In a cinematic marketplace dominated by sequels and retreads, The Lego Batman Movie manages to be both. And it’s also a feature-length toy commercial.
Sure, there are some big laughs along the way, but unlike its strikingly original predecessor, this affectionate yet subversive spinoff of The Lego Movie doesn’t hold up at feature length.
It makes you recall how much you marveled at the artistry and imagination of the first Lego film, or how amusing the set designs and movements of the little brick-figure characters were — the first time you saw them. However, despite the delightfully rudimentary animation, this installment doesn’t convey the same nostalgic charm as the first film.
The scene-stealing periphery character gets the spotlight here, but he’s hardly a stranger. Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) is a hero in Gotham City, of course, but behind the scenes, it’s a different story. He lives a solitary life as billionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne, watching romantic comedies by himself and reheating dinner in the microwave.
Batman’s isolation issues continue when he offends arch criminal The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) by refusing to acknowledge their rivalry. But when the emotionally fragile villain hatches an elaborate revenge plot, Batman realizes he needs some help in the form of an adopted orphan turned sidekick nicknamed Robin (Michael Cera), an alluring young female police commissioner (Rosario Dawson), and his loyal butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes). Basically, in order to save the day, the Caped Crusader needs to share the responsibilities, and the credit.
The Lego Batman Movie is packed with inside jokes about the Batman mythology and its ubiquitous place in the pop-culture landscape for decades. The screenplay — assembled by five writers from a story by Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) — features a barrage of rapid-fire sight gags and one-liners, along with some hilarious non sequiturs.
The result is clever is not always compelling, with tons of recognizable voices in smaller roles that you can try to pick out yourself. It succeeds better as a satire or a parody than it does as an actual superhero movie.
The first half of the film is a dynamite send-up that checks all the boxes for fanboys, but the final act finds that momentum crashing down amid all the standard overblown action set pieces that you’d expect from a Batman movie, not a Lego Batman movie.
Rated PG, 104 minutes.