February 12, 2017
"The Lego Movie" was one of the best animated films of 2014 with its colorful look, hilarious lines and infectious theme song. This year, we get its first spin-off from one of the most popular characters from that first film, Batman. This new 3D computer-animated superhero comedy film produced by Warner Animation Group and DC Entertainment is directed by Chris McKay and written by a team composed of Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern and John Whittington.
Batman had always been a self-centered loner who felt he did not need anyone else in his career as a vigilante, nor his personal life. When Barbara Gordon was named Gotham's new police commissioner to replace her father, she declared that she wants the police to stop depending on Batman. Meanwhile, an earnest orphan Dick Grayson gets himself adopted by a distracted Bruce Wayne during the same event.
On the other hand, the Joker, hurt that Batman feels no hate for him, cooked up an elaborate scheme to get his revenge. Batman fell right into his plot by stealing the Phantom Zone Projector from Superman's Fortress of Solitude. With Gotham under attack from all the super villains and monsters known in movie history, will Batman finally admit that he cannot save the city by himself, and that he needs help?
Like the original film, we get the same underlying message about cooperation and team work. The same vibrantly colorful visuals pervade this spin-off. There was a lot of cheesy 80s music to liven up the mood, from "I Just Died in Your Arms" by Cutting Crew to "Man in the Mirror" by Michael Jackson to "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" by Wham! The final song "Friends are Family" was perky, but it was tough to match the extreme catchiness of "Everything is Awesome" from the first film.
But what really makes this new one special were all the very funny pop-culture references thrown into the script to spoof the very serious mythology of the Bat. I liked that they kept referring to the campy Adam West "Batman" TV series of the 1960s. It was too funny to recall those sound effects words that pop out during the fight scenes. It was great to see Batman together with his Justice League and Superfriends colleagues. It was also great to see all the Batman villains like Bane, Catwoman, Riddler, Harley Quinn, Penguin and many others reunited in one movie.
It was quite an exhilarating rush to see all those super villains and monsters, all presumably from the Warner Bros. and DC canon, together in one screen. There is King Kong, the Gremlins, the Wicked Witch and the flying Monkeys from "Wizard of Oz", Agent Smith from "The Matrix", the T-Rex and Velociraptors from "Jurassic Park". The "Eye of Sauron" from the "Lord of the Rings" films gets prominent action here. We also see Lord Voldemort from the "Harry Potter" films, whom we only hear casting Wingardium Leviosa spells, and not his deadly Avada Kedavra.
Will Arnett was so deadpan funny as Batman. Zach Galifianakis was a manic Joker. Michael Cera was a chirpy Robin. Rosario Dawson was an authoritative Barbara Gordon. Ralph Fiennes does not voice Lord Voldemort here, but the loyal butler Alfred, who was given a much expanded role here.
As the end credits were rolling, you see a lot of famous names lending their voices to the characters in cameo roles, like Channing Tatum as Superman, Jonah Hill as Green Lantern, Seth Green as King Kong, Conan O'Brien as Riddler, Billy Dee Williams as Two-Face, Hector Elizondo as Commissioner Gordon, Mariah Carey as the Mayor and Siri herself (Susan Bennett) as the Batcomputer.
The filmmakers behind this project clearly love the Batman. They dug up a lot of details from his entire canon of comics, TV and film and respectfully sent the Bat up in a most entertaining way. There were so many witty references and in-jokes you'd probably want to watch it a second or third time to catch them all. It was clever. It was nostalgic. It was great fun all around. 9/10.