‘The LEGO Batman Movie’ delivers plenty of bat-laughs
Directed by: Chris McKay
Starring: Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, and Ralph Fiennes
“The LEGO Batman Movie” – Everything but the kitchen sink.
I mean, everything but the bat-kitchen sink.
Wait. I meant to write, everything but the LEGO-bat-kitchen sink.
You see, in the sparkling, brand new animated picture about DC Comics’ Caped Crusader, director Chris McKay and five screenwriters throw, heave, chuck, splatter, pitch, and toss 1,000,006 pop culture nods on the big screen except the LEGO-bat-kitchen sink. Most of them circle around Batman, but actually, that might not be entirely accurate. McKay and his clever writing crew drop in other, unexpected worlds outside of Gotham City’s universe, including Michael Jackson, Dracula and a famous Tom Cruise movie, to name a few.
In the world of animation, anything is possible, and “The LEGO Batman Movie” unequivocally stretches that “law” to extremes to the delight of just about any diehard or casual fan of comic books, video games, the recent explosion comic book movies, animated films, and of course, the lead character.
Admittedly, with a lengthy 1-hour 44-minute runtime, this dizzying picture could stretch your patience too, but there is no denying that it is funny and extremely clever.
Speaking of funny and extremely clever, Joker (Zach Galifianakis) stars as the main villain opposite Batman (Will Arnett), and he targets a Gotham City energy plant for his latest bout of mayhem. During the opening sequence, Batman saves the (initial) day and rights Joker’s wrongs, but while buying in to the hero-stops-villain narrative, the spectacular visuals of - seemingly – hundreds of thousands of LEGOs dancing can leave one speechless, or at least in downright awe.
Now, I have not built LEGO toys in decades, but I do recall becoming somewhat frustrated when constructing those colorful, prepackaged pieces into exactly the correct formation that appeared on the paper directions and the front of the boxes. In other words, building LEGOs can take an awfully long time, and those memories provide a rudimentary point of reference to the mindboggling movement on the big screen in 2017.
How did they actually make this movie? I have absolutely no idea.
Well, the picture’s emotional core is a great idea, and it does comically resonate in way that we have never seen Batman. Batman - full of proud machismo and bravado - needs to take inventory. Not of his collection of bat-gadgets, but of himself. While he crows about his core workouts and never skipping “leg day”, his greatest challenge in “The LEGO Batman Movie” is to rely on and trust others. In this case, these others are a pair of familiar faces, but I will refrain from revealing them here.
Sometimes, Batman’s personal journey does slow down the film’s breakneck pace. For example, immediately after the wild opening, the mood - comparatively - becomes eerily silent when Batman travels home, embraces his solitude and microwaves his dinner. This is done intentionally, but the shift feels like you are stepping off a riotous, 90-mph roller coaster ride and then walking down a quiet, dark hallway, guided by an invisible chaperone. The sensations of the colorful blitzkrieg of animation still frolic in your head, while you wonder if the film will hand out more tickets to equally enthralling cinematic thrill rides. McKay and company absolutely deliver, and it turns out that these few brief pauses of reflection are needed to collect one’s faculties.
This is because the script contains so many visual gags and calls to the friendly ghosts of Batman-past (and many other franchises), it is simply impossible to catch them all, and I am certain that I missed more half of them. Quite frankly, my “catch rate” probably hovers around 10 percent, but does that mean that I’ll watch “The LEGO Batman Movie” nine more times?
Don’t bet on it, but I was certainly happy to hop on this animated roller coaster once, step off, take a measured walk, find a comfortable bench, and wonder if the filmmakers actually did include the LEGO-bat-kitchen sink. It surely is possible.
Jeff – a member of the Phoenix Critics Circle – has penned film reviews since 2008 and graduated from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. Follow Jeff and the Phoenix Film Festival on Twitter @MitchFilmCritic and @PhoenixFilmFest, respectively.