12 February 2017 | dave-mcclain
This Lego movie is even better than the original and leaves me anxious for what's next.
In 2014, we became acquainted with an ignorant but arrogant billionaire with orange hair who wanted to rule the world. Call him President Business. Well, that's what they called him in "The Lego Movie". (What? Who did you think I was talking about?) The process of defeating that cartoonish villain involved joining together a vast array of different characters who had to learn to put aside their differences and work together to wrest power from that evil businessman-turned-politician. (Yes, of course I'm still talking about the first Lego movie.) All this may sound scary, but the animated feature film that I've been describing since the very beginning of this paragraph had some important lessons to teach about teamwork and the specialness of all people – whether they're made out of plastic or just look and act plastic on screen. Ignorant arrogance like this can also be very funny (as long as it's fictional) and "The Lego Movie" delivered on that promise. Doubling down on that kind of humor is that movie's 2017 spin-off "The Lego Batman Movie" (PG, 1:44), an inspired mashup of Danish toys and American comic books.
To simply say that Lego Batman is a loner is like referring to the Unabomber as anti-social. Batman / Bruce Wayne (voiced by Will Arnett) lives in Wayne Manor with his devoted butler and father figure Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), but still chooses to spend all his time alone, watching movies or staring wistfully at a photo of him with his long-dead parents. Even when he's in public (whether as Batman or as Bruce Wayne), he treats the citizens of Gotham as his subjects and only wants their adulation. Batman gives himself full credit for keeping Gotham crime-free and is convinced that he's the only one who can do it – and that he doesn't need help or advice from anyone. This Batman probably thinks that the first film's Oscar-nominated original song "Everything is Awesome" was written for and about him and his life. (The character could have also written the film's tagline: "Always be yourself. Unless you can be Batman.") A high-class gala thrown to honor the retiring Commissioner Gordon turns out to be an extremely consequential gathering. As Bruce Wayne struts through the crowd, the original Commissioner Gordon's daughter, Barbara (Rosario Dawson), who is taking over for her father, begins making a speech in which she calls for the police to work more closely with Batman – as a team (an idea which makes him spit out his drink) – and to limit Batman's autonomy (think, the setup for "Captain America: Civil War"). Just then, the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) shows up. The day before, as Batman was foiling the Joker's latest plan to take over the city, the two argued about how important they are in each other's lives. When Batman refused to admit that the Joker is his main nemesis (saying, "I fight with a lot of people. I like to fight around."), the Joker's feelings were hurt. Now, at the gala, Joker suddenly switches tactics. He surrenders to the new Commissioner Gordon, confesses to his crimes and asks to be sent to prison. Oh, and earlier at this same gala, Wayne accidentally adopts young orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera).
Batman decides that the Joker is up to something, but he's not sure what it is, so he comes up with a plan to get rid of him for good. Batman includes his new ward Dick Grayson (now called Robin) because he considers Dick expendable. The two of them go to Superman's Fortress of Solitude where they see Superman throwing a party for the rest of the Justice League's super angular superheroes. Nevertheless, Batman takes advantage of his fellow heroes being distracted by the party to steal Superman's Phantom Zone projector so he can send the Joker into the Phantom Zone. The problem with that plan is that it would put the Joker in the company of some of the world's greatest villains, a situation which could end up unleashing untold evil on the world, and forcing Batman to enlist the help of his fellow members of the Justice League (and others) as he confronts his biggest challenge ever. Just don't expect Batman's ego to go quietly into the sunset (or the Bat Signal) – or for the Joker to be so easily defeated.
"The Lego Batman" movie is an inspired and extremely enjoyable crossover between Lego's growing animation efforts and established DC Comics characters
plus a long and diverse list of others. The plot makes full use of the potential inherent in combining such diverse and storied properties – and effectively builds upon what made the first Lego movie so popular. The script (which combines the efforts of five different writers), along with Chris McKay's direction is both funny and just plain fun, a lot of that due to the juxtaposition of Batman's self-centered intensity with Robin's innocent earnestness. All of the voice work is top-notch, but Will Arnett's ignorant arrogance as Batman is really what makes the movie. He's as humorous as any of Will Farrell's similarly pompous live action characters (e.g., as Ron Burgundy in the "Anchorman" movies or as race car driver Ricky Bobby in "Talladega Nights") and –whether intentionally or not – reminds us of the attitudes, words and conduct of some American politicians. This Lego movie is even better than the original and leaves me anxious for what's next. "A-"