- Movie Rating -

The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

| February 10, 2017

Reporting on The LEGO Batman Movie is a little tough on your average critic.  There’s nothing heavy to report on this hurricane of jokes and self-referential humor except to tell you whether I laughed or I didn’t laugh.  And yes, I laughed – quite a bit in fact.  As a matter of fact the whirlwind of jokes come so fast and thick that I think I’m going to have to call it up again when it hits DVD so I can catch all the jokes that I missed.  Yet, I might be obliged to report that creatively it is not on par with The LEGO Movie.  That’s a tough act to follow.

The 2014 film was an explosion of creative thinking, stretching the animated form as far as it could possibly go, spinning its characters into other dimensions and other realms.  The LEGO Batman Movie isn’t quite that ambitious; it’s more about the jokes and it gets mired in a far more standard story about family and togetherness.  But what it has is a grand sense of self-referential humor.  No part of Batman’s fractured cinematic history goes untouched, not his recent battle with Superman, and especially not that bizarre phase he went through in the mid-60s.

But the biggest and most sustaining joke is Batman himself.  Here DC’s broodiest hero, voiced with gravelly flair by Will Arnett, routinely saves Gotham City from every conceivable threat and then bolts from the scene with a hearty you’re-welcome-world kind of grandeur.  Every night he retires to the vast caverns of his Batcave to microwave dinner, watch a DVD or stare endlessly at a photo of his parents taken just before they met their maker (they stand next to a street sign that reads ‘Crime Alley’).  Yup, Batman is a loner, a lonely loner living the loner life of a lonely loner.  That makes the movie sound like a depressing sit, but consider that watching this grumpy billionaire praise himself for is accomplishments is a lot more fun than the one currently taking up space in the Oval Office.

Batman’s soup-for-one status is just fine with him, thank you very much, until he attends a gala at which the newly minted city police commissioner Barbara Gordon (voiced by Rosario Dawson) announces that the city doesn’t need Batman, the police force can handle things quite well.  Added to that, he accidentally adopts an orphan named Richard Greyson (a reference to his shortened first name gets the best one-liner in the film).  Batman does not want a sidekick or a family, but everyone is hell-bent on convincing Bats that he needs one, especially loyal Alfred (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) who interjects into his employer’s personal affairs with the subtlety of a hand grenade.

That’s the more familiar and less interesting sub-plot.  More interesting, and far funnier, is a weird story thread dealing with Batman’s fractured bromance with The Joker (voiced by Zack Galifianakis).  The Clown Prince of Crime is heartbroken beyond words when Batman casually proclaims that Joker is not his No. 1 nemesis (he claims its Superman).  The sad- clown look of heartbreak and betrayal on Joker’s face is as funny as it is achingly sad.  So too are the lengths that Joker is willing to go to get himself back to the top of Batman’s list.   Its a romantic comedy unto itself.

But even still, plot is not the point here, the filmmakers have gone to a lot of trouble to insert as many visual gags as humanly possible into the foreground, into the background and off to the sides.  They mine every bit of The Caped Crusader’s history for comic gold, even prying up lame supervillains like Condiment King (that’s a real thing, actually – Look it up).  And they think to bring in other superheroes from outside the DC realms – cameos by Sauron and King Kong and even The Kraken.

The funnier gags are occupied in the film’s first half, especially (my favorite) a brilliant comic scene in which Batman returns home to his cavernous mansion and changes into his smoking jacket while still donning the cowl. The moment when he goes to the microwave to heat up his lobster thermidor is, in itself, comic gold.  Punching in the numbers he accidently put it on 20:00 instead of 2:00 then patiently stands by for the entire two minutes until his dinner is heated up.  Then comes the payoff, a wide-shot in which he sits in his vast, oversized living room eating his lobster while the crunches echo off the walls.  Why do I find that funny?  Because here’s a $80,000,000 animated movie with the confidence to give two precious minutes to a risky sight gag about heating up a lobster.  Good comedy doesn’t come from playing it safe.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2017) View IMDB Filed in: Animated