The Lego Batman Movie Review: Parody is the Sincerest Form of Flattery

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The Lego Batman Movie is the eleventh film over the course of over 50 years to prominently feature the Caped Crusader. At this point in time, however, the franchise seems at a standstill. Warner Bros. executives misread the success of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy to mean superhero movies have to be all dark all the time, showing the character next in the excessively dull Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Thankfully, as the live-action route looks murkier than ever, this short, snappy animated feature is a full on parody and love letter of everything that came before it.

Lampooning everything from Adam West’s Bat-dance to Tom Hardy’s super-serious Bane voice, Lego Batman pulls from every corner of the character’s cinematic legacy for an endless barrage of jokes that work at least 80% of the time. That’s an impressive ratio considering how many one-liners, sight gags, and obscure references are packed into this 90 minute feature.

Will Arnett reprises his role as Batman from 2014’s The Lego Movie, which, besides the use of the classic bricks and the film’s electric tone, is about the only thing that really connects the two films. Lego Batman is its own entity, entirely separate from The Lego Movie in terms of story. And that’s a welcome decision. Director Chris McKay is here to tell an independent Batman story, albeit a wonderfully silly one.

The opening scene is an impressive visual feat, as Batman takes down just about every villain in his rogues gallery, from Joker (Zach Galifianakis) and Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate) to more obscure villains like Condiment King and Calendar Man. This beautifully animated set piece both lets the die hard Batman fans know that they’re in good hands and sets up Batman’s character arc as an aggressively lonely figure that refuses to ask for help.

But when Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) takes over for her father as Gotham City’s Police Commissioner, Batman has to start fighting crime by a whole new set of rules. As Barbara notes, the same villains keep wreaking havoc over and over again and Gotham City is never really safe. For its endless relaying of jokes, Lego Batman also aims to contemplate the purpose of the character, and in a much more interesting way than Zach Snyder did last year. The introspection isn’t serious enough to deliver much more than “but Batman stands for good!,” but the fact that the film in introspective at all is a nice surprise.

That helps make up for a general sense that much of how the film parodies Batman doesn’t exactly feel fresh. For those fans who know all the jokes about the character and his world that have been parodied before or shown up in countless Internet memes, Lego Batman does little more than bunch them all together and repackage them. That’s fine, making fun of the fact that Robin (Michael Cera) doesn’t wear pants and kind of puts Batman in the position of a creepy father figure is still funny. It’s just also been done before. Occasionally, the film feels like a writing committee of Batman fans scrolling through Reddit and laughing at each others’ stuff. For the most part it works, and there’s likely never been a better collection of Batman jokes than in this film, but it’s disappointing to walk out of a movie feeling like you knew all the jokes before you sat down to watch it.

Still, Lego Batman manages to both be a faithful a portrayal of the character and satirize his world. This marriage is the driving force behind the film’s success, while also reminding us that Batman is supposed to be fun in most cases. Hopefully, Warner Bros. will learn from all the money they’ll inevitably make off it. Grade: B+

By Matt Dougherty

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