“The LEGO Movie” in 2014 was a bona fide miracle. In the history of cinema, never had a movie so utterly unnecessary been so perfect. It was a flawless mix of heart, humor and eccentric flair that proved it had not only a right to exist, but an enduring message about creativity and individuality as well.
“The LEGO Batman Movie” is a spinoff featuring Will Arnett’s caped crusader, a self-centered and comically serious side character from the original. It’s also a send-up of every Batman era from Adam West’s to Ben Affleck’s. When things are looking grim, a parody of DC’s dark knight might be what the world needs — so does it deserve the surprising acclaim of its predecessor?
Not really. But it’s still tirelessly funny. “The LEGO Batman Movie” is “The LEGO Movie” with more Batman, the same amount of humor and less heart.
The key to how well “The LEGO Movie” worked was the singular vision of its writer/directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, two of the smartest working comedy filmmakers. “The LEGO Batman Movie” struggles to find that kind of grip on its own purpose: it’s everything Batman-related but Wayne Manor’s kitchen sink, struck by comical lightning and trapped in a kids’ movie bottle. The resulting barrage of ideas may have been inevitable, what with a first-time director and five different writers.
But it’s also a barrage of jokes, and on that level it thrives. “The LEGO Movie” was dangerously funny, leaving no room for breathing amid constant laughter. “The LEGO Batman Movie” has a few more sequences aimed squarely at children, but by and large, it’s an eclectic mix of referential humor and visual silliness that works wonders on the lip corners.
While many of the one-off gags are hilarious — usually thanks to the perfect timing animation can offer — the strongest funny bone in the film’s body is the relationship between Batman and Robin. It feels strange to say that Michael Cera was born to play a Lego version of the boy wonder, but it’s hard to imagine a role better suited for his voice. The screenplay is full of Batman and Robin moments that wisely riff on the dark knight’s brooding independence throughout entertainment history.
Batman’s banter with Zach Galifianakis’ Joker finds inventive satirical ground as well, though Galifianakis doesn’t make much of an impression in the role. Rounding out the voice cast is about every other living celebrity. “The LEGO Batman Movie”, like its predecessor, features tons of talent delivering tons of jokes at breakneck speed. Where it falters is in its pleas for emotion.
“The LEGO Movie” had the impossible task of convincing the world that it needed a movie based on Legos. Most were skeptical, so the screenwriters crafted a thematic through line that tied together the creativity of Lego-building and the special talents we have to offer each other. It was brilliantly nuanced as far as kids’ movies go.
The central theme of “The Lego Batman Movie” is ‘friends are family’, which is already an obvious sentiment. Thus these screenwriters opt to loudly state it over and over. The movie’s heart is so flagrantly on its sleeve that it feels like corny artifice. It does little to justify why it needs to be a Lego movie rather than an animated Batman movie of some other kind — such justification was the soul of the original.
Still, “The LEGO Batman Movie” is an extremely enjoyable adventure. Kids and adults alike will have fun. And no, the theme song is nowhere near as catchy as “Everything Is Awesome!!!”
★★★½ (3.5 out of 5)