Cinematic Releases: The LEGO Batman Movie (2017) - Reviewed

Overall, one thinks of DC’s Batman as a solitary figure, a man whose deep pain has persisted and encased him in a cloak of impenetrable despair and vengeance against those whose criminality represents the loss of his parents. Chris McKay’s Lego Batman Movie starts out by lampooning the Dark Knight as a loner who has created such a force field around his heart that he pushes everyone away – and has, as a result, largely become a drag to be around. There is a sad sort of humor to his hubris, but the film wastes no time in illustrating just how much it has hardened him and created an estranged bachelor out of the rich playboy Bruce Wayne should have been. This is not a tragic Batman, in the traditional sense – but his emotional isolation becomes the key theme in this family-film version of the hero, opening the door for easy lessons about the importance of teamwork, emotional honesty, and, of course, friendship.

That having been said, there are a lot of fantastic callbacks and references to the other versions of Batman which have existed over time, from the comic book-cartoony television show to the brooding darkness of the more recent films and graphic novels. (Yes, the rumors are true – Condiment King does, indeed, make an appearance which, albeit brief, is as awesome as one would expect.) The neon wonderland of Lego Gotham City is juxtaposed with the kind of quick-draw action sequences that made The Lego Movie such a treat to watch, but with a slightly more flippant attitude and a guest cast of villains from other Rogue’s Galleries to spice up the scenery. At its heart, the Lego Batman’s story is one of overcoming longstanding grief and learning to let people into one’s life despite the fear of being hurt or experiencing more loss – his relationships with Alfred, his new young ward Robin, and Gotham’s own Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon are touched upon lightly enough to remain uncomplicated, but one sees the fa├žade crumbling for the glib superhero as he begins to understand not only his role in the lives of the Gothamites, but their places in his.

Will Arnett imbues his vocal performance with all the grit and bluster one expects, and the rest of the cast are perfectly suited to their roles, from Rosario Dawson’s no-nonsense Barbara Gordon to the bright-eyed awkwardness of Michael Cera’s Robin – and, perhaps especially, Zach Galifianakis, whose Joker is almost tender in his quest to become Batman’s greatest enemy in a strangely sweet metaphor for partnership and dependence. There are so many ‘blink-and-you’d-miss-them’ cameos from the franchise’s bad guys that it’s easy to miss how many great actors actually give vocal performances in this movie – brief roles from the likes of Billy Dee Williams, Jenny Slate, and even Conan O’Brien. Heroes and villains from other franchises even make appearances, the greatest of these being Sauron (voiced by Jemaine Clement) and Lord Voldemort, who steals every scene he’s in with the voice of Eddie Izzard.

Much like The Lego Movie before it, Lego Batman Movie focuses a lot of its energy around its unique “building” and action sequences, which are just plain loads of fun – following the Batman as he zips around the blocky Gotham is a frenzied and fancy-free thrill. But the reason this version of the Caped Crusader’s mythos works so well is its warmth and humor, as the hero learns to put his trust in those he cares about most, and begins to open the Batcave of his heart just enough to let them in. He never forfeits his self-reliance, but in allowing himself some vulnerability, he comes to understand what has made him perhaps not such a “good-guy” after all and realizes that he must change if he is to save the city he loves when everything is falling apart – literally and metaphorically.

Woo Hoo! I'm a caped crusader!

Even in its darker moments, the film retains a soft, upbeat tone that makes even the vilest villain sympathetic, even if just for a few moments, and reminds us that friends can be family, and we all desire connection, no matter how good or bad we may perceive ourselves to be.

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-Dana Culling