With 2014’s The Lego Movie, Warner Animation Group laid a clever foundation for virtually limitless spinoff opportunities. The first to arrive is The Lego Batman Movie, and it’s an important indication of whether the studio is on-board with putting equal effort into making the many Lego movies to come as unique as the original. It would have been easy to make one quality movie as a starting point, only to ride the wave of success by putting loads of cheap spin-offs into theaters to make an easy cash-grab. Fortunately, it seems that Warner is in it for the long haul to keep these movies special.
The Lego Batman Movie is consistently funny and occasionally hysterical, carrying on the blend of absurd and smart humor from The Lego Movie. Running gags range from the simplicity of the repeated use of the name of Batman’s (Will Arnett) adopted son, Dick (Michael Cera), to a hilariously romantic depiction of the co-dependent hatred between hero and villain. That relationship sets the plot into motion when Batman’s indifference hurts the Joker’s (Zach Galifianakis) feelings. The Joker decides to play the long game by turning all of Gotham City’s villains in to the police, rendering Batman useless. It’s a fun take on the kind of psychological tactics the Joker has used in other Batman stories, and it works well in a movie that knows not to take itself too seriously.
The pace of the plot allows for a good balance of action sequences and hangout time. Some of the best scenes come along after Batman’s carelessness in his dealings with the Joker causes Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) to join him, forming a makeshift family dynamic between her, Batman, his butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), and Dick. Lightning-quick banter keeps things moving as they don costumes and make plans to take on the Joker. The performances are voice acting at its finest, with a comically vast ensemble of minor characters that reaches the likes of Mariah Carey and Chris Hardwick. Will Arnett’s low grumble is a perfect sendup of the often-silly “disguised” voices that have plagued Batman portrayals over the years.
So much is done right in The Lego Batman Movie that its failure to meet its full potential is only evident when compared to The Lego Movie. The latter found a way to take its comedic energy and turn it into meaningful themes about creativity and childhood. The Lego Batman Movie’s emotional palate is mostly limited to Batman’s loneliness, a theme that has been retread in almost every iteration of the hero’s story. It feels more like checking a box than having something interesting to say, but there’s no reason an animated movie has to move its audience to tears to be good. It’s a sugary movie made with kids in mind, but it’s gleefully funny and self-aware in ways that most family adventures can’t conceive of.