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Most Things Are Still Awesome in THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (Review)

Most Things Are Still Awesome in THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE (Review)

Considering what a fish out of water, comic-relief character Batman (Will Arnett) was in The LEGO Movie, it was reasonable to wonder precisely how much Bat-continuity a solo film for the Danish-built Dark Knight would incorporate. The answer might surprise you: ALL of it.

Yes, everything counts. This is a Batman who’s aware that he has been around for more than 70 years; remembers his stints as Adam West, Michael Keaton, and even Lewis Wilson from the old serials; fights villains as varied as a Tom Hardy-ish Bane (Doug Benson) and a Billy Dee Williams Two-Face (voiced by the real Williams); and yet can still meet Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) anew and have no idea who he is. How do you reconcile all that? Easy–by reminding you that at all times, you are watching toys being played with–nobody fires a weapon without making a “pew pew” noise to accompany it–and remembering that those who do the playing are not necessarily bound by day-to-day consistency, because generally, they’re kids. This is the key assumption underlying all LEGO-branded movie and TV content, and it serves them well. My favorite throwaway gag, involving a character to whom nothing bad supposedly ever happens, is precisely the sort of thing a smart child would come up with.

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The last time the public tired of Batman movies being overly dark and asked for them to be fun and family friendly again, it yielded the Joel Schumacher era, widely derided then and now. So why does it work so well this time? The truth, I think, is that comic-book fans don’t necessarily think only one version is okay, but that they want to see their definitive canonical version done first, before you come with the comedy takes. And whether it be in the form of Michael Keaton, Christian Bale, or Ben Affleck, the live-action uber-dark ’80s take on Batman has been achieved; as in many a video game, this leaves you free to unlock the wackier, alternate-costume versions. You can also thank shows like Robot Chicken and even (no, I can barely believe I’m saying it either) Family Guy for making self-referential spoofs not only commonplace but even a thing to be desired. The generic parody movie may be dead in live-action, but the in-universe, studio-approved comedic take is one that still has room to play.

Funnily enough, Batman’s arc in this movie isn’t that different from the one that sort-of followed Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher through four movies: he’s a dark, self-reliant loner, but Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) wants him to be part of a family again. For starters, that orphan kid he accidentally agreed to adopt when he wasn’t paying attention? Let’s let him into the Batcave to become Robin, a costume and persona that, in this telling, come from a repurposing of Batman’s undercover “Reggae Mon” alternate outfit. New police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) wants to work with Batman, but is stymied by his insistence that he go it alone.

The LEGO Batman Movie

Meanwhile, the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) also haz, as they say, a sad. Batman is so fiercely independent that he won’t even acknowledge that the crooked clown is his greatest foe, particularly since Superman (Channing Tatum) recently murked up those waters. All the Joker wants is to hear Batman say he truly hates him, but he can’t get even that admission. On the other hand, if actions speak louder than words, it must be noted that the Dark Knight, no longer finding Arkham Asylum sufficient, is determined to send the Joker to space prison in the Phantom Zone. Even if he has to steal from Superman first, and especially if he can use his new, annoying sidekick as cannon fodder.

The rules of The LEGO Movie still apply: Gotham is its own world that exists above a swirling abyss, which we assume might lead back to Will Ferrell’s basement, though that’s never specified. And Batman is a Master Builder, able to grab pieces from his surroundings to create new vehicles or augment existing ones. You won’t see Emmett or Unikitty make any cameos, but there is some surprise brand crossover with a few other properties, some of which are only mentioned by inference rather than by name for possible legal reasons.

By now we know what to expect from Will Arnett’s Batman, and you can probably guess how Rosario Dawson is as Barbara Gordon. There are many other surprises in the cast, however, from Kate Micucci as Clayface to Eddie Izzard voicing…a character usually portrayed by one of the other cast members. To list them all would give too much away, but major stunt-casting points for getting Siri to play the Bat-computer; I think that’s the first time an actual AI has had a significant costarring role. Cera as Robin is surprisingly appealing; the trailers have taken all his dorkiest moments to create an impression that’s more simplistic than the one he actually gives. And Galifianakis, who always seemed like an odd choice for the Joker, is at least plausible, with the role allowing the distinctively bearded comedic actor a greater chance to stretch than usual.

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So why isn’t everything awesome? Well, the question in this case hints at its own answer: the music. I’m entirely in favor of the dubstep-ish remake of “Da na na na na na na na BATMAN!”, and the George Michael in-joke at Michael Cera’s expense warms my heart, but elsewhere, parent-friendly teen-pop isn’t made better by having Batman announce it’s parent-friendly teen pop, even if he rasps a few lines of it. Maybe “Everything Is Awesome” was just lightning in a  bottle that could not be recaptured, but it doesn’t quite seem like they tried hard enough.

The credits end with a special thanks to various artists and writers who’ve worked on Batman over the years, from Dick Sprang to Paul Dini, but the screenplay’s obvious deep affection for EVERY iteration of Batman says it all. When you play in a toybox, you get to pick and choose the best parts, whether or not they fit somebody else’s idea of purity. if they’re LEGO, they will always find a way to fit together.

4.5 Bat-burritos.

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Images: Warner Bros./LEGO


Luke Y. Thompson is a recovering Bat-purist, and member of the L.A. Film Critics Association. Tweet him @LYTrules

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