Superhero movies are an answer to their time. Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy gave us a chummy, protective view of New York City in the years just after 9/11. After Nixon’s impeachment, then immediate pardon, for the Watergate scandal, Richard Donner’s Superman offered a hero of unassailable character and integrity. Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins is a direct response to its predecessors, a belief that superhero movies of the time were too light, too silly.
Well, friends, times are dark. And The LEGO Batman Movie is the superhero movie we need right now.
Chris McKay and Seth Grahame-Smith (with the help of four other credited screenwriters) have created a riotous jumble of everything anyone might ever want to see in a genre movie. This goes beyond a superhero or rogues wishlist: thanks to a breach of the Phantom Zone, the universe’s baddest baddies (owned by Warner Bros) are released, and suddenly we have Batman fighting King Kong, Godzilla, Voldemort and Sauron – as well as your Harley Quinns and your Banes.
It’s a love letter to the bright side of fandom, the sheer joy we feel when we connect to a character in a comic book or B-movie. The LEGO Batman Movie is determined to give you everything you want from Batman but were too gun-shy to ask for after the Spartan stinginess of Chris Nolan and Zack Snyder. “Oh, you want Man-Bat?” it asks you. “Sure, we can do that. How about some gremlins and Bat-shark repellant and a Justice League dance party and a platonic romance between Batman and Joker and something called Condiment King, to boot?”
And, of course, as many in-jokes and references to previous Batfilms (and Marvel movies) as possible. The jokes are immensely layered. Even if it weren’t for the dozens of visual gags flying past your eyes in every frame, the script is just jam-packed with laughs.
But it’s not only Adam West nods and supervillain celebrations here. Like its wonderful predecessor, The LEGO Movie, The LEGO Batman Movie most succeeds in its surprisingly emotional core. Will Arnett’s Batman is a blowhard billionaire with sick abs – and believe me, he’s not going to let you forget about those abs – but he’s also a lonely man who fears connection after the death of his parents. After his first epic save of the movie, he goes home to his mansion and embarks on the mundanity of living alone: microwaving his dinner, trying to figure out his TV remote, watching Jerry Maguire alone in his cavernous home theater.
When, in his clueless self-absorption, Bruce Wayne accidentally adopts a sweet little orphan named Dick Grayson, suddenly he finds his hard-won isolation challenged. Michael Cera voices Dick, and he’s perfect, essential to The LEGO Batman Movie’s heart and soul. He’s this wide-eyed, nimble little scamp who cannot believe he’s been adopted by Batman! Every moment he’s onscreen, he’ll elicit a big smile and an even bigger “aww” from the audience. Together with Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) and the new commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), Batman and Robin begin to forge a charming, unconventional family, albeit with Batman resisting attachment at every turn.
All of the voice casting is brilliant. In addition to the above – all of whom give their characters a great deal of warmth – we’ve also got Zach Galifianakis as The Joker. He’s got some stiff competition for on-screen Joker representations, but he imbues the character with more pathos than we’ve ever seen before. He’s a crazed villain, sure, but he’s also just a bad guy who wants to be hated by his heroic nemesis. Doug Benson as Bane and Conan O’Brien as Riddler are also favorites, and Ellie Kemper delights as the Phantom Zone’s perky gatekeeper Phyllis. If there’s one missed opportunity in The LEGO Batman Movie, it’s that Ralph Fiennes’ Alfred never squares off against Eddie Izzard’s Voldemort.
The soundtrack is really fun and catchy, though there’s no song with the immediate staying power of “Everything is Awesome.” But The LEGO Batman Movie matches its antecedent in one regard: this movie is a visual wonder. It’s a carnival of color, of thrilling, breathless – but still coherent – action. There are a million things to see here, every frame crammed with the interesting and the vibrant. It would certainly require multiple viewings to catch every joke and each ounce of spectacle, and The LEGO Batman Movie feels like it'll hold up under those multiple viewings.
This is, simply, a very fun movie. It’s touching and funny, adorable and just a blast to look at. Let me repeat: this is a fun Batman movie! Isn't that all you need to know?