It's not quite fair to judge the new "LEGO Batman Movie" up against the 2014 surprise masterpiece, "The LEGO Movie." It's also not really fair to hold it up against the various incarnations of Batman movies and TV shows over the years. Unfortunately for "LEGO Batman," such comparisons are only natural, and this new film falls short, both of its LEGO predecessor and as a parody of the Batman Universe. In other words, when it comes to "LEGO Batman," everything is not awesome.
Will Arnett reprises his voice role as Batman/Bruce Wayne, as do a few others from "The LEGO Movie" such as Channing Tatum's Superman. The film cleverly lampoons and over-amplifies the core ingredients found in the legendary Batman comic books, all of course for the sake of laughs. In this world, Batman is not just a brooding superhero, he is an egotistical loner who would much rather fight crime by himself. Commissioner Gordon (Hector Elizondo), facing retirement, only knows how to do one thing: Push the button that triggers the Bat-signal, so that Batman can swoop in and save Gotham City from the Rogue Gallery of villains that inhabit it. The quick dialogue and rhythm feels familiar from what we saw in "The LEGO Movie," it's just that this film lacks the rapid-fire pacing of comedy - and the infusion of nostalgia - that made that film so immensely effective.
In this tale, Gordon's daughter Barbara (who comic fans know becomes "Bat-Girl") is taking over for her father and she has plans to introduce a more effective strategy to fight the prevalent crime in the city. This means that Gotham will no longer rely solely on Batman to save the day. This of course hits Batman right where it hurts and sends him deeper into a sea of self-pity. Batman secretly longs for companionship and the security of being part of a family, although he'd never admit it. After some crazy circumstances, Bruce Wayne agrees to adopt a young orphan, Dick Grayson (who of course becomes Robin, voiced by Michael Cera) and with the prodding of good old Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), he takes him under his bat-wing to learn the ropes of super-heroism.
Elsewhere, The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) is longing for recognition from his old Bat-adversary. The film's running joke has Batman and Joker exchanging dialogue that could be mistaken for romantic banter, as The Joker continues to search for validation as Batman's "Greatest Villain Ever." He concocts a crazy plan to round-up the entire Rogue Gallery (The Penguin, The Riddler, etc.) and they end up surrendering to authorities, further rendering Batman useless to the civilians of Gotham. Of course, the long-con involves him gaining access to some special prison for serious baddies, called "The Phantom Zone," where he unleashes the worst bad guys (and girls) that the Warner Bros. brand could apparently sign-off on...yes folks, that means the likes of King Kong, The Wicked Witch of the West, Sauron from "The Lord of the Rings" and even Voldemort show up to wreak havoc on Gotham City.
Well the more the merrier does not apply here. If you read the credits, you will see that the voice talent for this film includes names like Conan O'Brien, Seth Green, Jemaine Clement, Billy Dee Williams, Ellie Kemper and even Mariah Carey, but if any given character even has one single line it would be surprising. Jonah Hill, for example, reprises his role as The Green Lantern, but you'll ask yourself..."wait, The Green Lantern was in this movie?" Curiously, both Voldemort and Ralph Fiennes are in this film, but Fiennes does not voice the character that he played in the flesh in the Harry Potter films, (LEGO Voldemort is voiced by the British comedian Eddie Izzard). There are simply too many characters and so many building blocks flying around via explosions and whatnot, that much of the film feels like a dizzy, manic LEGO nightmare.
Not all is bad in "The LEGO Batman Movie," as there are definitely some funny lines and some clever moments worked in. There are also an incredible amount of references to all of the other Batman entities that have existed, from last years "Batman v Superman" all the way back to the Adam West "Batman" TV series, and everything in-between. But beyond that, there are large stretches of this movie where nothing too exciting, funny or creative is happening, and that's a shame. Its underlying message of teamwork over loneliness just doesn't pack that powerful an emotional punch. Add to this, that analyzing the psyche of Batman/Bruce Wayne is just a played out topic, one that feels stale, boring and annoying regardless of whenever these characters show up across all mediums.
"The LEGO Batman Movie" is much more a Batman movie than it is a LEGO movie, and Gotham City is definitely a rich place to draw comedy and absurdity from. As it proves, there wasn't quite enough to successfully stretch out over the course of an entire film. Is it enjoyable? OK. Is it passable? Maybe. Will it be a big hit? You betcha. But here is a movie about a superhero that doesn't feel all that super, and a comedy that doesn't contain many laughs past the first 30-minutes. As it turns out, Batman is longing for kinship, but ironically "LEGO Batman" is just unable to connect.
Genre: Animation, Action, Adventure
Runtime: 1 hour, 44 minutes, Rated PG
Starring: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Zach Galifianakis, Jenny Slate, Jason Mantzoukas, Conan O'Brien, Billy Dee Williams, Zoe Kravitz, Doug Benson, Eddie Izzard
Directed by Chris McKay (feature-film debut)
Opens locally on Friday, Feb.10, 2017 (check for showtimes).
Read our review of "The LEGO Movie" here.