The Lego Batman Movie
Batman was the breakout character of “The Lego Movie” — which is not bad for a guy who’s been hanging around since 1939.
He basically operated as comic relief, voiced by a mock-gravely Will Arnett in a spoof of the character’s grim persona. It worked because on some level I think most of us find Bats a bit tedious after a while. Having something like a dozen movie iterations doesn’t help.
For me, the highest point of parody was when Batman played some music he’d written, pounding thrash rock punctuated by the lyrics, “Darkness!! …No parents!!”
So now he’s got his own movie, and the challenge is to see if they can sustain a parody of a tiresome superhero without it becoming tiresome itself. The answer is: Mostly.
I feel sort of ridiculous offering a story summary of the movie. Credited to five (!) writers, it’s a deliberately chaotic mashup of Batman lore, including virtually every villain he’s ever fought, plus a bunch more created on the spot.
One of them, Condiment Man, has a superpower of squirting mustard and ketchup at you. Not even powerful arcs of sauce, just limp little spurts that fall ineffectually at his feet. Maybe try not to be such a traditionalist, dude — work some salsa or tzatziki into the mix.
Anyway, the joke is that Batman / Bruce Wayne is super arrogant and self-centered, but secretly he’s desperately lonely and in denial about it. He spends his off time loitering around the Batcave, pestered by his butler, Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), about letting people in.
Fortunately, a group of people immediately presents itself as his potential new family, including Alfred himself, a nervous scamp of an orphan who will become Robin (Michael Cera), and Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), the new commissioner of Gotham City. She’s taking over from her dad, Jim Gordon, after graduating from “Harvard Police School.” Dear daddy just pushed the button for the bat signal whenever trouble appeared, but the new sheriff in town has some discomforting ideas about Batman sharing the limelight.
The threat comes from the Joker (Zach Galifianakis), the Batman’s old nemesis who’s feeling a bit neglected these days. Batman won’t even admit to calling Joker his arch-enemy, saying that he likes to fight lots of different people and doesn’t have any preferences. “I like to fight around,” he says, in one of many in-jokes aimed at adults.
So Joker and his gang get the idea to release all the super-villains trapped by Superman in the Phantom Zone, and soon Bats has got more on his hands than he can handle.
Directed by Chris McKay, “The Lego Batman Movie” is a stylistic clone of “The Lego Movie” — ridiculously fast-paced, lots of colorful action that the eye can’t all track, chockful of quips and comedic asides.
It’s aimed squarely at kids, but is smart and savvy enough to throw in enough to keep parents engaged, too. Compared to so many moribund animated flicks lately that couldn’t pull off that trick — like “Sing” or “Trolls” — it almost seems like a superpower.