It's hard to remember, given his most recent cinematic escapades, but there was a time when Batman was fun instead of just brooding. Sure, being dark and dramatic in the crime-ridden streets of Gotham is kind of the hero's thing, but do you remember how colorful that old TV show was?
The Lego Batman Movie remembers. In fact, it will shove those memories in your face with archive clips of some of the Dark Knight's more, uhh, embarrassing moments.
This is both the animated movie's greatest strength and its biggest crutch. Everything about Lego Batman as a parody is pitch perfect, and nothing in the character's history is safe from mockery. From the goofy TV days to the overly-serious modern movies to some of the more ridiculous villains in the comics and cartoons, Lego Batman wants you to know, "Yeah, we're big fans, and some of this stuff was dumb, you guys."
Remember the villain Condiment King? Lego Batman does.
Remember shark repellent? Lego Batman does.
If you don't remember those things, then there's less here for you to enjoy. The viewers who will get the most out from the movie will be the ones who already have stuck with Batman through thick and thin.
Even without nostalgia, though, "The Lego Batman Movie" is clever, funny and filled with family-friendly action.
The plot of the movie is admittedly thin. It begins with The Joker gathering an army of Gotham's notorious villains in an attempt to blow up a bomb below the city. It ends with The Joker gathering an army of villains in an attempt to blow up a bomb below the city. Only the villains he uses that time aren't from Gotham, but are Phantom Zone rejects gathered from other Warner Bros. properties, including Harry Potter's Voldemort and The Lord of the Rings' Sauron. This is a trick used in the Lego Dimensions video game and in The Lego Movie, but it works well here, too.
But most of the movie isn't about that. It's about Batman, aka Bruce Wayne, coming to terms with the fact that being a loner may not actually be the best way to live. He ends up accidentally adopting a son (Dick Grayson, who, spoiler, becomes Robin), has an awkward relationship with the new police commissioner, Barbara Gordon, and finally opens up to his trusty butler, Alfred.
(Yes, they go there with a Dick joke, but it's relatively tasteful. Most of the movie's dialogue doesn't get more raunchy than "Dear gosh!")
The voice cast is star-studded, with names like Will Arnett (Batman), Michael Cera (Robin), Rosario Dawson (Barbara) and Zach Galifianakis (Joker) taking on the lead roles. There are a few oddities, though. Jenny Slate's take on Harley Quinn is disappointingly subdued, and Eddie Izzard makes for an awkward-sounding Voldemort considering that Ralph Fiennes (who played Voldemort in the Harry Potter films) can be heard alongside him as Alfred.
Aside from a few short moments when things slow down and the message gets emotional, much of Lego Batman feels like a race to see how many jokes can be crammed into each minute of the film. Some of those jokes fall flat. Most don't. There is also a surprisingly thoughtful portrayal of Batman and The Joker's highly dysfunctional relationship, acknowledging that each of them needs the other.
You could say that The Lego Batman Movie is the best Batman film since The Dark Knight, but that would be a weird comparison to make. Instead, it's easier to just say that Lego Batman is a clear high point for modern movies based on DC Comics, and the rest of Warner Bros.' superhero slate should learn from it.