Batman in a Lego world


On the surface, the idea of making a movie using Lego versions of other intellectual property is pretty ridiculous. As it turns out, the reality of such a movie is still ridiculous, but in more of an amusing and heartwarming way. As with the first Lego movie, “The Lego Batman Movie” proves that a supremely silly idea can still make a fun film if executed properly.

Although the main character of the story is the same Master Builder Batman who helped Emmet save the Lego world in “The Lego Movie,” this movie is a standalone film in its own right and you won’t miss anything if you haven’t seen the first Lego movie.

The film was directed by Chris McKay, who previously directed quite a few episodes of “Robot Chicken” and was also an editor and animation supervisor for “The Lego Movie.”

As with its predecessor, “The Lego Batman Movie” uses a kind of 3D animation made up of a multitude of digital Lego bricks and stylized to emulate stop-motion. This and the rather silly addition of vocalized “pew pew” sound effects for the guns help with the illusion that the events are taking place in some kid’s imagination as they play with their outrageously large Lego collection. (Considering the subtext of some of the jokes, it might be more likely that it’s happening in the imagination of some college student, which is totally fine because Legos have no age limit, right?)

The movie shows some real heart in the relationship that develops between Batman and his accidentally-adopted son, Robin, but the rest of the movie is packed shamelessly full of some of the most cringe-worthy jokes I’ve seen in one place since the last time someone forced me to watch an Adam Sandler comedy. Not only did “The Lego Batman Movie” utilize its main source and pick on pretty much every incarnation of Batman over the years, it also called on the power of memes (lonely, emo Batman), current slang trends (Commissioner Barbara Gordon’s title shortened to just “Commish”) and making fun of other works entirely (“Accio lightning!”)

The vocal talents of the film must have had a lot of fun making it. Will Arnett (“Arrested Development,” “BoJack Horseman”) plays up the deep voice of Batman with dramatic fervor, easily capturing the running joke of Bruce Wayne’s tragic solitude while still making it legitimately sad.

Michael Cera (“Superbad,” “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) plays Dick Grayson, the lonely orphan who stumbles into the role of Robin in an attempt to please his new dad. His sheer excitability is a little hard to handle at times, especially when he bounces around the screen like a chipmunk on speed, but he certainly provides a counterbalance to the deep black shadow that is Batman.

Adding some welcome dry humor to the film is Ralph Fiennes (“Harry Potter,” “Clash of the Titans”) as Bruce Wayne’s butler, the stoic Alfred Pennyworth. When everything else is exploding or slapping you across the face with heavy-handed jokes, Alfred’s elegantly delivered one-liners are beautifully subtle, making him by far my favorite character. (In a fascinating twist, when Voldemort shows up partway through the movie, he is voiced by Eddie Izzard, rather than the character’s original actor: the aforementioned Ralph Fiennes.)

Rounding out the main cast is Rosario Dawson (“Daredevil,” “Luke Cage”) as Commissioner Barbara Gordon. She provides the film’s small amount of common sense in many of the more outrageous situations, but she’s the butt of more jokes than she initiates, which — within the climate of the film — makes her come across as a bit of a downer.

A Batman movie would be incomplete without the Joker, despite Batman’s own insistence to the contrary. Voiced by Zach Galifianakis (“The Hangover”), the Lego Joker gets at the heart of what it really means to be the main villain of a story and provides many a double entendre about the nature of his relationship with Batman along the way.

The soundtrack of the film becomes aggressively prominent when Batman breaks out a hard rock anthem as he fights the Joker, sung not by Arnett but by Patrick Stump, of “Fall Out Boy” fame, doing an impressively gravelly Batman impression. The end credits of the film feature “Friends Are Family,” which is clearly an attempt to bring in the spirit of “Everything Is Awesome” from “The Lego Movie” but falls a bit flat — it is neither as catchy nor as fun to belt obnoxiously at your friends when you’ve decided they deserve a nasty earworm.

Summed up in one phrase, the movie is over the top. It’s loud, flashy and sometimes unexpectedly musical. Attempting to take any aspect of it seriously is a fool’s errand, best to be avoided. Fortunately, it’s pretty clear that the movie’s creators and cast weren’t taking it very seriously either, and there’s a thick vein of self-aware irony woven through each absurd joke and bizarre plot point.

Although I would still say that “The Lego Movie” was better, “The Lego Batman Movie” is a fun experience that’s worth seeing at least once, if only to realize how low your own sense of humor can sink when you find yourself snorting with amusement at a ridiculously long shot of a microwave.