Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

By Jarrod Jones. If nothing else, The Lego Batman Movie offers something truly unique for le connaisseur of the superhero genre: a DC Comics film where the heroes don’t take themselves so gosh darn seriously. Batman rolls around in garish bat-shaped vehicles, Superman chills out with the Justice League at the Fortress of Solitude, and Robin the Boy Wonder is a valuable asset instead of a subtextual liability. It’s such a blast of fresh air, it’s ridiculous.

More importantly, however, new fans of the superhero genre get something that would have been otherwise denied them: a chance to see the Batman at his very best on the silver screen. In doing so the latest Lego movie pulls off a pretty impressive hat trick — not only is it an enjoyable extension of the 2014 blockbuster, thus cementing Lego’s place as a formidable franchise all on its own (The Lego Ninjago Movie is out in September), not only does its fun transcend age and attitudes (especially towards what is otherwise a very expensive toy commercial), it thoroughly trounces the macho, dead-headed Zack Snyder/Frank Miller Bat-bullhonky we’ve been force-fed ever since Christopher Nolan relinquished the Dark Knight to Warner Bros. back in 2012.

That’s no small feat. In fact, one could say it’s practically impossible, especially for a studio that keeps running into corners when it comes to their live-action DC endeavors. (Here’s an awkward example: Lego Batman story writer Seth Grahame-Smith, also of The Lego Movie, walked off the live-action film version of The Flash, which is still somehow primed for a March 2018 release.) The inevitable critical and financial success of The Lego Batman Movie ought to put some sugar into Warners’ bitter tea. Hopefully they learn a lesson from all this.

Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

The plot to The Lego Batman Movie, such as it is, gravitates around the Batman (voiced with dulcet tones by Will Arnett), his relationship with the wider Batman Family, and how he reconciles surrounding himself with people who love him while maintaining his “grim loner” status. (A complication comics have tussled with for ages, here distilled to its purest essence.) Robin (Michael Cera) is a gee-whiz throwback that makes the shout-outs to the ’66 Batman TV series all the more palatable, Superman (Channing Tatum) gels into the film’s aloof (not to mention benign) take on the character, and The Joker craves attention from his stalwart foe in a manner that should make Scott Snyder smile. (The Clown Prince of Crime is voiced by Zack Galifianakis, and he’s so good it ought to remove the sting of Jared Leto’s… whatever that was from 2016… forever.)

There’s some lip service about the bonds of friendship and the importance of family, and before long the movie clicks into a far too familiar rhythm where buildup, suspense, and climax all amount to little more than the ancient playground credo: be nice to each other. (The best moments, where the Batman mythos are at the mercy of the film, are in the first half hour.) It becomes fairly rote before long, but the film’s constant bombardment of lights and color, blended with the still-clever gimmick of replacing everything in view with Legos, ought to keep even the more passive viewers engaged. Plan on buying this sucker for your wee ones once it’s out on Blu-ray.

And yet that’s what sticks in my craw about The Lego Batman Movie. The title character — fun as he was in The Lego Movie — is little more than a corporate lackey when it all comes down to it. That’s the funk in which this otherwise gleeful flick finds itself: no matter how noble its attempts are at taking the piss out of Batman lore, the Batman of The Lego Batman Movie remains strictly Batman™. I implied earlier that this is the best Batman movie in years. That’s only because the bar has been set so low.

Directed by Chris McKay.

Produced by Dan Lin, Roy Lee, Phil Lord, and Christopher Miller.

Screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, and John Whittington.

Story by Seth Grahame-Smith.

Starring Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, and Ralph Fiennes.

Rated PG for ceaseless havoc.

6.5 out of 10

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