Tuesday, May 22, 2018
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Review: 'The LEGO Batman Movie' proves the Dark Knight is even better light

Everything isn't quite as awesome about The LEGO Batman Movie, after the first interlocking brick flick set a soaring standard. But Joker has a point: Batman is better when he isn't so serious.

Broody is for flesh-and-blood Batmen and, honestly, the act has gotten old. The LEGO Batman Movie knows it, mocking every traumatized recess of the Dark Knight's modern legacy. Director Chris McKay brings his Robot Chicken style of carpet-bombed cultural references to a DC Comics universe that may finally have its big movie bang.

Pinning down why this movie works begins with Will Arnett's voicing of Batman and alter ego Bruce Wayne, a gravelly spoof of every Caped Crusader cadence since Michael Keaton. Arnett drips irony into every line reading, sounding poker faced while spouting non sequiturs. "Black," he first growls over suitable darkness, noting all important movies start with black screens. "And logos," as studio logos flash, immediately signaling this movie's refusal to be taken seriously.

Batman is soon saving Gotham City as usual in the unusual visual fashion that LEGO toys inspire; fluid CGI applied to blocky characters and settings with faux stop-motion effects. These movies look like our imaginations at play with snap-together bricks and props. Exaggerated fireballs appear constructed piece by piece, and gunfire has the high-pitched "pew, pew" of playing cops and robbers.

Off the crime-fighting clock, Batman is stuck in a lonely Bat rut, eating microwave lobster and laughing at Jerry Maguire's romance. Faithful butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) thinks he should get out more often. "I don't do 'ships," he'll grumble, meaning relationships. Yet three people want into his life. Orphaned Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) is pining for a father. Police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) cues Cutting Crew's (I Just) Died in Your Arms each time Batman/Bruce sees her.

But most important and hilarious is Batman's hot-and-cold running feud with Joker (Zach Galifianakis), skewering the symbiotic psychosis that Christopher Nolan brought forth. "I am fighting a few different people. I like to fight around," Batman tells Joker, who is stunned by the reveal. Joker plots what any spurned super villain or rom-com lover would: something so extraordinary that his object of affection can't resist.

It's a plot as thin as a wire hanger upon which McKay hangs countless jokes. Not all of them are gems but they're delivered so relentlessly that plenty land. McKay was given the key to Warner Bros. licensing vault, allowing Gremlins, Voldemort and the Wicked Witch of the West to join the super villain fight against DC heroes with Channing Tatum playing Superman, as he should.

The Batman LEGO Movie gets too frenetic at times, zipping past sight gags and one-liners before they can fully register. I get that McKay is spoofing the one-upping extravagance of action movies, yet some set pieces are so bombastic they seem part of the escalation problem. A nip and tuck to the running time would be appreciated.

Yet the pleasures of The LEGO Batman Movie are plentiful, especially its cockeyed reverence for the Dark Knight's past, referencing Lewis Wilson's 1943 serial and "that unfortunate time" in the '60s when Adam West danced the Batusi. McKay and his writers must deeply love Batman to shred him into such entertaining, mostly awesome pieces.

Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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