By John Hanlon, John Hanlon Reviews
The Caped Crusader returns.
One of the best surprises of 2014 was The LEGO Movie, a film that overcame the pitfalls of its concept (an entire movie about LEGOs) and embraced its unique premise. The LEGO Batman Movie does a very similar thing. Instead of coasting on its relationship to The Lego Movie or its iconic lead character, the film relies on a thoughtful understanding of its characters and a colorful world to tell its tale.
Will Arnett reprises his LEGO Movie role as the Caped Crusader. The film opens auspiciously with a large-scale action sequence. The sequence places Batman in a nearly-impossible situation where he's pitted against so many of his arch-rivals that it's hard to keep track of all of them.
One wonders where the film could go from such a tremendous opening and the answer is a powerful one: it goes small.
The story delves into what it really must be like to be Batman. After all of the chases and the fights, Batman stands alone in his kitchen watching painfully as he microwaves his dinner. Here is the unglamorous life of a superhero that the genre often neglects.
The LEGO Batman Movie really explores Batman in a way that is both funny and fulfilling. The screenwriting team show a deep and thoughtful appreciation for the character and his rivalries. One of the most noteworthy relationships here is the one between Batman, Gotham's great superhero, and Joker, one of the community's most psychotic villains. While Joker relishes his ongoing trials against Batman and respects his rival, the Caped Crusader barely thinks about Joker and doesn't care about their antagonistic relationship.
The plot partially focuses on Joker's attempts to prove that Batman can't survive without his enemies. Along the way, Batman inadvertently adopts orphan Robin (Michael Cera) and teams up with new police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson). Joker's plans also include breaking prisoners out of the Phantom Zone, an area in outer space where some of the worst galactic goons are imprisoned.
The zone has been featured prominently in the universe of Superman but this movie gets much mileage out of its ability to bring characters and ideas from other stories into this action-packed spectacle. Some of the cameos here are truly inspired and bring a wonderful freshness to the story. As soon as one reference is revealed, two others follow in the memorable third act.
The voice cast here is a tremendous one with Arnett and Cera (who previously worked together on Arrested Development) standing out as two of the leads. Batman's cockiness combined with Robin's naivety truly work together well here. The strong supporting cast includes Ralph Fiennes as Alfred, Billy Dee Williams as Two-Face (appropriately perfect casting) and Channing Tatum as Superman.
The feature's greatest strength though is its script. Like The LEGO Movie, this story thrives when it reaches outside of traditional thinking. From references to the early incantations of Batman (from the television series to the films) to the features that Batman watches in his home theater, the story brilliantly explores this character in a unique and wonderfully realized way.
Children will love some of the jokes here but so will parents who have watched Batman over the years. The film embraces Batman -- the character and the franchise -- in a way that is both exciting and emotionally compelling.