“The Lego Batman Movie” is an irreverent blast, a fun, funny send-up of the Caped Crusader and his world that turns out to be just the shot of adrenaline the dour superhero with the permanent scowl needs right now.
It’s been awhile since a “Batman” movie had a sense of humor about itself, and in Joel Schumacher’s neon-and-nipples interpretation of Gotham City, humor wasn’t something Batman wore well.
But “The Lego Batman Movie” manages to cleverly spoof the “Batman” movies with a knowing wink and a nod while still celebrating the Dark Knight. Pit against Ben Affleck’s hulking sourpuss in Zack Snyder’s doomsday vision of Batman, Lego Bats is much preferable company.
Will Arnett, who perfected his cartoonishly menacing low rumble whisper in an over-the-top villain role on “30 Rock,” is a gas as Batman, whom he first played in a small, but memorable role in 2014’s delightful “The Lego Movie.”
Here he’s Gotham’s egomaniac rock star savior, quick to thwart his foes, save the city and drop off merch for the wee ones at the local orphanage. But when he returns to his Batcave at night he’s all alone, reheating lobster dinners and watching “Jerry Maguire” by himself in his garish Bat Theater.
Everybody needs somebody, the movie argues, even the “Batman” villains. As played with a needy, attention-starved zeal by Zach Galifianakis, the Joker doesn’t so much want to bring chaos to Gotham as he just wants Batman’s attention. His heart is broken when Bats tells him, “You don’t mean anything to me. No one does.”
“The Lego Batman Movie” sets out to give Batman a hand and teach him the value of friendship and teamwork. He partners with Robin (Michael Cera), Batgirl (Rosario Dawson) and his trusty butler, Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), begrudgingly at first, to take on the Joker and a collection Batman baddies, both known (the Penguin, Poison Ivy) and unknown (Peanut Butter and Jelly Man?). (It’s worth noting Doug Benson does a great send-up of Tom Hardy’s muffled Bane voice.)
The joke-per-minute ratio is as sky-high as a “Naked Gun” or “Scary Movie” sequel, with most landing successfully. Things dip a bit in the movie’s midsection, but pick up as it barrels toward its finale, which opens the floodgates to a parade of characters from the Warner Bros. vaults.
First-time director Chris McKay preserves the good-natured, lighthearted and whip-smart tone of “The Lego Movie,” and the script (credited to five writers) crackles with wit and fanboy know-how. There’s even “Deadpool”-style fourth wall shattering when Arnett opens the film by commenting on the opening titles and production logos and says as the film opens, “Black. All important movies start with a black screen.”
You wouldn’t automatically think animated Lego pieces would make for such effective cinematic tools, but the nostalgic charm of the childhood mainstays coupled with their simplistic, emotive features — there’s something refreshingly innocent and endearing about those round dot eyes and curved yellow faces — make Legos work surprisingly well on-screen.
“The Lego Batman Movie” brings the “Lego Movie” franchise to two-for-two. It’s the Bat-spoof we didn’t know we needed and it gives Batman a chance to loosen up. Saving Gotham is hard work, it’s good to see him finally crack a smile.
‘The Lego Batman Movie’
Rated PG: for rude humor and some action
Running time: 106 minutes