The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 2/18/17
Cast: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Zach Galifianakis, Jenny Slate, cameos by Conan O'Brien, Billy Dee Williams, Seth Green, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Zoë Kravitz, Eddie Izzard, Mariah Carey

Will Arnett's portrayal of Batman in "The LEGO Movie" (2014) nearly stole the show, so it was only natural to give him his own movie. Batman hurts Joker's feelings by denying that he's his greatest enemy, which forces Joker (Zach Galifianakis) to unleash his most daring and diabolical plot ever. Meanwhile, public opinion of Batman takes a severe nose dive when headstrong Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) takes over her dad's job as Gotham City Police Commissioner and suggests that Gotham City might be better off without Batman's interference. Batman's life continues to deteriorate when he inadvertently adopts an orphan boy named Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), who enthusiastically takes on the role of Robin. When Batman's plan to send Joker to The Phantom Zone backfires, he reluctantly recruits all the help he can get to save Gotham City and the world from utter annihilation.

As an extension of "The LEGO Movie," the style, tone, attitude, and presentation are identical, and the relentless pacing can get overwhelming at times. It's mentally exhausting trying to keep up with the non-stop delivery of witty dialog, in-jokes, and pop culture references, and the film demands multiple viewings in order to take it all in. The writing is extremely good and strikes an excellent balance between parody and homage. The film makes references to every previous Batman film and TV show, including the 1973 "Super Friends" cartoon and the 1943 live action series. The number of characters in the film is staggering, and even includes non-franchise oddities like Sauron ("Lord Of The Rings"), Voldemort ("Harry Potter"), King Kong, Medusa, and the Daleks from "Dr. Who." There are also cameos by Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg, Samurai, Apache Chief, Green Lantern, The Wonder Twins, Aquaman, Green Arrow, Riddler, Bane, Clayface, Poison Ivy, Catwoman, Two-Face, Scarecrow, Penguin, Mr. Freeze, Hawkman, Man-bat, Killer Croc, Martian Manhunter, Egghead, King Tut, Mutant Leader, Killer Moth, Condiment King, and dozens of others obscure characters.

The film looks fantastic and the voice acting is superb. Just like its predecessor, the lighting, modeling, and rendering are so impeccable that you literally can't tell that it's not real, and the visual appeal is stunning. Will Arnett's gruff, moody, and narcissistic rendition of Batman is spot-on and Rosario Dawson nearly steals the show with her fantastic portrayal of Barbara Gordon. Michael Cera is appropriately annoying as the starry-eyed and overly enthusiastic Robin, and Ralph Fiennes delivers a delightfully dignified performance as Alfred Pennyworth. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill reprise their roles as Superman and Green Lantern from "The LEGO Movie," and in a brilliant nod to Tim Burton's "Batman" (1989), Billy Dee Williams FINALLY gets to play Two-Face. While I have no complaints about the voice acting, I found some of the casting to be a bit odd. Zach Galifianakis does a fine job as Joker, but his interpretation lacks the maniacal zaniness that others have brought to the character. Similarly, Jenny Slate's Harley Quinn is the most subdued version of the character that I've ever seen, and doesn't come anywhere close to Arleen Sorkin's definitive portrayal. She simply comes across as a lifeless bimbo on roller skates, which is unfortunate.

I enjoyed the film immensely, but it also has its share of disappointments. Similar to "The LEGO Movie," the ending is super lame, as if the writers couldn't come up with a way to tie everything together. The references to the "abyss that smells like dirty underwear" echo the sentiment in "The LEGO Movie" that everything is just make-believe, which leaves a bad taste and breaks your sense of immersion. I also thought the offensively gratuitous Apple product placement was in extremely poor taste. For the most part, these disappointments don't derail the unbridled fun of the movie, but they make it fall just short of perfection.

Perhaps the boldest and most subversive aspect of the film is that it changed the ethnicity of James and Barbara Gordon. Let's just pause for a moment to think about what I just said. These are LEGO brick people we're talking about here, and I just instinctively assigned an ethnic identity to them based on what color plastic they're made of? Wow. This is shocking to me in so many ways. I wasn't bothered or offended by it, but it was a constant distraction because I've spent my entire life seeing and expecting to see James and Barbara portrayed with a certain skin tone. I had no idea this would be a mental hurdle for me to stumble over, and it's been eye-opening to say the least. Regardless, the personalities and vocalizations are what you'd expect, so the only difference in the characters is some added pigment. To a couple of plastic mini-figs. Dang. Psychology can be pretty amazing sometimes. It's no wonder that the human race is so messed up.