2014’s The LEGO Movie was one of the biggest surprises of that year. It took what should have been the most cynical and easily marketable children’s property and turned it into a subversive commentary on adult nostalgia and seriousness overtaking what was once considered fun in the hands of children. The breakout character of that film was the Will Arnett-voiced Batman, so it only makes sense that the brick crusader would get his own spin-off property in The LEGO Batman Movie. One may be skeptical to see the genius direction of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller pushed back into a supervisory producer function, but Chris McKay is no slouch in crafting a film that is nearly as good.
The film opens on The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) hatching a plot to blow up Gotham City with the added assistance of every A, B, and C-list villain that may or may not have ever existed in the Batman canon. As Batman arrives on the scene to single-handedly save the day, he makes one thing clear to the attention-starved supervillain: Batman works alone and he doesn’t need anybody, not even a nemesis. As the new commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) fights for more oversight of and cooperation with Batman, Batman must cope with the orphan he inadvertently adopted (Michael Cera as the cutest Robin to ever not wear pants), and realize that his greatest enemy may just be his own fear of human connection.
Returning from The LEGO Movie is the fast-paced sense of child-like glee that makes the humor relatable to all ages yet snappy enough to get equal laughs from every demographic. Logic is less important than fun in these movies, as the characters make the “pew pew” sounds of their guns and the laws of physics are tenuous at best. Characters openly reference Batman’s decades of continuity in fourth-wall breaking jokes that are both insightful enough to grab longtime fans, but also intrinsically silly enough that even those unfamiliar with the breadth of the Batman mythos are going to get a good laugh.
Though The LEGO Batman Movie isn’t quite as subversive as its predecessor, it acts as an open and blatant commentary on the grim-dark tone that Batman has and how silly that is when it is ostensibly a property originally targeted at children. The central thesis of the film is whether or not Batman can be happy or even if he’s all that good of a hero, which rather pointedly critiques the joyless, self-centered direction Batman has taken in his cinematic exploits over the past couple of decades. It’s not exactly as mind-blowing as The LEGO Movie, but it is a solid counterargument to Warner Bros.’s insistence on missing the point of superhero movies and sapping all the enjoyment out them.
That makes it rather odd then to see the last act of the film become a marketing exercise for WB’s other franchise properties. I won’t spoil the surprise, but a number of crossover characters show up in prominent cameo appearances that don’t necessarily break the film, but they do rather nakedly act as a reminder that WB owns these other intellectual properties and really hopes that the parents in the audience will answer their kids’ questions by showing them these other movies. Thankfully, the jokes never let up and the writing stays just as sharp, so I can’t blame the film too much for being a commercial. After all, it is an animated representation of a toy line.
The LEGO Batman Movie is a witty, gut-busting family comedy that is sure to gain a following just as large—if not larger—than The LEGO Movie. It may not stack up to the quiet genius of the original, but it’s a very close second.