Almost everything is awesome in the latest on screen Lego adventure, The Lego Batman Movie! The brick magic coalesces around the voice of charismatic Will Arnett as the plastic caped crusader, and he really embodies the nuance of Batman, not only bringing his signature deadpan, egocentric humor through the excellent writing, but also delivering on the heart of the Batman character, both as an comic book institution and as a character creation of his own. He is joined by Michael Cera as Robin, a great pic for the shiny optimistic boy wonder, Ralph Fiennes (right up there with Michael Caine) as a particularly loyal but beleauguered Alfred, Channing Tatum in a stellar role as Batman’s greatest frienemy Superman, Jonah Hill (not quite as stand out, kind of going through the motions) as a pro suckup to Supes as his greatest frienemy, Green Lantern, Adam Devine as a passable Flash, and an under-utilized and perhaps not as vibrant or well written Rosario Dawson-played Barbara Gordon AKA Batgirl, who seems to just do the best she can to keep up in this movie. In Batman’s rogues gallery we have Zack Galifinakis going toe-to-toe on the crazy with Mark Hamil on his Joker portrayal (though his voice acting characterization is no where near what Hamil’s is), Jenny Slate of Bob’s Burger’s fame having a great time with Harley, Conan O’ Brien as the Riddler, which is, of course, the best casting possible, comic Doug Benson as Bane, and interesting and semi-rewarding choice for this role as it turns out, and surprise appearance by Billy Dee Williams (AKA Lando Calrissian) as Two-Face, which is just plain awesome! Seth Green and Eddie Izzard also drop in unexpectedly during a dimensional crossover late in the film (as King Kong and Voldemort oddly enough) which is an additional surprise bonus. All in all an amazing cast!
The plot is rather straight forward, but layered with so much nostalgia, franchise overload (seriously can you count all the ones that make an appearance? It’s shameless cross promotion and pandering.), self referential humor (to both the previous Lego film and the previous Batman films, which can at times be a detriment to the originality and strength of the film as its source of humor) that it seems more complex than it is. And what it is at it’s core is snarky, wacky and heartfelt.
The film begins where most Batman films end: a big showdown with his rogues gallery, which he of course wins through superior snark, tech and athletic prowess. As Joker is put away, Batman tells him he isn’t as important to him as Superman or Bane. Hurt, Joker vows his revenge, which we know will be crazy and entertaining. Then in a stunningly similar move, Barbara Gordon takes over Gotham PD for Commissioner Gordon and similarly dismisses Batman as unimportant by revamping the department to phase out Batman and the need to work with him, as she has recently proved effective in criminal justice in a nearby city using “compassion and statistics”.
Joker crashes the show with the rogues, but has them surrender to the PD just to spite Batman. Feeling slighted by his city, but fearing this is part of some sort of plot that Gotham PD can’t foresee, he decides to banish them all to the Kryptonian Phantom Zone ( in this film’s canon, a place for imprisoning all the most dangerous villains in every nerd franchise possible,er, the “Lego Worlds multiverse”) using the projector in Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. Alfred advises adopting Dick Grayson as Robin (after Bruce Wayne accidentally agreed to care for him during a gala event). The two obtain the projector and break into Arkham Asylum to use it on all the villains. Barbara suspects Batman is falling to a plan concocted by the Joker, and is angry that he broke into Arkham, so she locks the dynamic duo up, which allows Harley to steal the projector and free Joker and ALL the baddies.
Now thoroughly boned, Barbara Gordon realizes she and Gotham need Batman after all reluctantly joins them as Batgirl to help make things right. Joker traps him in the Phantom Zone, however, after a failure in trust and teamwork when he realizes he is afraid of losing his new team. After a particularly crucial scene in which he is trapped in the Phantom Zone himself, Phyllis the Keeper, tests him to see if he is actually a villain who should be there because of this fear and his resultant selfishness. After confronting his fear and proving himself, he agrees to bring back all the villains to Phyllis in exchange for a return trip to Gotham. Upon arrival and after apologizing to his team for his selfish actions and narcissistic behavior, Batman is newly energized and changed by the formation of his superhero team of Robin, Batgirl and Alfred. Here we get the the revelation of the primary heart of this film and of the character of Batman in general: that his power, intelligence and strength come from a place in him not out of motivation for justice against the guilty, but out of the fear of loss for those he loves. Because of this fear, he has isolated himself in the cowl, becoming a cynical, suspicious, constantly unhappy vigilante whose idea of heroism and justice is selfish as a way to protect himself from loss. As he learns to trust others and that love and caring is a necessary risk in order to set him apart from and avoid becoming like the very villains he fights, he becomes the hero he truly knows he can be, and in doing so, inspires the others to do the same. The rogue galleries of multiple franchises in addition to the Batman universe are released (in a shameless plug for the Lego Dimensions video game we see Voldemort, King Kong, the Daleks, Agent Smith, etc.), and fall in with the Joker, who, however, mistreats them in much the same way as Batman mistreated his team. As a result, when Joker’s bombs go off and cause Gotham’s impending fall into the Abyss, Batman is able to chain all of them together to save the city. He eventually convinces the Joker to do the same, and in the end Gotham is saved, due to teamwork, good action and planning, and mostly, the power of Batman’s character transformation. Batman returns to Phyllis as per their agreement to be imprisoned along with the rest, but she agrees to release them all after seeing how they overcame their fears and mistrust to save the whole city. All are release (on probation, presumably) to fight, for good or ill, another day, in an almost inescapably inevitable sequel.
Aside from the slower and messy third act and the constant self-referential humor and franchise-dependent elements, this is a great Lego film, Batman film, and just film in general. It allows us to get at many sides of Batman (perhaps because Bruce Wayne is barely in it), and most importantly, to his root character traits and motivation in a zany and comedic way. Definitely recommended, so go get your brick and Bat on!