"The LEGO Batman Movie" is F-U-N, more than worthy of all-caps and hyphens. The second theatrically released film based on the LEGO® brand follows 2014's surprisingly inspired box-office smash "The LEGO Movie
," and, as successful as that picture was, this one might be even better. The feature directorial debut of Chris McKay (TV's "Robot Chicken") is bursting with imagination, dizzyingly acerbic and consistently clever without evoking an off-putting "too-cool-for-the-room" vibe. He and screenwriters Seth Grahame-Smith (2012's "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
") and Chris McKenna (2008's "Igor
") & Erik Sommers make the very act of creating a new movie about the Caped Crusader look so easy one has to wonder why the various adaptations have been so hit-or-miss over the years. Setting the story in a universe where all of Batman's previous exploits coexist, from the campy 1960s Adam West television series, to Tim Burton's brooding 1989 and 1992 films, to Joel Schumacher's garishly punny 1995 and 1997 installments, to Christopher Nolan's gritty 2005
trilogy, to Zack Snyder's divisive 2016 iteration
, was a wisely inclusive choice that allows its makers to dabble in different tones and styles while avoiding the alienation of its wide swath of fans.
The party kicks off to a wildly amusing start with a portentous black screen and an intense orchestral arrangement rising on the soundtrack during the Warner Bros., DC, and RatPac Entertainment logosall the better, as Bruce Wayne/Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) opines in voiceover, to immediately announce its importance. As the plot proper gets underway, Gotham City is once again under siege by a motley crew of recognizable villains, led by an attention-starved Joker (Zach Galifianakis) whose biggest life goal is for Batman to openly acknowledge his hatred for the clown-faced baddie. Vigilante crime-fighter Batman, emotionally unavailable since a childhood tragedy took his parents away from him, refuses to give his archenemy the satisfaction. He may be more concerned with his own vainglorious pursuits, but he still strives to keep his metropolis safe. This time, however, in order to defeat the Joker, his girlfriend Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate), and the rest of the costumed villains, Batman will have to step out of his comfort zone and finally accept the help of his allies: faithful butler/father figure Alfred Pennyworth (Ralph Fiennes), spirited orphan Dick Grayson/Robin (Michael Cera), and no-nonsense police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson).
Working on two separate enticing layersas a punchy critique of overly serious, self-important, ultra-masculine superhero movies, and as a compelling, straight-forward "Batman" story in its own right"The LEGO Batman Movie" is both spoof and legit action-adventure. The film's kitchen-sink approach is treated with such unabashed cheerfulness it avoids feeling cluttered. Going a long way in keeping viewers engaged is the treatment of Bruce Wayne/Batman himself. When he's not saving the day in his black rubber cowl or changing into a suave suit to attend Gotham City's Winter Gala (complete with a children's chorus performing Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror"), Bruce sulks around his lonesome mansion, warming up a lobster dish in the microwave before retiring to his home theater to ironically laugh at "Jerry Maguire." In between admiring his 9-pack of abs (yes, he has an extra one in the center), he wistfully stares at the last photograph taken of him with his parents, moments before they were gunned down in Crime Alley. As inflated as Bruce's ego is, there is also a reason why he turned out this way, and the film does an arguably more succinct job than just about any other "Batman" film in getting to the heart of who he is.
Gravitating within Batman's orbit is an entertaining trio of fellow protagonists. There's Barbara Gordon (the future Batgirl), who supports Batman's mission statement but sees room for improvement in the superhero he currently is; Alfred, who remains Bruce's steadfast mentor but isn't afraid to dish out some patriarchal tough love; and Dick Grayson/Robin, whom Bruce inadvertently adopts (he agrees to it while preoccupied gazing upon Barbara) and then reluctantly trains as his sidekick. Meanwhile, the Joker continues his dogged pursuit of capturing Batman's attention, a damaged lunatic who wants nothing more than the ire of his sworn enemy. Secretly, the Joker probably loves Batman. Without the Dark Knight, he's nobody. There isn't a weak link among the voice talent, but Will Arnett's (2016's "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
") committed, gravel-toned performance is a comedic revelation, proving even the most broad of roles can be three-dimensional.
The revelation that Batman and Robin share a love of the magical 2001 John Cusack-Kate Beckinsale romantic comedy "Serendipity
" is single-handedly all the evidence one needs to realize "The LEGO Batman Movie" is worthy of one's rapturous admiration. Playing on an elevated level that transcends that of many kid-centric animated pics, the film proves smart, slyly knowledgeable of its superhero subgenre, unexpectedly warm-hearted, and very, very funny. Even as iconic Warner Bros. properties topple upon each otherSuperman (Channing Tatum), Lord Voldemort (Eddie Izzard), the Wicked Witch of the West, and even Gremlins figure into the actiondirector Chris McKay keeps the focus on telling a solidly developed story with the kind of emotionally true character arc only the best comic book tales achieve. A tighter edit could have made a strong film even betterat 106 minutes, it begins to overstay its welcome during the bloated third actbut if length is its greatest foe, it must otherwise have done a whole lot right. A visual wonder with an assortment of Easter eggs hidden in the nooks and crannies of each frame, "The LEGO Batman Movie" rests on nary a laurel. It's conceptually ambitious. It's insatiably energetic. The writing is abuzz with shrewd wit. Best of all, it triumphantly stakes a claim on the legacy of Batman while standing apart as its own singular entity.