Batman's place in the world is altered simultaneously by crime reform driven by new commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), and looming adult responsibility in the form of caring for orphaned Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), who Batman adopted in a moment of distraction. A palpable cycle is enacted, where Batman is first dismissive towards the new people that want to be in his life, he sees the disappointment and hurt on their faces, and then he endeavors to minimize that hurt, bringing himself closer to them in the process. While Batman reacts to Gotham City moving away from him and the overeager teen sliding down his banquet table, Joker aims to assert himself as Batman's greatest enemy by finding the Phantom Zone, where all the villains from all the LEGO properties are imprisoned.
The writing team and director Chris McKay drill down into the essence of the Batman character, and they're able to do so while having a global knowledge of the property, dating all the way back to his Detective Comics debut. Eagle-eyed viewers would be able to spot references to every incarnation of the Caped Crusader, from specific gadgets to D-list villains. For the Batman obsessive, this is an encyclopedically dense film, on top of the visual density that is quickly becoming the hallmark of LEGO-related movies. With the addition of characters from Harry Potter, Universal monsters, and Lord of the Rings, amongst others, LEGO Batman serves as a clearing house for many of the recent blockbuster properties. It's hard to imagine a company using their creative, monopolistic powers in a better way.
Often with animated films, the voice cast is stocked with celebrities doing their own voice, like kids want to see Madagascar because Chris Rock's voice is coming out of a zebra. With the LEGO Batman Movie's extensive call sheet, it's clear that McKay appreciated comedic talent first and foremost. Arnett, Galifianakis, and Cera are studied pros at timing and inflection. Arnett was born to play this character, Galifiankis gives his Joker a neediness that bears little resemblance to other incarnations but works here, and Cera moves away from his usual awkward shtick and into a more lovable enthusiasm. Dawson and Fiennes aren't primarily comedic actors, but their frequent exasperation is well-timed against Batman's bravado. With the airtight main cast, supporting players read like a who's who of comedy and stand-up, with Kate Micucci, Doug Benson, Conan O'Brien, and Jemaine Clement as only a few of the dozens of villains. McKay and his team of writers are packing in the jokes, and they get the best actors and comedians to ably sell them to the audience.
The LEGO Batman Movie is my favorite film incarnation of the character. The dour, humorless version that Nolan and Christian Bale gave the world is wholly incompatible with the theatricality of the character. The flagellating, solitary version of Bruce Wayne is the one acting like a child, and even muscle-bound ninjas have to grow up someday. Lord and Miller soak everything they're connected with in irony and meta-commentary, but in most cases, including this one, they remember the heart. Their creative progeny have learned the same lesson. This will surely sell thousands of LEGO kits, but when the property behind them is so capable, let a million parents step on a million jagged LEGO blocks. B+