Sitting through the high-energy, brightly colored, million-jokes-per-minute The Lego Batman Movie, I was reminded of a question that I haven’t had the opportunity to ask myself in recent months: Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? This film certainly tests the limits of just such a consideration by throwing characters, action, music, pop culture references, and more meta superhero jokes at us in rapid-fire mode to the point where it’s bordering on overwhelming. But even more than that, it just made me want to see the film again to figure out what I missed.
Most importantly, The Lego Batman Movie isn’t afraid to drop in a few lessons about responsibility, family, sacrifice, and letting people into a life that has been lived largely in solitude. More of a parody of superhero films than an actual one, the work comes to us from first-time feature director Chris McKay, a veteran helmer of such animated works as “Moral Orel” and “Robot Chicken,” which may explain his ADD style of filmmaking. If a joke or two don’t land, don’t let the audience linger on it—just move onto the next bit immediately.
Will Arnett returns from 2014’s The Lego Movie to play Batman, the brooding, self-absorbed vigilante hero, and while he’s certainly well known in the superhero community, he’s also a bit too much of a loner to be friends with any of them. I like that, in the spirit of continuity, actors like Channing Tatum (as Superman) and Jonah Hill (Green Lantern) have also returned for The Lego Movie to play Batman’s peers, if not his pals. In a fantastic set piece, Batman accidentally ends up crashing a superhero party at Superman’s Fortress of Solitude that he wasn’t invited to. Look for pretty much every DC hero in this sequence, including a pair of Wonder(ful) Twins.
The voice talent is impossible to keep up with, especially in an opening sequence that features every Batman villain ever, with some nice drop-ins by the likes of Jenny Slate as Harley Quinn, Jason Mantzoukas as Scarecrow, Conan O’Brien as The Riddler, Billy Dee Williams as Two-Face, Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman, Kate Micucci as Clayface, Riki Lindhome as Poison Ivy, and Doug Benson as Bane (who looks like the comic book version but sounds like the movie version). Also floating around Lego Gotham City are Hector Elizondo as Jim Gordon and Mariah Carey (!) as Mayor McCaskill.
Batman spends a great deal of his time holed up in his Batcave, ignoring sound advice from his butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) about being more social and open to change in his secret identity of Bruce Wayne. Batman seems closer to his computer (voiced by iPhone’s Siri) than any humans, until he meets Gordon’s daughter Barbara (who eventually becomes Batgirl and is voiced by Rosario Dawson), who is taking over the police force from her father. Somewhere along the line, Wayne also adopts the young Dick Grayson (a wonderfully nerdy and excited Michael Cera) and immediately exposes him to danger by allowing him to become Batman’s sidekick, Robin.
The film’s actual story (and yes, there is one) involves the surprisingly needy Joker (Zach Galifianakis), who wants nothing more than for Batman to admit that he is his number one rival. When Batman refuses, The Joker goes into the Phantom Zone (a sort of intergalactic prison that houses some of the worst villains in history) to unleash the likes of Voldemort (Eddie Izzard), King Kong (Seth Green), the Wicked Witch (and her flying monkeys), and Sauron (Jemaine Clement) on an unsuspecting Gotham City. But in order for Batman to make such an admission, that would require him to open up his heart enough to accept the he also cares a great deal for Barbara Gordon and his new ward/sidekick Dick, all things a lifetime of living alone after his parents’ deaths have taught him are not safe. The film certainly doesn’t shy away from certain elements of pain in Wayne’s life, but it also remembers that it’s primary mission is to be as entertaining as possible.
For longtime fans of various Batman properties, they’re all addressed here in some way—from the 1943, black-and-white serial to the 1960s television series, from the Tim Burton movies (there’s even a mention of the Batman soundtrack that Prince did back in the 80s) to the most recent Batman v. Superman movie—it’s all in there, and most of it is mocked to varying degrees. The hero’s bevy of customized vehicles and weapons, as well as his endless supply of specialty costumes, are all accounted in one quickly edited scene after another. The Lego Batman Movie isn’t just a superhero story; it’s a crash course in what makes a superhero story. And most of it is fairly insightful, humorous, and/or well observed—clearly from the mind of die-hard comic book aficionados.
It’s tough to judge the animation quality of a Lego movie. The attention to detail in making everything appear to be built from Lego bricks is certainly evident, and the production design work, particularly in the Batcave, is jaw dropping. As I said at the beginning, my only real concern about the film is the sheer volume of elements on the screen at any given time. I found my eyes darting around the screen in an attempt to take in everything I could, but I ended up missing dialogue or some plot point. I’m certainly not against seeing a film more than once, particularly if I like it as much as i did The Lego Batman Movie, but with this one, I feel like I don’t have a choice.
An embarrassment of riches seems like a silly thing to complain about, and I’m sure younger audience members will love the stimuli overload. But the bottom line is, I don’t remember drowning in visuals when I saw The Lego Movie, certainly not to the degree I did with this film. It’s certainly not a deal breaker, and I genuinely adored so much of this movie, so I’ll see The Lego Batman Movie at least one more time and somehow suffer through its abundance of eye candy. My life is tough.