A visual sugar rush, The Lego Batman is Bayhem for 5-year olds. A skittle-colored collision of kid-friendly set pieces and jokes that never manage to be as clever or irreverent as its predecessor, even when peppered with good-natured and adult-oriented laughs throughout, this overactive spinoff hosts a collection of pop culture friendly winks and nods with references spanning the last 60 years of cinema but the overabundance of side characters and endless maze of action sequences leaves the animated film feeling dizzying, muddled, overwrought and headache-inducing.
What follows is a blitz of bustling action spectacle that loads every inch and corner of the screen with as much frantic eye candy eruptions as digitally possible. Amidst the exploding rainbow production design is the punctuation of a lone ranger, black in costume and in soul. Vaulting around the frame like a nimble Tasmanian Devil, the world’s greatest detective contents with an endless collection of Lego fiends, all as his world of solitude crashes down around him literally and figuratively. The effect is entertainment brain freeze; a eye-twitching atomic bomb of busy action punctuated by the occasional hearty chuckle. All proof that this Lego superhero is better in smaller, bite-sized doses.
At the epicenter of the chaos is the legoized Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) we met in 2014’s The Lego Movie. Still a fan of black and self-aggrandizement, Batman gallivants around Gotham saving the day per his daily routine. We’re reacquainted with Bats in the midst of foiling the Joker’s (Zach Galifianakis) latest plot to blow up Gotham with a comically-sized explosive. He’s recruited what must be 25 other Batman villains (including top tier entries like Bane, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy all the way down to canon embarrassments the likes of Eraser and Condiment Man) to get the job done but even that isn’t enough to stop the bottomless pit of genius and athleticism that is the Dark Knight. He foils the Joker but must allow the Clown Price to escape, beaten and broken. You see, it’s not the undoing of his terrorist plot that has the Joker down, it’s Batman’s refusal to acknowledge him as his worst enemy. After all they’ve been through, Batman won’t even tell him, “I hate you” at the end of the day.
When the Bat Signal-fingering Commissioner Gordon steps down for his daughter Barbara (Rosario Dawson) to take his place, Barbara has a new take on the Caped Crusader. When you stop to think about it, she claims, Batman is pretty ineffective at capturing and retaining his sworn foes. They always seem to get away at the last second or break free from prison mere days later. Maybe what the crime-ridden city needs isn’t a solitary vigilante. It needs a village. Right on cue, the Joker – obviously up to something nefarious – surrenders to the new city leader, leaving Batman more alone than ever.
This central conceit defines the emotional core of The Lego Batman. For all his fame and media glorification, Batman returns home every night to eat his reheated Lobster Thermidor his butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) left, play with his cool gadgets and laugh at Jerry Maguire by himself. Isolated. Alone. Living on an island both literally and metaphorically. He’s closed himself off emotionally from the world around him and even when he accidentally adopts the orphaned Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), he’s barely willing to engage beyond using the doe-eyed youngster as a pawn in his plots.
A rather rote moral center develops championing the need for friends and family, while the emotionally-stunted Batman has shucked free any and all feeling following his parents murder. To defeat the forces of evil – including but not limited to Sauron, King Kong, The Wicked Witch of the West, Medusa, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, Gremlins, Godzilla and He Who Must Not Be Named – Batman must learn to trust others for the first time in his life and give a little credit where its due.
Whereas Phil Lord and Chris Miller’s Lego Movie was a self-aware meta-tangle fully loaded with double entendres that played to kids and adults equally, The Lego Batman Movie as directed by Chris McKay of Robot Chicken fame and written by a small army (there are five credited screenwriters) lacks the irreverent rebellion against the corporate overlords that helped define its predecessor.
After all, this Lego Movie business is a symbiotic commercial enterprise – a hybrid circle jerk of a Lego Batman Movie designed to sell Batman Lego toys whereas the existing line of Batman Lego toys are in themselves designed to sell The Lego Batman Movie. Without the smart zest of socially conscious satire pushing away from the overtly commercial appeal, Lego Batman is just a Rainbow Brite, bug-eyed cog in the wheels of cross-over capitalism. As such, there isn’t much to distinguish it from a collection of above average cut scenes in one of the endless Lego-themed video games even if it does dish up a good chuckle ever now and then.
CONCLUSION: Constructed to wallop the audience with rambunctious eye candy and faux-edgy licks of humor, ‘The Lego Batman’ is a step down from its inspired predecessor. Delivering infrequent – but often very funny – laughs amidst its chaotic whirligig of ceaseless action, this animated spinoff proves that when it comes to the Lego world, less is definitely more.