Movie News & Reviews

‘The Lego Batman Movie’ rebuilds the Dark Knight with snappy wit

'The LEGO Batman Movie' (Official trailer)

Bruce Wayne must not only deal with the criminals of Gotham City, but also the responsibility of raising a boy he adopted.
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Bruce Wayne must not only deal with the criminals of Gotham City, but also the responsibility of raising a boy he adopted.

“The Lego Batman Movie” is the best interlocking plastic toy bricks movie since 2014’s “The Lego Movie.”

Faint praise, of course, but it really is pretty good — for kids and grown-ups alike. This animated action comedy is as respectful to the Bat legacy as it is irreverent.

In this incarnation, Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) is a friendless, ageless billionaire surrounded by those who would wreak havoc on the world around him. In his downtime, he spends hours alone in a sprawling empty mansion, telling his personal computer how great he is.

(Any similarities to our current president may be purely the construct of this writer’s imagination. Except when Batman brags about not paying his taxes. And boasts of dating activewear models. And says his greatest enemy is a Kryptonian illegal alien. Hmmmm …)

The film opens with an action set piece that the live-action Bat-movies will never match. The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) skyjacks a cargo plane full of dynamite, C-4 explosive and tiny cartoon bombs (just go with it) for a Gotham City battle royale featuring all of Batman’s costumed enemies.

Naturally, Bats arrives just in time to dispatch the bad guys, but, this being set in the cartoon Lego-verse, he does so while singing a heavy-metal ode to his vehicles, his abs and himself.

“Who’s the manliest man/With the buns of steel?/Who can chokehold a bear?/Who never skips leg day?”

Yeah, it’s like that.

Directed by Chris McKay (animation director on the first “Lego” movie) and scripted by a bevy of writers led by novelist Seth Grahame-Smith (“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”), “The Lego Batman Movie” is like watching 40-something fanboys with encyclopedic Bat-brains play Legos for 90 minutes.

Everything in the 78-year Bat-mythos is in play, from the ambiguous relationship between Batman and Robin (voiced by Michael Cera) to the campy goofiness of the 1960s TV series to the absurdity of an adult woman being called Batgirl (Rosario Dawson).

The animation is fabulous. Like “The Lego Movie,” “Lego Batman” follows its own internal logic, physics and anatomy. But it also shows some incredible attention to real-world detail, to the point that dust motes float in the cavernous Wayne Manor.

Among the film’s imperfections: The pomposity of our hero grows a little thin after an hour or so, and there are way too many easy butt jokes.

“Lego Batman” also sadly jettisons the rich gallery of Bat-villains about midway through in favor of evildoers from the Warner Bros. film vault. With Bane, Catwoman, Penguin, Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, et al. locked up in Arkham Asylum, the Joker recruits Voldemort and Sauron — along with King Kong, who, not so coincidentally, will star in his own Warner Bros. reboot next month.

It’s a weird move for the story but makes perfect sense economically. Why spend time fleshing out the psychosis of the Riddler (Conan O’Brien) when the studio could advertise its other film properties? Thus, a blitz of flying monkeys from “The Wizard of Oz” and Mogwai spawn from “Gremlins” sub in for Killer Moth, Calendar Man and Mad Harriett.

But trust this 40-something fanboy: Batman’s one-note bad guy Kite-Man is the villain this world deserves, if not the villain it needs right now.

It’s not all fun and games. Batman is a lonely orphan. Through all the giggles and silliness, the filmmakers understand that Bruce Wayne’s ultimate fight is against his estrangement from the world. It’s why Batman needs a Robin. And a Commissioner Gordon and a Batgirl and, yes, a Joker. And the need for family is why the character resonates after he was unleashed upon the Gotham underworld nearly 80 years ago — and why it’s a perfect theme for a family film in the 21st century.

Even though it’s squarely targeting kids and the parents who accompany them, “Lego Batman” serves as a refreshing palate-cleanser after the dour “Batman v Superman” and the often inchoate “Suicide Squad.”

Kudos to McKay and the Lego-verse for making the Caped Crusader great again.

‘The Lego Batman Movie’

Rated PG. Time: 1:32.

Building the ‘Lego Batman’ world

Compared to the bright sets of “The Lego Movie,” where everything is awesome, “The Lego Batman Movie” is dark and brooding, like its title character. Here’s where Warner Bros. says the filmmakers found their inspiration:

▪ “The Batcave was meant to be ludicrous,” says production designer Grant Freckelton. It’s a vast bunker for Batman’s fleet of vehicles, costumes, disguises and computer nerve center. “The benefit of tackling things in a humorous way,” Freckelton says, “is that you can ask yourself what a person would build if they had literally billions of dollars to spend and an ego to match that amount of money.”

▪ Wayne Manor (above the Batcave): Think “Citizen Kane’s” palatial Xanadu, with hints of the real Boldt Castle in New York’s Thousand Islands.

▪ Arkham Asylum: A cross between a high-security prison and a hospital, a blend of “sci-fi prison below and old-timey prison up above,” Freckelton says.

▪ The Phantom Zone: A realm from the Superman comics and movies that imprisons the universe’s worst criminals. Here, the zone is filled with bright, white bricks — infuriating for shadowy villains with dark souls.

Sharon Hoffmann, shoffmann@kcstar.com

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