The LEGO Batman Movie (2017) Warner Bros./Comedy-Action-Adventure RT: 104 minutes Rated PG (rude humor, some action) Director: Chris McKay Screenplay: Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern and John Whittington Music: Lorne Balfe Release date: February 10, 2017 (US) Cast: Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Mariah Carey, Jenny Slate, Susan Bennett, Billy Dee Williams, Hector Elizondo, Conan O’Brien, Jason Mantzoukas, Doug Benson, Zoe Kravitz, Kate Micucci, Riki Lindhome, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Adam DeVine, Eddie Izzard, Seth Green, Jemaine Clement, Ellie Kemper, David Burrows, Laura Kightlinger.
Not everything is awesome. Certainly not The LEGO Batman Movie, the follow-up to 2014’s surprisingly fun and clever The LEGO Movie, a movie I fully expected to hate but ended up giving a four-star rating. I wanted to love The LEGO Batman Movie, especially since (a) I enjoy the Batman movies, even the terrible one with Arnold Schwarzenegger and (b) I wanted to be somebody stick it to last year’s noisy debacle Batman v Superman. To its credit, it is far more enjoyable than Batman and Robin and more coherent than BvS. But, like many a sequel or follow-up, it doesn’t measure up to the original. It has its moments but ultimately tries to jam too much in. It’s not enthralling, it’s exhausting.
As the movie opens, Batman (Arnett, Arrested Development) once again stops Joker (Galifianakis, The Hangover) from destroying Gotham City. As if defeating him isn’t enough, he literally adds insult to injury by telling Joker that he’s NOT his main rival. As the Caped Crusader so eloquently puts it, “I like to fight around.” He then returns to Wayne Manor where he celebrates his latest victory by eating microwaved lobster thermidor and watching Jerry Maguire. It sounds lonely but as any fan knows, Batman prefers to fly solo (professionally and personally).
Life throws a real curve ball at Batman/Bruce Wayne at a retirement gala for Commissioner Gordon (Elizondo, Pretty Woman) where his successor, daughter Barbara (Dawson, Sin City), announces her intention to have Batman work with the Gotham PD in the city’s never-ending war against crime. Then the Joker, along with many of his criminal comrades, crashes the party to surrender to the new Commissioner Gordon, making Batman irrelevant and unnecessary. He retreats to his mansion where he’s shocked to learn he unknowingly adopted an orphan boy, Dick Grayson (Cera, Arrested Development). His butler Alfred (Fiennes, the Harry Potter movies) convinces Batman to take the boy under his wing (pun totally intended!).
His need to be back in the spotlight prompts the hero to sneak into the Fortress of Solitude, during a party to which his invite got lost in cyberspace, and steal a ray gun that would send the Joker to the Phantom Zone. Batman’s plan doesn’t quite work out the way he expected. Not only does Joker end up back in Gotham, he brings with him a whole slew of additional villains- e.g. Lord Voldemort, Sauron, the Gremlins, King Kong, Godzilla, the Agent Smiths (The Matrix) and the Daleks (Doctor Who). Batman will have to work with others to defeat the villains and save Gotham (yet again).
There comes a point during The LEGO Batman Movie when it becomes tiring. It’s like watching a hyperactive child with a wild imagination dump out all his LEGOs and make up a story. It’s not a terrible story but it’s not one that you’re likely to care about either. As for the basic concept, it worked better the first time because nobody expected it to. Prior to The LEGO Movie, there were a bunch of straight-to-DVD Lego movies aimed at little kids. I never saw any of them but from what I could surmise from the few clips I did see, they were pretty bad. Hence, the 2014 movie came as a delightful surprise. Now, three years later, the novelty has worn off. The animation is still great but it isn’t anything we haven’t already seen.
Where The LEGO Batman Movie succeeds is in the humor department. Yes, it has plenty of bathroom and butt jokes for the kids but that’s not what I’m talking about. There are many references, mainly to older incarnations of the Caped Crusader (including a brief clip from the campy 60s TV series), that adults will appreciate. My favorite is the tuxedo monologue during which Al Jarreau’s “Girls Know How” (from the 1982 comedy Night Shift) is heard over the soundtrack. As you recall, it co-starred Michael Keaton who would go on to play Batman in the two Tim Burton-directed movies. Yes, a fun game of Six Degrees of Batman. It was also fun playing Spot the Villain in the movie’s third act. Unfortunately, the makers throw so much at you, you miss some of it.
I’m always wary of movies with multiple writers and The LEGO Batman Movie has five. The story elements don’t gel as well as they should. It’s a rather bumpy ride. The voice talents do a decent but not amazing job. Arnett delivers his lines in a mocking growl that gets old too quickly. Galifianakis turns the Joker into a whiny, needy sort with serious co-dependency issues. Cera infuses Robin/Dick Grayson with sufficient eagerness. The LEGO Batman Movie had great potential and should be better than it is. It’s fun in parts but it eventually peters out. It’s hardly the event movie it wants to be but you try explaining that to your kids. The under-10 set (boys, of course) will love it; wild LEGO horses couldn’t keep them away.