The biggest compliment I can pay “The LEGO Batman Movie” is that it never allowed me to stop smiling. At least that’s what the Batfan in me has to say. To see DC Comics’ brooding, bankable bad-ass finally get the lovingly crafted send-up he deserves is nothing short of a joyful time at the movies. What could be funnier than the Caped Crusader taking a jab at Warner Bros. current superhero competition by making “Iron Man sucks” his Batcave password? As a celebration of the character’s 78-year history, it is a comedic triumph, and without a doubt the most entertaining DC film since “The Dark Knight Rises.” The spectacular animation is also reason enough to see it, but the film falls a bit short in other departments. Batfans will savor every minute, but others may find themselves a bit overwhelmed by the light-speed antics of this coked-up adventure.
As soon as the various studio logos open, “The LEGO Batman Movie” makes its mission crystal clear as the Dark Knight himself - imbued with beguiling growls from Will Arnett - comments on how their sinister appearance should concern the parents in the audience. Like “Deadpool” last year, this film, overtly aware of its artifice, seeks to reassure viewers that it knows its audience has more than likely seen too many men in tights dodge explosions and save humanity over and over again. The beauty in this style of humor - which does not let up for even a millisecond - lies in the character’s inherent versatility. Batman has seen many ups and downs over the years (“Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” being the most recent down), but never has he been this hysterical, that is if you don’t count George Clooney’s so-bad-it’s-hilarious turn in “Batman & Robin.”
The following action sequence is a doozy from start to finish (it might have made a captivating movie on its own). Gotham City, once again, finds itself at the mercy of Joker (Zach Galifianakis) and the rest of Batman’s rogues gallery, until of course our hero himself swoops in to save the day, all while rapping about his awesomeness in the most outlandish animated musical sequence ever conceived. It is here where we also get a scene between Batman and Joker that hilariously strips away every pretense of their relationship. The Clown Prince of Crime wants nothing more than for his total opposite to admit that his life would have no meaning if he didn’t have to stop him all the time. Batman refuses to acquiesce, leaving his arch-nemesis with a frown on his face and a tear in his eye - one of the film’s most memorable images.
Batman returns to Wayne Manor (on Wayne Island) where spends the remainder of the night in complete solitude, heating a lobster thermidor left by his trusted butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), laughing at the romance of “Jerry Maguire” in his home theater, and looking at an old portrait of himself with his parents taken on the night they were murdered. It’s arguably the most effective sequence, contrasting the rest of the film’s frenzied frivolity with a near absence of sound and a tinge of melancholy, but it’s still as funny as the any of the noisier scenes.
Sight gags, puns, and references to Batmovies of old are all splendid, sometimes even exhausting. I wouldn’t be surprised if I noticed someone cry-laughing all the way through. The film even has a field day with other Warner Bros. properties, which I will not spoil. Let’s just say that if you belong to more than the Batfandom, you’re in for a treat. But in terms of the actual plot, “The LEGO Batman Movie” is pretty underwhelming. I realize that not much can be projected onto a kids movie, but may I remind you that this is the follow-up to “The LEGO Movie,” which has so much more on its mind than three average kid flicks today combined. The meta mentality is retained (albeit repurposed for Batfan service) but the story fails to live up to such cleverness.
The main narrative boils down to Batman being tasked with his greatest challenge yet: starting a new family when he reluctantly takes googly-eyed orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) under his wing as Robin. Given Batman’s longtime difficulty with close relationships, this makes logical sense, but nevertheless, the "power of family" theme has been covered before in previous incarnations, making the character’s emotional arc all too predictable. The plot may not be fresh, but I give director Chris McKay props for one-upping Joel Schumacher’s take on the material in “Batman Forever.” It’s a rip-roaring good time, and undoubtedly the funniest Batman film ever made, though it is a far cry from the comedic masterpiece it wants to be.