Mashing up two brands can be a great way to make neither seem appealing: Taco Bell and Pizza Hut, Men in Black and 21 Jump Street, the Flintstones and the Schmoo — you get the nausea … errr, the idea.
And that’s the inherent risk of The Lego Batman movie, in which Warner Bros. takes two of its most potent film-franchise brands — one relatively new and developing, the other time-tested and fool-proof — throws them into a blender and hits frappé.
Have no fear, people of Gotham! What comes out is a whirlwind of comic-book and comedic delights. The Lego Batman Movie is hysterical and irreverent, yes, but also visually captivating, with big screen-worthy action and the best new bat-vehicle since the Batmobile itself (it’s called the Scuttler, and you’ll soon be seeing it on a Christmas list near you).
New gadgets, new villains, new attitude — there must be a million ways The Lego Batman movie messes with the bat-canon, yet somehow it never violates it. This is a movie for Batman fans, by Batman fans, and yet can easily be enjoyed by anyone.
It liberally borrows from 70-odd years of the Dark Knight’s comic, television and cinematic history, pokes good fun at it, and yet still reveres it. Virtually every Batman iteration, every character, every villain gets their moment. It can be pretty overwhelming, and that’s just the bat-stuff; the real pop-culture joy of The Lego Batman movie is the way it brings in just about everything else.
The Lego Batman Movie gives The Lego Movie a run for its money in the pop-culture references department
The Lego Movie was revered for its hurricane of geeky references, some pulled from Warners’ vaults (DC superheroes), some licensed from other studios (Star Wars, for example). It’s fair to say that The Lego Batman Movie gives The Lego Movie a run for its money in that department — it’s stuffed to the gills with characters, many of them villains, from a broad spectrum of intellectual property, both within Warner Bros. and without. No reason to spoil any of those fun surprises here; just let your imagination run wild.
And it so happens that this version of Batman himself — a wildly overconfident, narcissistic billionaire insisting that he’s the best and that no one’s actions or ideas could possibly match his own — feels strangely relevant, ahem. But here’s the good news: voiced again by Will Arnett, this would-be one-note Batman gets an arc, and it’s a heartfelt and satisfying one.
His new sidekicks aren’t quite as developed, with the possible exception of Robin (voiced by Michael Cera) — a new, younger boy wonder whose naiveté and sunny disposition make him a kind of Lego Movie Emmet 2.0. Barbara Gordon/Batgirl (Rosario Dawson) and Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) are probably the most wedged-in things about the film, and spend most of it simply tagging along.
Yes, there’s an awful lot going on here, but in the end it all hangs together — a testament to the talent behind the camera. Animation guru Chris McKay is directing his first feature film, but it’s not his first rodeo: the Robot Chicken veteran was the animation co-director and supervisor on The Lego Movie, whose co-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller produced this one.
Novelist/screenwriter/mashup artist Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) gets the lead credit for the screenplay, a collaborative effort that’s loaded with winning one-liners and references that’ll keep your head spinning and your belly laughing.
And there are just enough clues to remind us that while what we’re seeing onscreen exists within its own universe, the story, action and dialogue are being driven by humans somewhere in the real world, as The Lego Movie showed us at its emotional conclusion. The Lego Batman Movie has its own, more subtle take on that convention.
That’s probably the only subtle thing about this raucous, frenetic pop-culture joyride.