“The Lego Batman Movie” is a meta cannon blast of frenetic energy and visual insanity, a film that tiptoes on the edge of being utterly exhausting but just manages to stay satisfying. It throws everything — and I mean everything — but a Lego kitchen sink onscreen, and does so with a wink.
Above all else, it makes Batman fun again, and boy, was that needed. Following the ugly, dour “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” it was a necessity that the next Dark Knight effort feel light and fresh. “Lego Batman” more than fits the bill.
Interestingly, however, the film is even wilder and more gleefully delirious than its trailers indicated. In terms of style and pacing, “Lego Batman” has more in common with “Airplane!” than “The Lego Movie,” the animated blockbuster that spawned its creation.
It’s a superhero spoof, really, one that lobs up more attempts at humor per minute than any film in recent memory. A great many of these hit — some for kids, some for parents — and that means it’s going to be huge.
Batman was one of the breakout favorites from 2014’s “Lego Movie,” and the character was a sensible selection for a spin-off. Perfectly voiced by Will Arnett, Lego Batman is a pompous, ab-obsessed, spotlight-savoring jerk. But he’s a likable jerk, and plays to our collective conception of how a real superhero might behave.
“The Lego Batman Movie” opens with an extended bit of chaos involving a bombing attempt led by the Joker (wonderfully voiced by Zach Galifianakis). The arch-villain is intent on showing Batman that he, the Joker, is his greatest adversary. Commitment-phobic Batman, however, refuses to make such an admission, and this insult sends the Joker into a spiral of upset.
Meanwhile, the retirement of Commissioner Gordon means a new top cop is in town: Gordon’s daughter Barbara (voiced by Rosario Dawson), a graduate of “Harvard for Police” with a plan for tackling crime. The plan’s key element involves not relying on the Caped Crusader.
Bruce Wayne’s foundations are shaken, and at the same time, his father-figure/butler Alfred (voiced by Ralph Fiennes!) is urging him to embrace the concept of family. An opportunity presents itself in the form of wide-eyed orphan Dick Grayson (voiced by Michael Cera and yes, with Arnett and Cera, we have an “Arrested Development” reunion.)
When the Joker’s plan to unleash the evil inhabitants of Superman’s Phantom Zone comes to fruition, Batman must accept the help of Grayson/Robin, Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, and a spry Alfred, and finally learn to collaborate.
Imprisoned in the Phantom Zone are baddies like Lord Voldemort, Sauron and King Kong, and it is at this point that “Lego Batman” becomes the big-screen version of the popular “Lego Dimensions” video game. This is the mini figure-fueled game in which characters from all manner of franchise — from DC superheroes to Marty McFly and E.T. — can play together. (Ask a 10-year-old.)
While that’s certainly clever and leads to some killer sight gags, this sudden infusion of villains nearly derails the proceedings. An already messy film becomes almost unmanageable, and quite exhausting.
This is the point when children, especially, may become overwhelmed. To the filmmakers’ credit, however, the jokes never stop, and the visuals never flag. Little ones may lose track of the story, but they’ll never be bored.
Even so, at 104 minutes, “Lego Batman” is undeniably overlong. Parents who grew up on DC Comics’ heroes and heroines won’t mind, but that’s a lot of sitting for young ones.
Director Chris McKay clearly learned much as animation co-director on “The Lego Movie,” and if the script is occasionally a letdown — at certain points, the plot feels like a million Lego pieces quickly stuck together — the verve of it all keeps things endearing. You couldn’t say that about “Batman v. Superman.”
Adults should also appreciate that this is the most psychologically probing Batman story ever brought to the big screen. (Seriously.) It zeroes in on the silliness of the character in a bold way, and it does so in a world made of … Legos. This mini-Dark Knight might not be the Batman we deserve, but he’s certainly the one we need right now.
“The Lego Batman Movie”
3 stars (out of four)
Voices of: Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes
Director: Chris McKay
Running time: 104 minutes
Rated: PG for rude humor and some action.
The lowdown: Bruce Wayne must not only deal with the criminals of Gotham City, but also the responsibility of raising a boy he adopted.