Combustible Celluloid
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With: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Zach Galifianakis, Jenny Slate, Jason Mantzoukas, Conan O'Brien, Doug Benson, Billy Dee Williams, Zoë Kravitz, Kate Micucci, Riki Lindhome, Eddie Izzard, Seth Green, Jemaine Clement, Ellie Kemper, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Adam Devine, Hector Elizondo, Mariah Carey (voices)
Written by: Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, John Whittington
Directed by: Chris McKay
MPAA Rating: PG for rude humor and some action
Running Time: 104
Date: 02/10/2017

The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Batman on the Block

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Maybe this is what Zack Snyder's DC Universe needed, a little color, a little zing, a little cleverness, a little humor, and a little heart. The LEGO Batman Movie has all these things and, kidding or not, it emerges as one of the best of all the Caped Crusader movies.

It opens, right away, with Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) ridiculing the opening credits. He boasts that DC is the "house that Batman" built, but his arrogance is somehow hilarious rather than off-putting (maybe because he's a little LEGO figure...). He foils a plot by the Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), stops by an orphanage to pass out some Bat-merchandise, and heads home for a lonely evening of microwaved lobster and rom-coms in his private screening room.

Batman is so non-committal about relationships that he even refuses to acknowledge to the Joker that they are each other's #1 enemy. So the Joker cooks up a new plan to convince Batman of this.

Then, Barbara Gordon (voiced by Rosario Dawson) takes over as Commissioner, pointing out that, though Batman has been on the job for nearly 80 years, he has rarely caught any criminals, and crime has never been on the wane. She has a new plan, and it involves Batman working with others, rather than as a lone vigilante. Batman doesn't like this plan. At the same time, he accidentally (while not paying attention) agrees to adopt young orphan Dick Grayson (voiced by Michael Cera).

The movie is, of course, about learning to be a family and to work with a team, but the five credited screenwriters — none of whom were involved with the ingenious The Lego Movie (2014) — never let things get anywhere near conventional, and never let the energy or the humor flag. The message is somehow delivered in an honest way without betraying the silliness of the characters.

The humor happily stays in the same vein; it's the type of humor that the filmmakers wrote to crack themselves up, rather than painfully trying to please a wide audience with pandering jokes. The jokes are often weird, but usually come out of left field and will very much make the movie worth seeing several times to absorb every funny line. Not to mention that these writers are serious Batman fans; there are references to just about everything the Batman universe has ever produced, from day one.

One of the movie's most brilliant inventions is a simple block with various flashing colors on it (voiced by Ellie Kemper); this block's job is to interview criminals new to the Phantom Zone (a concept of the Superman universe). She determines that Batman kind of acts like a bad guy, but he's not really a bad guy, etc. It's the best job of deconstructing the Batman myth in any of the movies yet produced.

Like The Lego Movie, this one has plenty of cameos by known characters from other franchises, and cameos by other superheroes (Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill briefly reprise their Superman and Green Lantern), and like The Lego Movie, it's handled more as a cheerful joke than as a toy commercial. Also like the previous movie, the action moves at a frenetic speed; the first time I saw the last film, in the theater, I found it to be a tad overwhelming, and my experience on this was the same. But seeing the previous movie many more times on DVD and Blu-ray, I found this feeling lessening and my appreciation growing. I can only assume the same will happen with The LEGO Batman Movie.

Who knows? As much as the fans love to complain about it, maybe there's a reason the 1960s movie and TV series concentrated so heavily on humor. Maybe there's something about the Dark Knight that does call out for a few laughs. Certainly casting funnyman Michael Keaton as the hero in the 1980s seemed like a wise move; the extremely grim, pompous, colorless Snyder films, less so. It's a conundrum that we can spend a little time pondering, until the next Bat-time, next Bat-movie.

Warner Home Video's Blu-ray release comes with a bonus DVD and digital copy. The image and sound are, to my eyes, excellent. It comes with tons of extras, including a jam-packed commentary track with a couple of dozen participants, a few short cartoons, three contest-winning fan-made shorts, lots of trailers and promo materials, and a few other making-of/behind-the-scenes featurettes. This is one movie that's worth seeing again and again.

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