Even with an evergreen property like Batman, living up to the surprise hit that was 2014's The LEGO Movie is a task that could cause even the Caped Crusader himself to buckle under the pressure, even if his appearance was a significant highlight of that film. Luckily, The LEGO Batman Movie is mostly able to rise to the task, while also reminding audiences why we love superheroes in the first place.
The film's opening, a breathless and extremely enjoyable sequence reintroducing us to Will Arnett's sardonic and wonderfully arrogant take on the Dark Knight, establishes Gotham City (the only world we get to see this time around, and understandably so) under siege yet again by Batman's colorful cast of villains, including pretty much every rogue who ever graced comics, film or TV (look for cameos from Vincent Price's Egg Head, and other villains from the 60's Batman TV show). The jokes fly as fast as Batman's LEGO-sized punches, and once the sequence comes to a close, it does so with all the flourishes and grandeur of a Broadway musical, which might sound slightly off putting for a Batman movie, but works extremely well.
It's also important to note that unlike virtually every other version of Batman, the audience is not forced to endure yet another depiction of Bruce Wayne seeing his parents get killed, instead, only seeing the late Waynes in a photo, which looks like it was taken right before they died in Crime Alley (noted with a street sign saying "Crime Alley").
When at its best, The LEGO Batman Movie expertly spoofs, examines and dissects the Batman mythos, leaving no stone unturned, whether it's the 60's television series, or Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight films, and had the film kept on that path throughout, we'd probably have an all-time satirical classic on our hands. However, the one-liners and self-effacing humor gives way to a sappier story which explores concepts of family, loneliness and acceptance, which comes in many forms, not all of which do the story any justice.
The relationships in The LEGO Batman Movie come off as often complicated and at times uncomfortable, particularly for a film somewhat aimed at children. For instance, the relationship between Batman and the Joker (a very miscast Zach Galifianakis) is treated like a real relationship, with one party being completely ignorant or oblivious to the other's needs. While we get the over-inflated ego of Batman as a plot point, the neediness of the Joker—whose entire motivation is to recognized by Batman as his greatest enemy—just feels weird.
It's not enough to derail the entire film, as the script largely throws this plot point to the side (but never fully lets it go either) so that we can be inundated with Batman's inability to connect with practically everyone else in his life, including his faithful butler Alfred (a very good Ralph Fiennes), and his accidentally-adopted ward Dick Grayson (Michael Cera).
Rosario Dawson lends easy charm to the film as Barbara Gordon, Gotham City's new police commissioner, who is focused on trying to do her job without having to rely solely on Batman the moment trouble arises, as her father previously did. Barbara also represents a genuine missed opportunity to capture some of the thematic magic from The LEGO Movie, where it was important in that film to examine even the supporting characters in order to paint a bigger picture of how everyone is truly connected, giving the concept of teamwork a much deeper meaning.
The film is intent on showing the importance of family, but it never feels as authentic as it did in The LEGO Movie, where Batman in that film was a supporting character, and never tasked with bearing the weight of the film, and so instead of delivering a more complete character, we just see a magnified version of the supporting version of Batman instead of the lead.
But really, that's OK, because despite the gripes, The LEGO Batman Movie offers up an even larger lesson to audiences, and one that we'd all do well to remember. For the past few years now, the explosion of the Superhero genre has been mostly enjoyable, but also pretty grim. Filmmakers focus on grounding characters in "reality" at the cost of the fantasy that makes people love superheroes in the first place.
What director Chris McKay treats us to is what it feels like to love fantasy. Whether it was the massive cameos of not only DC comics characters, but other Warner Bros. properties like the Eye of Sauron or Voldemort, or even sea creatures and even Daleks, the film successfully transports viewers, with its amazing visuals, to a place and time where we remember what it felt like to play with our action figures and other toys, and there was no need to ground those adventures in reality, because there, in those moments, the only limit was our imagination and a belief that we could all be heroes in our own stories.
The LEGO Batman Movie succeeds in giving us all a piece of our childhood while reminding us that unlike funerals like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, we don't have to take our heroes so seriously in order to truly enjoy them.