February 09, 2017

The LEGO Batman Movie

Grade: B
Director: Chris McKay
Starring the voices of: Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Mariah Carey, Jenny Slate and Channing Tatum
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 1 hr. 46 min.

The LEGO Batman Movie isn’t the DC movie we deserve, but it’s the one we need right now. In a time when the cinematic Caped Crusader feels both exhausted and exhausting, along comes a Lord & Miller-inspired parody to save the day. Director Chris McKay unifies the iterations, drawing its material from not just the Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan exemplars, but also clever callbacks to the Adam West-starring TV series, the Super Friends cartoon and even the Joel Schumacher debacles, It even offers an olive branch to recent critics by taking some knowing jabs at the Zack Snyder re-imaginings. Want a film that lampoons Suicide Squad one moment—”I got to do something!” exclaims Killer Croc—then Bat Shark Repellant the next? Well, this is the Dark Knight for you.

You won’t find a funnier thirty minutes of film than LEGO Batman Movie’s opening act, with its surfeit of pop-culture references (including a recurring Jerry Maguire gag, of all things) and comic-book cues. Joker (Zach Galifianakis) leads a battle royale between the entire Batman rogues gallery, plus a cadre of concocting baddies like “Egghead” and “Condiment King.” It’s just a matter of minutes before Batman (Will Arnett, reprising his role from The LEGO Movie) has foiled the Joker’s plans again, but not before the proudly angry and lonely Batman refuses to acknowledge Joker as his greatest nemesis.

A wounded Joker quickly hatches his path to renewed infamy when Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) assumes the reins of police commissioner from her father. Normally, the sole duty of Gotham City police commish was the ability to push the button illuminating the Bat Signal. Barbara promises a new era of crime fighting based on “statistics” and “compassion,” and “not Batman.” When Joker and the rest of the traditional rogues gallery turns themselves into Barbara, it threatens to render Batman obsolete.

The rest of Joker’s plan rests on stoking Batman’s ego, exile to the Phantom Zone (yes, Superman doesn’t get off easy, either) and an escape accompanied by a new band of iconic villains: Sauron, Voldemort (Eddie Izzard), Gremlins, Dracula, Agent Smith, King Kong, Jaws and many more. It’s understandable if you spend large swaths of the film trying to figure out how the filmmakers acquired licensing privileges of all its characters.

Meanwhile, Batman’s psyche of solitude is invaded by both his latent attraction to Barbara and the arrival of orphan Richard Grayson (Michael Cera), who goes by “Dick” at school—”Well, kids can be cruel,” Batman retorts. The wide-eyed Grayson soon dons a red and yellow costume belonging to a scuttled hero named “Reggae Man” and adopts the moniker “Robin.” Nudged by the ever-reproving Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), Batman gradually recognizes the value of teamwork and embraces his new substitute family: Barbara the platonic coworker; Robin the surrogate son; and Alfred the father figure.

If the middle portion of LEGO Batman Movie appears to sag, it’s only in comparison to the joke-a-second opener. There’s little of the sentimentality of The LEGO Movie. Indeed, obvious appearances aside, LEGO Batman Movie is less a LEGO sequel than both a superhero send-up and an exhilarating standalone. It’s fun, family-friendly, and, in keeping with the heyday of Abrahams and Zucker, a searing satire accessible to kids and adults alike. Everybody do the Batusi.

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