By Murphy Kenefick, Columnist
The history of Batman on screen has been a varied one, ranging from surrealist Tim Burton to a darker Christopher Nolan version, and most recently the poorly received Zack Snyder version. So what better way to pump some life back into the character than to turn it into Lego form? Reprising his role from “The Lego Movie,” Will Arnett (“Arrested Development”) voices the titular hero, lending a signature gravelly voice to the movie and endless compliments to himself. This proves most effective in the opening 30 minutes, which is undoubtedly the best segment of the film. It begins, as almost every Batman movie does, with the procession of a crime. Led by the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) and featuring probably every villain in the canon, the heist involves strapping a bomb to the underwater stronghold of Gotham City. But, after numerous self-aware quips and references, Batman inevitably comes in to save the day. This sequence was surprisingly stunning for an animated film, blending color and quick takes that all felt simultaneously like an homage to and an improvement on the franchise. Once Batman defeats the Joker, he goes one step further and tells his famous foe that the Joker’s not his number one bad guy, and that Batman doesn’t need anyone to help him fight crime. In a wonderful spoof, this breaks the Joker’s heart, and we go on to find that Batman’s cockiness and isolation is really just a disguise for his crippling loneliness. He spends most of his days alone in the Batcave with Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), watching “Jerry Maguire” and pretending to not be sad about his dead parents.
Then, everything seems to spiral out of control for our hero. The new commissioner (Rosario Dawson) insists that Batman isn’t the only way to defeat crime, Bruce Wayne accidentally adopts an orphan named Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) and the Joker is behind the scenes, organizing the greatest supervillains for an attack against the city. At this point, the majority of animated movies would cop out and have a nonsensical battle and a predictable conclusion with no real emotional stakes, but that is where “Lego Batman” diverts. Instead, the physical crisis of the villains taking over the city coincides with Batman’s personal crisis of shutting people out. He must combat the fear of losing people close to him by not relying on himself to be the sole hero. While the message of “The Lego Movie” was to be yourself, the message here is to let other people in on that process.
Like any great animated film, it ends with humor, action and a resolution where everybody’s happy. While it might have been made for children, it works for everyone else too, especially for fans of the Batman universe. So what does it say for the current state of the character that his best representation on screen since 2012 is in LEGO format? Maybe Zack Snyder and Ben Affleck should take some notes.
BONUS POINTS: A reference to one of Batman’s most ridiculous enemy, “The Condiment King”
NEGATIVE POINTS: I was hoping they would go to live-action like they did in “The Lego Movie”
3.5 out of 5 Stars