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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Movie Review: The LEGO Batman Movie – The Dark Knight Sees the Light

What do you do on a snowy Sunday when your kid wants to see the movie he has been bugging you about seeing since he saw the Super Bowl commercial? You go, of course, to see The Lego Batman Movie, especially since Batman has always been your favorite superhero (sorry Supe and Spidey) and your son has been playing with the movie associated LEGO toy sets for weeks – and like a good dad you have helped him assemble them and have played with them too and sort of can’t wait to see how they are used in the film.

Well, parent alert – The LEGO Batman Movie is not only a great follow-up to the original The LEGO Movie but a good standalone Batman flick in its own right. While giving its target audience of young fans all the thrills and laughs to be expected, director Chris McKay and his team of screenwriters have gone unexpectedly deep in exploring the darker side of the Dark Knight and his reasoning for wanting to go it alone.

From a slam-bang cold open featuring Batman (impeccably voiced by Will Arnett) taking on seemingly ever super villain under the bleak Gotham City sky led by the Joker (the hilarious Zach Galifianakas), the action throughout the rest of the 104 minutes is almost non-stop. While parents may initially be put off by that long run time, amazingly McKay uses almost every second of it to not only keep the kids happy but also to actually go into character development that many live action films sorely lack.

At the end of that extended opening sequence, Batman and Joker have the best interaction between the two characters since Tim Burton’s Batman when Michael Keaton’s Bat and Jack Nicholson’s Clown Prince trade the memorable “You made me” lines in a scene that is still haunting. As Joker is getting away using a bunch of balloons, Batman hooks him with a zip-line and they banter (it’s both funny and sad at the same time) until Batman lets Joker know “There is no us” much to Joker’s chagrin.

Without spoiling much more, the rest of the film is an attempt by the Joker to prove Batman wrong, but it also gives us a deeper look at Batman/Bruce Wayne’s darkness at its core. While it is easy to dismiss this film as an extended toy commercial – and a very successful one at that – there are moments where the nuances rival Christopher Nolan’s exploration of the Bat’s proclivities to be a loner, his relationship with his inadvertent stepson Dick Grayson/Robin (a terrific Michael Cera), and his feelings about butler/lifelong surrogate parent Alfred (an even more terrific Ralph Fiennes).

Also thrown into the mix is Barbara Gordon/Bat Girl (a game Rosario Dawson) who wants to prove to Batman that he no longer has to go it alone. Batman, initially drawn to Barbara’s beauty (it’s funny every time he calls her “Babs”), resists her attempt to pull him out of the dark side and draw him to the light, even if we get the feeling that he knows she is right.

If this all sounds dark and kind of heavy for what is ostensibly a children’s movie you would be right, except that the screen is filled with glorious computer animation that is vivid, vibrant, and delightful. While all of this character development, sly self-referential lines, and cameos are carrots on a stick for parents and older siblings, the kids will be too busy watching the battle sequences – there is lots of bang for the buck but not an ounce of blood – and laughing and giggling at the many things inserted for their pleasure (like butt jokes, Batman’s secret password, and Siri as the voice of Batman’s computer).

Surprisingly, beyond the action, the toys product tie-ins, and awesome visual aspects of the film, at its center there is a powerful beating heart with a solid message for the kids that will ensure that Batman is not the only one who will learn a lesson. Amazingly, this is not just a great animated film but one of the best incarnations of Batman to hit the screen in a what seems like a long time.

Without spoiling anything, the most hilarious cameo features Tom Cruise and it should get parents laughing even though it will leave kids bewildered (at least my kid was). This is an easy film for adults to accompany their kids to see, and all of you will come away smiling. Oh, and don’t forget to stay for the closing credits; you’ll be glad that you did.

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