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The LEGO Batman Movie is this year’s only worthwhile story about a manic, self-obsessed, profoundly unloved cartoon billionaire who lives in an isolated fortress of his own design, resents the people that he’s entrusted to protect. It is also arguably the most enjoyable Batman movie ever made, and certainly the funniest. Neither of those are particularly high bars to clear.
In the movie, the relentless pace and irreverently self-aware tone are clear from the very start, as Batman offers a running commentary on the various studio logos that precede his latest adventure. Once the story begins in earnest, our director Chris McKay sets the tone with a hyper-active orgy of crazed action and silly jokes, LEGO Batman quickly become so frantic that making The LEGO Batman Movie feel like a Béla Tarr film by comparison.
The opening sequence alone manages to squeeze in a massive fight scene, a zillion different villains from the classic to not-so-classic and a full-blown musical number in which our egotistic hero regales the citizens of Gotham with a song about his own gloriousness. Just need a glance over the movie to say what happens in the first 10 minutes of this delightful sugar rush is better than the entirety of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.
Still, The LEGO Batman Movie, similar to xthe movies that spawned it, uses its amphetamine-addled approach as a means to an end. McKay’s gorgeously animated film blends decades of comic book mythos into a heartfelt story about the power of family. The story revolves around a Bruce Wayne who fights crime as an excuse to get out of Xanadu for a few hours every night so he can stop staring at the photo of his parents that was taken just seconds before they were murdered while walking down Crime Alley.
The plot of The LEGO Batman Movie is so hilarious. Bruce Wayne spends his days microwaving whole lobsters, ignoring his butler/surrogate father, and cackling at the end of “Jerry Maguire” by himself in the Wayne Manor movie theater. “I don’t need anyone,” he boasts early on, breaking the Joker’s heart and inspiring the supervillain to prove that Batman can’t exist without him.
Right around the same time, Barbara Gordon replaces her father as the new police commissioner and Bruce accidentally adopts a kewpie-eyed kid from the local orphanage. The Joker decides to smuggle himself into the Phantom Zone — Superman’s favorite maximum-security space jail — and unleash scores of very recognizable inmates upon Gotham City.
What makes The LEGO Batman Movie story so good is that McKay never misses an opportunity to mock the franchises they’re permitted to play with. The whole movie gently skewers the self-seriousness that has always characterized Batman, but that doesn’t stop it from laughing at very specific moments from Batman’s big screen history.
Needless to say, mileage will vary when it comes to audience enjoyment. Kids will be love-drunk on the sheer velocity of this thing, but the movie is definitely geared towards people who’ve spent enough time in Gotham to know that shark repellant isn’t as useless as it seems.
The movie serves as a reminder that laughing at the things we love is sometimes the best way to remember why we love them. Can Batman ever be happy? It’s hard to say. But, for the first time in a long time, at least his fans can be. More fun than funny, more clever than smart, that is The LEGO Batman Movie.