One of the weaknesses of most Batman films is that they fail to question the nature of Batman himself, to interrogate the vigilante who patrols Gotham City single-handedly and anonymously. On paper, what Batman represents isn’t that great — Bruce Wayne is a privileged one-percenter who happily bypasses government programs to work alone and decide what’s best and who’s bad.
Which is why “The Lego Batman Movie” is possibly the best Batman movie ever made. Liberated from the constraints of “dark,” “edgy” or even “campy,” “Lego Batman” is able to poke fun at the costumed hero and dig into the elements of Batman that make the character who he is. Who’da thunk you’d get all that from a movie about building blocks?
“Lego Batman” is a spinoff of “The Lego Movie.” Will Arnett’s growly, sarcastic, heavy metal-loving Batman was such a hit that he got his own project.
The movie’s success is due in large part to writer Seth Grahame-Smith, who is known for his twists on the classics, books-turned-movies “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” If there’s anyone who can give a beloved character a true rejiggering, it’s Grahame-Smith, working within the Batman canon and the larger Warner Bros. universe. A host of comedy writers contributed to the screenplay as well, so the jokes are densely packed — visual gags, puns, wordplay, one-liners. “Robot Chicken” director Chris McKay keeps a steady hand on the direction of the whirling dervish visuals.
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The film’s self-referential nature starts with Arnett huskily describing the opening credits, logos and all. He plays Bruce Wayne/Batman as the arrogant playboy he always has been, but the film reveals his vulnerabilities and loneliness more starkly. That cowl masks more than just his identity.
He still mourns his family, but that missing element offers room for a new family to move in — sidekick Robin (Michael Cera), new police commissioner and love interest Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) and, of course, Alfred (Ralph Fiennes). What’s different is that this time, Batman actually accepts them into his world.
A song informs the themes of “Lego Batman” and is threaded throughout, with the lyric, “Take a look at yourself and make that change.” That’s the main idea to take away from “Lego Batman”: No one is beyond redemption or evolution. After 10-plus film iterations, not to mention the 1960s TV series, it was time to take a look at Batman and make that change. Sometimes, existential investigation yields great things. Also, the movie is hysterically funny, cute and lovable. To describe any of the jokes would be to ruin all the fun of discovering it yourself.
“The Lego Batman Movie”
Rated PG for rude humor and some action. 1:44. 2D and 3D: Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond. 2D only: Winchester.