It's not easy being Batman. Sure, you might be swimming in money and own your own island like Bruce Wayne. But what do you come home to when the crime fighting is through: A cold lobster thermidor and an aged butler in Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) who's long retired to his bed?
Such is the lonely life of an orphaned vigilante, albeit one with a healthy ego who'd love someone to willingly lend an ear while indulging in his endless braggadocio. Can he, like Jerry Maguire, find someone to complete him? And, if so, who? Those are the probing questions posited in "The LEGO Batman Movie," as it hilariously deconstructs the Caped Crusader brick by interlocking brick. It's a role Will Arnett has a lot of fun with in fleshing out the scowl behind the cowl in reprising his scene-stealing part from 2014's "The LEGO Movie." But the question I have is: Do we really want Gotham's maven of Goth to mellow into a family man? Wasn't it his lack of self-awareness what gave LEGO Batman its "Pow!"? Perhaps that's why "The LEGO Batman Movie" is at its best in the beginning, when we catch up with the man in black as he vanquishes the Joker (voice of Zach Galifianakis) and a menagerie of his corrupt cohorts. But before being deposited into lock-up, the Joker triggers an existential crisis in Batman's batty brain when the clown-faced felon demands his adversary declare his undying hate for him. But Batman can't form the words because he's convinced himself that he needs no one, not even a formidable adversary. Or, does he? When we follow him home to the cavernous Bat Cave and up the elevator to the equally hollow Wayne Manor, it's clear a superhero's life ain't all that it's cracked up to be. How can he truly enjoy mocking "Jerry Maguire" in his screening room if there's no one else there to share in the fun? But the fact that he is so farcically alone is what makes Arnett's take on him so funny. But, as is the case with most Hollywood movies, even LEGO Batmen need to learn the hard way that solitude has no place in the film world. So, let's find him some friends.
That's exactly what director Chris McKay and his half-dozen writers set out to do by introducing our (literally) blockheaded hero to a fellow orphan in whiny, needy Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), and a fetching new police commissioner in Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), who is about to put the kibbutz on Batman's vigilantism and all the constitutional rights and infrastructure he regularly topples over in the process.
If that sounds like a razor-thin thesis for a film, it's because it is; leading McKay to compensate for the lack of depth with a lot of busy, overlong action scenes every bit as boring and incomprehensible as in a live-action superhero movie. He also indulges in a good deal of product placement, pimping everything from iPhones to a half-dozen intellectual properties owned by the film's distributor, Warner Bros.
OK, I'll admit inserting a cartoon Sauron from "The Lord of the Rings," Voldemort from "Harry Potter" and even the shark from "Jaws" is kind of clever, but they do nothing to feed a story starving for a more substantive slant than the idea of it taking a village to raise a Caped Crusader. But the writers -- none of whom worked on the leaner, meaner "LEGO Movie" -- never fail to deliver an occasional belly laugh, like when Batman stumbles into a Justice League party uninvited; or when he is lost and under fire in a hall of mirrors -- just like Orson Welles in "The Lady from Shanghai." There are also a ton of other homages and Easter eggs that will please die-hard DC Comics fans, including nods to all of the Batman uniforms and incarnations from his origins in the 1940s to the stuffy take Ben Affleck did on him in last year's awful "Batman v Superman." In fact, that film's director, Zack Snyder, would be wise to study "LEGO Batman" for some tips on how to make a superhero movie fun. And while we're at it, Affleck could learn a thing or two from Arnett and his superb voice work in delivering a Batman as funny as he is deep.
It's also hard to shake how much his Batman sounds just like another certain billionaire known for his love of self-adoration -- Donald Trump. And wouldn't you know it; one of the film's producers is Trump's nominee for secretary of the treasury, Steve Mnuchin. Small world, that Gotham. But Trump could never pack a "9 pack" like drawn on LEGO Batman's tummy. And while "The LEGO Batman Movie" lacks the element of surprise contained in the original "LEGO Movie," it still offers the same crazy, anything-goes sense of humor. But the absence of that film's creative team of writer-directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller is clearly missed. McKay, who worked with the dynamic duo as the "LEGO Movie's" director of animation, is sort of the equivalent of sending Dick Grayson, aka Robin, out to battle the Suicide Squad. He might pack a punch, but he'll never own the "POW!"
"The LEGO Batman Movie"
Featuring the voices of Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Zach Galifianakis, Rosario Dawson and Ralph Fiennes.
(PG for rude humor and some action)