By Grant Playter
The audience sits in eager anticipation as the cascade of production company logos trickles to a stop. Soon we are looking at nothing, and for a moment there is only darkness on the screen. Then, the booming voice of Batman (Will Arnett) invades the IMAX theater, the sole sound in the darkened chamber: “All important movies start with a black screen.”
Artists seemed to have milked Batman for all he is worth. There’s Batman movies, TV shows, video games, amusement park rides and not to mention the comics that kicked his career off. But in spite of this deluge of content, or maybe because of it, what Batman is and why he is so popular seems to have been lost. Despite it’s lighthearted, family-oriented nature, in a way, “The Lego Batman Movie” is the most honest depiction of not only modern Batman, but all Batman iterations.
The movie is packed with jokes and gags. From the one about black screens at the start to another about white screens at the end, the movie is incredibly aware of what it’s trying to be.
The Batman depicted in this movie is different than any given Batman we’ve seen. He’s egotistical, loves to fight, loves himself even more, but also has this odd blend of campy and brooding moments. He’s a bit like a Batman crockpot, where you throw in bits and pieces from each continuity to make the perfect vigilante for this particular plot.
The show has a delightful awareness of Batman, and it has a ton of fun riffing on the conventional tropes with which he’s associated. Batman is excessively broody to the point that the Justice League doesn’t invite him to their 65th annual get together.
Robin embodies all the pep of the ’60s series while also serving as a great counter to Batman’s antisocial personality. The cheer and naiveté of the character is great for a lot of laughs and Michael Cera absolutely nails the role. My favorite part of the film is their relationship, with Batman’s ego and antipathy harshly bouncing off of Robin’s sunny demeanor.
Are there flaws in the move? Sure. I love Zach Galifianakis as the Joker, but his whole plot of trying to get Batman to recognize him as his “one true enemy” where he is the sympathetic figure kind of rings hollow for people familiar with the depths of the real Joker’s insanity.
While action-packed, the movie is longer than two hours, with multiple fine stopping points before the ultimate conclusion. I was a bit fatigued at points, and the kids that the movie is targeting would likely be even more tired. The amount of time they spent hammering in the trite wholesome theme of the importance of friends and family likely contributed to that enervation.
Having said that, these don’t hinder the overall product much. The movie is smart, witty and hits all the right notes for fans of Batman and fans of Lego alike. They pack in an incredible amount of references, from esoteric villains like Condiment King or The Eraser, to wry references to other media like “King Kong” or “Harry Potter” or of all things “Doctor Who.”
The action is excellently done and has all the explosions and one liners kids could want. There’s plenty here for any audience, so grab a seat, microwave some Lobster Thermidor and check it out.