arnett, it was obvious then that he’d have to show up in any LEGO Movie sequels.
Warner Bros. further surprised us all when the next LEGO movie announced was The LEGO Batman Movie. Of course, we’ve witnessed Batman in numerous live-action films (as well as just being introduced to Ben Affleck’s rendition in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice last year). Many may even think there is nothing we could see from Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego. However, trailers released show this rendition of the Dark Knight is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before on the big screen. Now, it’s one thing to take a good bit and get a few minutes of fun out of something, but it’s entirely different to carry an entire movie. How does Gotham’s greatest fare in this rendition?
Violence/Scary Images: Action-packed from beginning to end. It’s chaotic and messy and a cacophony of sound and color. Some of Batman’s Rogues Gallery are more fearsome for little ones than others, but I daresay they’ll probably be too busy laughing to get scared.
Language/Crude Humor: No cursing that I remember, but parents, take note: it’s well-established canon that the original Robin (the one in this film) is named Dick Grayson. There was a joke at his expense that may have just been noticeable to me as an adult, but it still felt unnecessary.
Spiritual Content: Nothing overtly spiritual, one way or the other.
Sexual Content: Taking its own spin on characters, I’m sure there are some who will take issue with the fact that Barbara Gordon catches Bruce’s eye. Typically, Batman has a mentor-like relationship with her in most renditions, but here, she’s an adult, and she has his full attention. I don’t recall any inappropriate talk between them, but Batfans may not like that the two got ‘shipped’ again after we were all taken too far down that road with the recent animated release of The Killing Joke.
Drug/Alcohol Reference: None that I can remember.
Other Negative Content: Batman is a loner for much of the movie, and he often does things at the expense of those around him. Of course, character growth happens, but some of the things he does shouldn’t be imitated or looked up to by little ones.
Positive Content: Personally, I’ve had a couple of rough weeks recently as I write this review, yet when I watched this movie, I laughed harder than I have in who knows how long. I’ve commented to several I know that it’s getting harder and harder to make me laugh, but this film had my eight-year-old and I laughing throughout. We’ve since left singing songs and quoting it like crazy. Fatherhood moment for me, but I can see lots of others doing it as well. The film really stresses the importance of family well, and I wasn’t expecting how well it got the point across.
The less said about the plot, the better. I don’t mean that as a bad thing at all, because there are plenty of surprises in this film I don’t even want to get close to spoiling. Batman has some of the most well-known villains in all of comics, and many have already made the transition to the big-screen (many times in the cases of some). Still, there are several who haven’t made the leap beyond the page…until now. While The Condiment King and Egghead would never fit in the Nolan films (or even Schumacher ones for that matter), they are right at home here with all the zaniness on display. In fact, after all these years and the tease in the Tim Burton film, we finally get a Billy Dee Williams’ Two-Face! And that’s an indication of the intentional ‘deep-cuts’ that are in store for Batfans in this film. Loads of villains, loads of heroes, and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments are all here in full-force.
Self-aware is too small of a concept to describe what’s going on here. The LEGO Movie had the jump on us all with its surprises of unpredictability. Here, the makers knew they had to be unpredictable in other ways. The referential humor is strong here, and the bigger the fan, the more you will laugh, I believe. Call it parody or just a remixed version of all things Bat, but the sheer amount of Easter Eggs in this film could take us years to sort out…not even joking. Many frames have simultaneous references to Batman in whatever iteration you can think of in the full history of the character.
Many fans may feel that Batman: The Animated Series is the best, or some may even think Adam West was the very best Batman. I’ve seen these arguments before, and some argue fiercely. As a lifelong fan, I was too busy being wholly entertained to even think to be offended at what they were doing to “my Batman”, but I know there will be some who just can’t have a good time. That’s truly what this is from beginning to end: a fun celebration of the character and his universe. A send-up, yes. One could even call it a (child-appropriate) roast, and as this, it’s a smashing success. Just because the “plot” is all over the place doesn’t mean the story isn’t good, because the creativity on display shows the writers truly brought it.
None of this would work without Will Arnett absolutely crushing it again as Batman. You can tell he’s thoroughly enjoying every second of this role. Coupling him with his old Arrested Development co-star, Michael Cera, as Robin was absolute magic. His voice is the perfect counter to Arnett’s growl, and the development of these two is both hilarious and heartfelt. Rosario Dawson isn’t given as much to do as Barbara Gordon, but she does well with what she’s given, playing straight (wo)man to Batsy.
Zach Galifianakis makes this Joker his own. He’s not riffing on anybody (and who would even try to ‘do’ Mark Hamill but Hamill himself). The film is all the better for it, and while the sharp teeth didn’t sit well with me in trailers, they, along with his expressions, gave me some of the biggest laughs in the film. Ralph Fiennes was as good of a traditional Alfred as any I’ve seen with a tone and delivery that enhanced the humor on the page. Also, just when you think you know him as a character, he joins in all the crazy too at the end in a fun way. ***SPOILERY NOTE: Ralph Fiennes could have voiced another character who shows up prominently, but he doesn’t. When you find out who I’m referring to, you’ll see that you never know what to expect in these LEGO films.*** If I tried to address all of the voice actors performances, we’d be here a very long time, and frankly, some only get a line or two. Still, everyone did fantastic.
The film opens with a credits sequence that really establishes the tone, and the quiet moments in the Batcave and Wayne Manor early on (as shown in the trailer) work really well. The film clips along with fairly consistent hilarity. Still, is the movie perfect? No. It suffered a little bit in humor and interest in the middle, if I’m being entirely honest. That ending though, really brought it all back around. I know I’m being vague with story details, but if you came to this review for the story, you’re doing it all wrong. This movie’s “plot” is all in service to entertain and make you laugh, and I’m fairly confident it will do just that for you. My release day audience I attended with, while small in number, laughed consistently throughout. What more could one ask of a comedy, animated, or otherwise?
On a technical side, everything is gorgeous. My mind was tricked into thinking that some of the toys in The LEGO Movie weren’t CGI a few years ago. A Google search then showed me that the makers of that film tricked me. Still, here we are here, and the level of detail on the character models made me even question it all again. It’s amazing how far computer-generated animation has come in a relatively short amount of time, but it’s all done superbly here. Chaotic is a perfect word to describe this world shown, but all of it works seamlessly. I, personally, can’t wait for more LEGO movies, even for properties like Ninjago that I know nothing about, and it’s all because of the execution.
In regards to music: yes, this Batfilm has songs, and some of them are even catchier than “Kiss From A Ross” (sorry, Seal). One song in particular, which closes the film, will likely become my friend’s ringtone…no shame. The actual score fits all the moments it needs to, cherry picking pieces from Batman history and mixing them in, but the licensed songs used really bring the funny. The film’s opening “theme” cleverly uses bits of the 1960’s TV show theme, and I’ll likely never hear it all the same way again.
Even with my intentional vagueness of revealing no plot and such, I think some Batman fans could read this review and firmly decide #NotMyBatman and stay home. They could be absolutely correct for themselves. For some who only enjoy Frank Miller’s dark take on the character, I could see them flat out rejecting the efforts here as silly. Still, I am a fan who loves the character, beyond just this version or that. I own a copy of almost every film or television iteration, animated or live-action, and no other character takes up as much room in my graphic novel/trade paperback collection than Batman himself.
I know the histories, I love the histories, and I absolutely loved this film. I loved what it did with all I know about the character and all the little ways it played with the universe. One of my fellow attendees, an avid fan as well, said he thought it was definitely his favorite Batman film of all time. You heard me right: even better than Nolan. Why? Because it gets the fundamental appeal of the character, and it blasts it back in your face like a roller-coaster ride of fun. You’ll laugh, you may even feel a little, but I daresay you’ll definitely have a great, great time. I can’t wait to see it again and again.
The Bottom Line
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