Three years, almost to the day, after the release of "The LEGO Movie," here comes "The LEGO Batman Movie," unleashed upon a not-so-unsuspecting public this time. The first film was a riotous romp through an insanely told story, peopled only by LEGO figures, about an Everyman who saves the world. The sight gags were endless, the degree of silliness was appreciated more by adults, who were picking up all the pop culture references, kids loved it for what it looked and moved like, and it had a big heart for a center. It was made for about $60 million, and it took in almost $500 million at the box office.
This follow-up focuses on events in the life of Batman, an ensemble player in the original, again voiced with faux gravitas by Will Arnett. It's zanier and darker than "The LEGO Movie," and it again works on multiple levels that will delight all sorts of audience members.
The film starts before it begins. And yes, that last sentence makes complete sense. The screen is black, the music wells up, logos from the production companies appear, and each of those occurrences is noted, in voice-over, by Arnett. By the time the action kicks into gear, you've already been sucked into the film's inherent absurdities.
And that action is relentless: A huge cargo plane, filled with explosives, is winging over Gotham City, when it's hijacked by Joker (Zach Galifianakis) and his usual gang of Batman villains. You know, The Riddler, Bane, Two-Face, Cat Woman, many others. And, uh-oh, Joker has destroyed the Bat Signal. How will Commissioner Gordon get word out to the Caped Crusader that he's needed? Oh, wait, Commissioner Gordon (Hector Elizondo) is retiring, to be replaced by his daughter, the crafty Barbara Gordon AKA Batgirl (Rosario Dawson).
But Batman does show up, and he takes care of business, then suddenly the drama comes pouring in when he and Joker go up against each other, and Batman just doesn't seem very interested in dealing with his supposed archenemy. Batman, you see, is lonely and depressed. His alter-ego Bruce Wayne is the richest man in Gotham City, but he (or maybe it's Batman) goes home every night after careening through the streets and skies in his Batmobile/Batplane, eats dinner alone, wistfully glances at photos of his long-gone parents, watches and rewatches "Jerry Maguire" on his super-humongous TV, and chats only with his computer, at least until well-meaning but pushy butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) is through grouting the tiles in Wayne Manor. It gets worse (I mean better): Joker, too, is lonely, and has trouble coping with the world when Batman won't even be his enemy anymore. Yup. Joker has ego problems.
And these guys aren't alone in their suffering. When Batman takes off his cowl and attends Commissioner Gordon's retirement party as Bruce Wayne, he's pestered by a starstruck and very annoying young guest named Richard Grayson (Michael Cera), an orphan -- like Bruce -- who only wants to be adopted.
Sounds like we're entering Beckett or Sartre territory here. Everyone is miserable; no one can find a way out. And then Joker attacks. And then Batman is snubbed by Superman (Channing Tatum), who hasn't invited him to a big bash at his Fortress of Solitude, where all sorts of Justice League members are partying down. Then there's a visit to the Phantom Zone, where the real villains have been sent. Who cares about The Penguin and Poison Ivy, and that second-rate bunch. Here in the Phantom Zone reside Voldemort, King Kong, Sauron, some Gremlins, and a few Daleks. And Joker has plans for them, involving the destruction of Gotham City.
Can Batman climb out of his funk? Will Dick Grayson become Bruce Wayne's ward (and put on a funny Robin costume)? How can the new Commissioner Gordon get Batman to work with her? Is Joker ever going to come to grips with reality? None of that really matters, since for anything to even begin to make sense, you've got to see the movie twice. It just goes zipping by. There's, gleefully, no way to know where to look ... or listen.
-- Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now.
"The LEGO Batman Movie"
Written by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, John Whittington
Directed by Chris McKay
With Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Zach Galifianakis