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Movie review: ‘The Lego Batman Movie’

(Warner Bros.)

"The Lego Batman Movie" Directed by Chris McKay Warner Bros. Pictures Feb. 10.

By Matthew Fernandez

Feb. 10, 2017 6:47 p.m.

The internet is full of comic book forums populated by rabid fans, including myself, who proclaim Batman’s superiority over other superheroes simply because he’s Batman. But despite our favorite billionaire vigilante defying death and defeating monsters on the daily, none of us could have prepared for his one true fear: snake clowns.

And also being part of a family.

“The Lego Batman Movie” abandons the traditionally serious and brooding treatment of “The Dark Knight” and instead opts to lovingly roast the character and the superhero genre. Although its subject matter inherently limits the comedic range, the film blends the iconic canon of the Batman franchise and satire of “The Lego Movie” into a subversively comedic interpretation of the character that will please fans of all ages.

In “The Lego Batman Movie,” Batman (Will Arnett) is at his crime-fighting prime, able to take down an army of his greatest villains and defuse a bomb in less than five minutes, all the while singing about how great he is. On the surface, he prides himself on his success as the city’s lone protector, but he inadvertently exposes his longing for love and companionship.

Batman’s routine life is upset after he accidentally adopts the gymnastically inclined orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) and falls in love with the new police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson). With the aid of his butler and father figure Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), Batman learns to accept others into his life in order to defeat the Joker (Zach Galifianakis).

One of the most rewarding aspects of “The Lego Batman Movie” is how well it understands and respects the canon. Unlike the Batman films of Christopher Nolan, who had never read Batman comics and felt the source material was irrelevant, some of the best humor in “The Lego Batman Movie” comes from lampooning the lore and history of the character.

References range from the mainstream, like 2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and the campy 1966 television show, to the relatively obscure – ever heard of the Mutant Leader or Condiment King? Batman’s relentless brooding, insistence that he’s the strongest and smartest hero ever and his inability to purge crime from Gotham are among some aspects of the character the film critiques.

However, the range of available comedy is fairly limited. Whereas 2014’s “The Lego Movie” had free reign to mock a wide spectrum of popular culture, “The Lego Batman Movie” is mostly limited to the worlds of Batman and superhero movies.

There is still a wealth of tropes and quirks to make fun of – like the uselessness of police in superhero films – and the film borrows villains like Voldemort and King Kong for the climax. However the finite scope of “The Lego Batman Movie” causes it to feel like a watered down version of its Lego predecessor.

In one scene, the infamous shark-repellent spray from the 1960s series actually saves Batman, and though the sequence is funny on its own, the scene would be more endearing to those who understand the previous uselessness of the gadget.

In terms of animation, fluid substances like smoke and water blend seamlessly together with the rigid Lego structures, and the attention to detail in the environment creates a visual experience on par with animation giants like Pixar.

“The Lego Batman Movie” shirks the example of those giants of trying to be too mature, and instead revels in its imaginative childishness. While other films strive to create realism in their animation, the Lego blocks recall memories of childhood and the impossible worlds that children create with the toys.

Where most Batman films, with the exception of the Schumacher era, aim for a dark, muted color scheme, “The Lego Batman Movie” has an appealing wash of color.

Arnett and Galifianakis easily fill the shoes of pop culture’s greatest hero and villain pair. Arnett grants Batman the traditionally gravelly voice but spices it up with a bratty, childish stubbornness. Galifianakis’ Joker compensates for Batman’s monotone with highly expressive line delivery, like when the Joker eggs Batman on to say, “I hate you.”

Notable is Galifianakis’ ability to create a sense of vulnerability and weakness heretofore unseen in a film version of the Joker. Subtle whininess and cracks in the voice help convey his deep need for acknowledgment. The two actors are worthy successors to Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, the previous iconic voices behind the animated characters.

“The Lego Batman Movie” is an alternative to the dark, brooding and overly serious films that DC Comics has been churning out. It’s an entertainingly campy roast of a character the world has come to love; its superpower lies in its familiarity with its audience and source material.

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Matthew Fernandez
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