He's Batman. (Say it in a low growl for best effect.) The little Lego mini-fig in black actually works as a superhero. Of course he appeared in The Lego Movie a couple years back, but he was a joke. Would spinning him off into his own movie work as anything other than a caricature? Wouldn't the few things that made The Lego Movie stand apart from all the many movies it was aping (The Matrix, etcetera) get lost if it full-on embraced an already well-known story? Wouldn't its plastic-brick-based metaphysical take on the precariousness of our understanding of the nature of reality get lost in the snarking?
Well. All of that could have happened, I suppose, but it didn't. The Lego Batman Movie might be the best Batman movie yet. It's definitely among the best superhero movies ever. And that's not in spite of the fact that, yes, it is a parody of Batman, but because of that. Making fun of all the ridiculous clichés and motifs of superhero stories allows Lego Batman to transcend them even as it celebrates them. This is the most gloriously bonkers expression ever of the sublimeness and the silliness of crime fighters in capes and tights, and our worship of tales of their exploits.
Look: Lego Batman opens with fifteen minutes of all-in, all-out action smash-up spectacular, the sort of thing that's considered suitable these days to serve as the climax of a superhero flick. But this opening sequence goes beyond even that: It brings together every bad guy Batman has ever battled — well, the Joker (the voice of Zach Galifianakis) brings them together — in a mad plot to bring an ultimate destruction to Gotham City. Of course Batman (the voice of Will Arnett) stops them. It's all done in Lego bricks and mini-figs, and it hilariously sends up every trope of the dramatic and critical superhero battle. I was breathless with laughter and nerd joy by the end of it. But where the heck can a movie possibly go from there?
Yet Lego Batman keeps finding an ante to up, in ways I never could have expected. There is awareness among the characters here that they are living in a world of interchangeable bricks: Batman is a master builder who can make new Bat vehicles on the fly, which is a clever way to deal with the urban destruction left behind when metahumans fight; the bricks can get reused right away. And if Lego Batman doesn't quite get into metaphysics of awareness like its progenitor did, it does get into the metaphysics of pop culture. I'd never spoil, but I can say that Lego Batman is one of the most beautiful and outrageously funny instances yet of the mash-up, fan-fiction fan culture that has developed around the merry playfulness of geeks.
Lego Batman's kiddie-level but still very insightful comic psychoanalysis of Bruce Wayne iChs barely the beginning of it. Its spot-on snarky confrontations with superhero rivalry and the bromance between heroes and villains isn't quite yet the beginning of it either. Its references to every other Batman movie (and the TV show!) are still barely the beginning of it. Reaching out across the fourth wall to deal a smack to Marvel superheroes is starting to be the beginning of it. But it still has a very long way to go before it is done.
I laughed out loud so hard at this movie because I saw my own geeky inclinations reflected in it. In Michael Cera's voice performance as Batman's new sidekick Robin as a sunny, exuberant nerd. In the whipsmart references to so many things that I, as fairly ecumenical fantasy and science fiction fan, love — and which I never expected to see turning up in a Batman cartoon — that kept whizzing by at faster-than-dork speed.
He didn't have a hand in the script, but first-time feature director Chris McKay is a veteran of Robot Chicken, the bizarre stop-motion TV cartoon for grownups that is little more than stream-of-consciousness geek mash-ups. And Lego Batman owes at least as much to that show as it does to The Lego Movie.
Everything is awesome here.