Less a sequel than a spin-off, The LEGO Batman Movie takes a key, scene-stealing mini-fig from the earlier film, Batman/Bruce Wayne (voiced by Will Arnett), and gives him his own absurdist corner of the teeming LEGO universe. Like its predecessor, The LEGO Batman Movie overflows with meta-humor, self-parody, and subversive satire, not to mention enough imagination to fill three or four LEGO big-screen adventures and, of course, enough commercial branding/advertising to convince toy-averse moviegoers to purchase the entirety of the LEGO catalog. The LEGO Batman Movie may actually suffer from too much imagination crammed into an incident- and twist-heavy plot. It comes at you so fast (like life) that you’ll end exhausted trying to follow the sheer comic brilliance of it all. And unless there’s any doubt, The LEGO Batman Movie is brilliant, from the first moments of Arnett’s egocentric, egotistical Batman taking a sly dig at a recent trend in serious dramas (i.e., they always begin with an ominous black screen) through the final scene of a family laughing hysterically to Jerry Maguire‘s iconic “You had me at hello” scene.
The mini-fig Batman we meet in The LEGO Batman Movie is every bit the egotistical, narcissist Caped Crusader we met in The LEGO Movie three years ago. He’s a loner through and through. Batman takes pride in fighting crime minus annoying, wisecracking sidekicks in tights. He revels in his alone time back at stately Wayne Manor, with only Alfred Pennyworth (Ralph Fiennes), his longtime companion, manservant, and guardian as company. But when the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) calls Batman his “greatest enemy” mid-fight, Batman brushes it off. He can’t even accept an antagonistic connection like his and the Joker’s since it implies a co-dependent relationship. The Joker’s driven by a simple desire: He wants to hear Batman say “I hate you” and mean it. Waving off the Joker’s offer of a hate-ship, however, has an unintended effect: The Joker gets it into his head to do everything possible to change Batman’s mind, up to and including surrendering peacefully to Batman and Gotham’s newest commissioner, Barbara “My Dad’s Jim” Gordon (Rosario Dawson). Of course, the Joker remains the Joker and he’s always five or six steps ahead, this time with a plan that involves the super-criminals permanently imprisoned in the Phantom Zone.
Batman’s journey follows a not unexpected, predictable path: He has to shake off his arrested development, learn to play well with others, and finally acknowledge that he can’t do the crime-fighting thing all himself. Getting a much-dreaded sidekick/adopted son, Richard “Dick” Grayson/Robin (Michael Cera), doesn’t help matters. Grayson desperately wants the family Batman totally doesn’t want (until he does). He’s also the LEGO world’s biggest Batman fanboy. He dreams of joining the Gotham Knight on his nightly crusade to take down evil with extreme prejudice. Mostly, though, he just wants to bond with his newly adopted father(s), Batman and Bruce Wayne. A not-so-subtle running joke implies Batman and Wayne are living together (Wayne occupying the mansion, Batman the Batcave) and Grayson’s glee at having not one, but two fathers (twice the parental love after all). It’s a slightly subversive message bound to rankle some moviegoers, but even if it does, there’s so much more in The LEGO Batman Movie to keep them engaged, enthralled, and entertained from the ample meta-human that pokes fun at Batman’s often contradictory iterations throughout the decades, including Zack Snyder’s (Justice League, Watchmen, 300) much-maligned Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, to the overabundant fan service and Easter eggs and all the way through the dizzyingly inventive, colorful set pieces, each one crammed with enough vision and ingenuity to fill 3-4 (or more) LEGO Batman adventures.
It might seem like a minor criticism, but by the end of The LEGO Batman Movie, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that director Chris McKay (The Lego Movie) and a screenwriting squad led by Seth Grahame-Smith (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) and Chris McKenna couldn’t stop themselves, maybe out of a concern for moviegoers with attention deficit disorder (i.e., most of them) or maybe because they thought they’d get only one crack at what’s sure to be a multi-film franchise/series. Maybe they were just having so much fun and wanted to share that fun with moviegoers. Or maybe it was/is part and parcel of a nefarious plan to get moviegoers to see The LEGO Batman Movie multiple times at their local multiplex. Whatever the reason or reasons (they’re not mutually exclusive), The LEGO Batman Movie slowly shifts from a light, fun experience to a borderline unbearable one as it reaches its third or fourth big action scene in a row. Still, that does little to undermine what might just be the smartest, cleverest 104-minute commercial for the LEGO universe.