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16 Feb 2017

The Dark Knight Goes Plastic: 'The LEGO Batman Movie' Is Fun, Hilarious and Surprisingly Deep

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A scene from The LEGO Batman Movie. A scene from The LEGO Batman Movie.

Let’s face it: The Dark Knight has been really living up to the word “dark” since Tim Burton’s Batman came out 28 years ago. He can certainly be a morose sourpuss.

Wait a minute … has it really been 28 years since Burton’s Batman came out? Holy crap! I just totally freaked myself out. Hang on … I need to catch my breath and gather my thoughts. It’s been nearly three freaking decades since Nicholson played The Joker? I need to drink five beers.

All right … OK, I am back. As I was saying, Batman has been a downer at the cinemas. Even when he wasn’t being quite so dour, he was just plain sucking in the Joel Schumacher Batman movies that started coming out 22 years ago.

Wait a minute … did Kilmer really do Batman more than two decades ago? I think I’m having a panic attack. I have to do the breathing-into-a-brown-bag trick … I’ll be right back.

OK, back. Granted, Batman is inherently dark by nature, being all orphaned and inspired by bats and dispatching vigilante justice at night and whatnot. But, hey, sometimes it’s good to have a laugh or two while watching the Caped Crusader do his thing, if only because some of us have a sweet spot for the time when Adam West played the character for laughs in the original Batman TV series, which went off the air 49 years ago. Wait … 49 years ago?

OK … seriously. I have to take a long break and contemplate my life before finishing this review. I’ll be back in the morning after a good cry and extended sleep.

Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, Batman. Batman’s a trooper all right, having survived the debacle that was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. (Ben Affleck is a good Batman; his cinematic vehicle was not.) Thankfully, The LEGO Batman Movie is the great Batman story that Batman v Superman failed to be.

Even better, it has Will Arnett voicing Batman in a new, super-amped, yet dark incarnation that is surprisingly well-rounded. After all of these years watching dark (and sometimes brilliant) Batman movies, it’s nice to have a vehicle where we can just have fun with the character.

Director Chris McKay, along with a long list of writers, has come up with a story that will please adult Batman fans as much as kids. Arnett’s Batman not only faces off against the Joker (a very funny Zach Galifianakis), but he finds himself in a scenario in which he’s battling a smorgasbord of movie villains including King Kong, the Gremlins, Dracula, evil British robots and Voldemort (Eddie Izzard), to name just a few. It’s a nutty plot element that also allows for Batman mainstays like Bane, Two-Face (Billy Dee Williams, who voiced Harvey Dent in Burton’s Batman) and the Riddler (Conan O’Brien!) to get in on the act.

It’s a geek-fest—a movie-lover’s delight that has funny little trivia at nearly every turn, and an emotional center (Batman has family issues; the Joker longs to be hated) that gives the movie a surprising depth among the chaos.

Michael Cera and Ralph Fiennes bring good humor as Robin and Alfred, although Fiennes doesn’t voice Voldemort, which seems like a wasted opportunity: You had the real Voldemort on hand! It just seems like some money could’ve been saved. Oh, wait, maybe Fiennes actually costs more than Eddie Izzard, and Fiennes would’ve demanded full scale for two characters rather than one. OK … I’m distracted again.

The LEGO Batman Movie gives us a Batman tale that is a little brighter than those brooding Nolan films, and way better than last year’s Zack Snyder atrocity. It’s loaded with funny nods to the entire history of Batman, and fully functions as a standalone Bat story. May sequels abound!

(Writer’s addendum: After mentioning Adam West above, I was reminded that West and Burt Ward revisited Batman and Robin last year, voicing the characters in Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders. I watched it, and it’s not as good as LEGO Batman, but still pretty cool!)

The LEGO Batman Movie is playing at theaters across the valley.

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