The following review is spoiler-free.
“The Lego Batman Movie” was a trickier follow-up to make than one might think.
In my opinion, “The Lego Movie” (2014) was one of the biggest movie surprises of the last few years. On paper, a movie centered around Lego’s should not work. Lego’s are toys. But “The Lego Movie” astronomically exceeded my expectations with an optimistic, good-hearted sense of humor, and a message that centers around the creativity and uniqueness of the building bricks themselves. The movie’s playfulness and its ability to combine pop culture franchises in a cohesive manner was special, and led to hilarious results.
In that way, the “Lego Batman” character was a natural highlight from the original movie. Lego Batman was a parody of the normal depiction of the character. The jokes revolved around his inner darkness, his famous origin story, and his extreme ego. As one of the best parts of the original “Lego Movie,” a “Lego Batman Movie” spinoff was an obvious progression of the brand.
Fortunately, “The Lego Batman Movie” is very funny. It expands on the parodies of Batman’s history, universe, and colorful cast of characters. At its best, the movie is making a joke about Adam West’s Batman, shark repellent, or ridiculous villain names like Calendar Man. The central conflict revolves around the obsessive relationship between Batman and the Joker. Their almost romantic fixation with each other is barely exaggerated, which makes it even more funny. As with the Joker and Batman jokes, the best part of “The Lego Batman Movie” is its mockery of the most common (and ridiculous) parts of Batman, and other superhero, movies.
However, the movie’s biggest strength works as a double-edged sword. “The Lego Batman Movie” never really decides whether it’s a Batman parody or its own story. Of course, the movie is trying to be both. But the movie’s story, focusing on Batman’s isolationist nature, feels easy and the movie’s emotional beats are almost inevitable from the beginning. The script telegraphs how the character will change, so when these moments happen, they feel more forced or rushed, then actually earned.
Another unfortunate fault in the movie is its prickly humor. “The Lego Movie” is unflinchingly positive. (“Everything Is Awesome” is the movie’s hit song, after all.) “The Lego Batman Movie” trades this optimism for Batman’s drab and insulting outlook. The movie begins with a great joke about “best friend” pilots that feels quintessentially like “The Lego Movie.” However, once the movie establishes its focus on Batman, the humor becomes a bit more mean. Of course, this ties into the character’s arc, but this decision, once again, feels a bit easy.
Nonetheless, I’m being quite harsh on a movie that I enjoyed. The voice acting is spot-on. This movie once again proves that Will Arnett (as Lego Batman) is one of the most talented voice actors in Hollywood right now. Some of the more emotional scenes feel like they could fit right into Arnett’s other animated role, Bojack Horseman. Zach Galifanakis and Michael Cera, as the Joker and Robin respectively, are also perfect for their roles. Rosario Dawson, who voices Barbara Gordon, is immediately recognizable, so perhaps she could have given the character more of a unique voice. The movie’s Alfred, voiced by Ralph Fiennes, is the perfect mix of the on-screen Alfred’s that have come before.
“The Lego Batman Movie” also surprised me in its incorporation of pop culture outside of Batman. Not only do DC characters make their way into the plot, but without spoiling the details, some famous villains play a role as well. While the results are funny, the combination of various properties is not as special as it was in “The Lego Movie,” and it becomes somewhat obvious that Warner Bros. property rights held the writers back in their use of other characters.
“The Lego Batman Movie” succeeds with flying colors as a parody of the Batman universe. Mocking everything from Warner Bros. to Suicide Squad, the movie is undeniably funny. The message of family feels predictable and a bit forced, but the core conflict with Joker is hilarious and frankly, kind of genius. Despite its basic story, the voice actors, especially Will Arnett, give the roles their all. The movie’s less optimistic tone and humor keep the movie from bettering “The Lego Movie,” but I still enjoyed “The Lego Batman Movie” as a whole. It’s certainly better than any of the live-action DC movies. Now that I think about it, a Lego DC cinematic universe sounds so much better than what we are getting. One can only hope.