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Gotham City's Continuous Siege: The Lego Batman Movie
The Lego Batman Movie combines the story of the Caped Crusader with the popular building toys and their theme sets. Will Arnett reprises his role as the voice of Batman as Gotham City's famed crime fighter investigates a theft of explosives from an airplane that landed in Gotham. The theft was committed by Batman's oldest nemesis, The Joker (Zach Galifianakis), who heads a team of other foes equally familiar to Batman. They intend to literally blow apart the city. This comes as Commissioner Jim Gordon (Hector Elizondo) announces his retirement from the Gotham police department. At the retirment gala attended by Bruce Wayne, Jim Gordon announces his daughter, Barbara (Rosario Dawson), will succeed him. She promises to get tough on crime, as well as on the efforts of Batman, whom she legitimately criticizes. Bruce, meanwhile, continues the loss of his parents, much to the concern of his butler, Alfred Pennyworth (Ralph Fiennes). At the gala, Bruce somehow adopts Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), an orphan who's a big fan of Batman. When he learns of Bruce's other identity, he wants to help in the fight against crime. Dick soon adapts the alter ego of Robin.
The Joker, in response to Barbara Gordon's edict, tries a new strategy. He and most of his criminal crew surrender to the new commissioner, and get sent to Arkham. A suspicious Batman, with Robin helping him, go to the Fortress Of Solitude of Superman (Channing Tatum). The duo crashes a party where Batman was the only uninvited Justice League member, and they steal the Projector the Man Of Steel uses to exile criminals to the Phantom Zone. Barbara catches the duo in the act of using the item, and arrests them. However, Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate), steals the Projector from evidence, and frees the Joker and the entire Phantom Zone. Barbara, aware of Batman and Robin's true identities, knows she has her hands full, and makes a deal to work with Batman, just as her father had.
The Lego Batman Movie strikes the perfect balance between the playful nature of the Lego toys and the action nature of Batman and his exploits. The Lego Batman Movie also acknowledges the screen Batmen of movies past, from Adam West to Ben Affleck. The film knows Batman history from its debut, and includes most major characters from these films, save for Lucius Fox, Ra's al Ghul, and every love interest of Bruce Wayne. Director Chris McKay was the animation supervisor of 2014's The Lego Movie, but he and his team of scriptwriters make the transition a smooth one. Fans of the Batman franchise will enjoy how McKay and his writers pay tribute to the past movies, while fans of The Lego Movie will appreciate how the toys come to life on the big screen. The message of togetherness carries over from The Lego Movie, while Bruce Wayne's crusade against crime gets its due. The laughs are plentiful for audiences of all ages, yet respectful of the Batman legend.
Arnett goes from a supporting role in The Lego Movie to a lead role that shows a comically conflicted Batman. He is a straight man to the ensemble, and sounds as if he could do a more serious Batman if he wanted, such as the one from The Batman animated series of the 2000s. He knows he has fought the same bad guys repeatedly through the decades, but I guess Gotham's most notorious can afford a defense that requires Batman's constant attention. Arnett doesn't know where his crusading ends and Bruce Wayne begins, and continually insists upon working alone. Yet, he sees his ways have to change with the arrival of Dick and Barbara. Cera is funny as the fanboy/adopted son, always stoked to help Batman, who learns what few do. Galifianakis shows a humorous craftiness as the Joker, who's always wondering why Batman doesn't hate him. Fiennes, Dawson, and Slate also make nice supporting contributions. Smaller contributions come from a host of people, including Billy Dee Williams (Harvey Dent/Two-Face), Conan O'Brien (Edward Nygma/Riddler), Jonah Hill (Hal Jordan/Green Lantern), and Eddie Izzard (Lord Voldemort). Susan Bennett, who has given voice to Siri, uses that Siri voice as the voice of Batman's computer. McKay himself voices one of the pilots who get waylaid by Joker's crew.
The Lego Batman Movie shows itself to be a strong sequel to the movie that launched the Lego theatrical franchise. It's also one of the best Batman films, bested only by a pair of Christopher Nolan's adventures with the Caped Crusader. Chris McKay pays tribute to, and has fun with, Batman history. This Batman finds himself a lone crusader with few friends, even among those who fight for the same causes as he does. He finds himself having to find the emotion in him to consider his oldest enemy a despicable man. He resists the notion of getting help, but finds three people who see a need for him to change. One thing that will never change, though, is his attitude that Iron Man sucks.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give The Lego Batman Movie 3.5 stars. Gotham goes Lego.