A lot of things have made the recent DC Comics movies look bad, but nothing has made them look worse than The Lego Batman Movie that comes out this week. It was the inspiration of The Lego Movie to make Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) into a narcissistic poseur who thinks he’s deep because he’s broody and hates fun, much like the Batman and Superman movies themselves. The sequel spins Batman off into his own adventure, and it’s not only far more entertaining than the Batman movies proper but also gets more mileage out of the Caped Crusader. If I were Zack Snyder, I’d be ashamed. Since I”m not, I’m amused.
In this installment, the awesome life of a superrich crime-fighting vigilante comes to a screeching halt when the Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) decides to mess with Batman’s head by turning himself and his minions into the authorities en masse, leaving Gotham City with no more crime. What’s Bruce Wayne to do? He could pay some attention to Richard Grayson (voiced by Michael Cera), the orphan whom he accidentally adopted, but instead he tries to undercut new police commissioner Barbara Gordon (voiced by Rosario Dawson), a reformer who wants to do things differently from her retiring dad (voiced by Hector Elizondo). Though the Joker is safely in prison, Batman and the new Robin try to send him to Superman’s extraterrestrial prison in the Phantom Zone, a move that wreaks havoc.
The Lego Movie team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller aren’t involved with this, and as a result the ratio of gags that score to filler isn’t quite as high. Still, director Chris McKay (from TV’s Robot Chicken) and his team of five credited screenwriters do a reasonable job of imitating the original film’s frenetic pace, and enough of the jokes still hit. When Richard says that the other orphans call him Dick, Batman responds, “Children can be cruel.” The new Commissioner Gordon is introduced as having cleaned up Gotham’s sister city “with statistics and compassion,” and Batman finds time to ding the Suicide Squad: “Letting criminals out of prison to fight crime? What a stupid idea!” The pop-culture references spread far and wide when the Joker comes back from the Phantom Zone with a new team of supervillains that includes Sauron, Voldemort, King Kong, Godzilla, Agent Smith, and the Daleks.
Amid all this clever silliness and silly cleverness is a serious depiction of Batman’s loneliness. As much as the other films have tried to delve into that, none of them have made the point with the piquancy of this movie when Batman returns to the Batcave, reheats his lobster dinner in the microwave, and watches Jerry Maguire by himself in his cavernous personal movie theater. While Alfred (voiced by Ralph Fiennes, who hands off the role of Voldemort to Eddie Izzard) tries to get Batman to live a social life, the Joker behaves like a pissed-off doormat of an ex-boyfriend after finding out that Batman thinks of him as one enemy among many instead of as his archnemesis. “I like to fight around,” says our hero. “I’m tired of being in a one-sided relationship!” says the Clown Prince of Crime. (Besides that Lego-erotic tension, this movie also has the gayest Robin ever, which is saying something. I mean, he wants to use “It’s Raining Men” as his entrance music.) Batman’s need to connect with other people gives the movie enough emotional traction to keep it from shallowness without dragging down the proceedings. The regular Batman movies can’t have the hero forming any lasting relationships without a massive change of direction, but The Lego Batman Movie is under no such constraints. It’s free to end things with a dance party at Wayne Manor. Rather makes me feel sorry for the people working on those gargantuan DC Comics blockbusters. They’re not having this much fun.
The Lego Batman Movie
Voices by Will Arnett, Michael Cera, and Zach Galifianakis. Directed by Chris McKay. Written by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, and John Whittington. Rated PG.