'The Lego Batman Movie' builds the hero we deserve
Lego Batman mashes up colourful Caped Crusader and dour Dark Knight into a gorgeous film whose superpower is imagination. Our spoiler-free review.
Richard TrenholmFormer Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
Over nearly 80 years, Batman has been reinvented more times than perhaps any other heroic concept. Each iteration is so different it'd be hard to pick one definitive version, so Lego Batman doesn't even try. Instead, it's every Batman. All at once.
"The Lego Batman Movie" exultantly celebrates and sends up the camp, colourful Caped Crusader of the 1960s and the grim, gritty Dark Knight of recent years, and everything in between.
Lego Batman talks in a deep growl, but he also punches bad guys so hard words appear spontaneously in the air. Lego Batman lives in the modern world, but he also went through a weird phase in the '60s. Lego Batman doesn't worry about canon, continuity, logic. The only thing that matters is fun.
It doesn't make any sense. Except it totally does, because, well...because Lego.
The Lego world is all about the unfettered imagination of a child let loose in a toy box, and that's what this film delivers. Yes, it's a big toy advert, but from the jokey opening titles and frenetic first act it's a joyous and uncynical romp through a world where anything can happen, with a few life lessons along the way.
The gags peter out a bit in the second act, but that's probably just a side effect of the breathless opening extravaganza being so stuffed full of rapid-fire jokes and eye-popping visuals.
The film isn't as much about building stuff as "The Lego Movie" was, but there are so many vehicles zooming in and out of sight you'd get dizzy trying to take them all in. Scenes in the vast expanse of the brick-built Batcave look especially pause-able to soak in the Easter eggs and references to Batman history.
It's all absolutely gorgeous, with the complex lighting adding to the richness of the sumptuous sets and giving the "plastic" figures a genuinely physical texture.
Meanwhile the characters are far from plastic, thanks to affecting writing and committed vocal performances. At the heart of the story is Will Arnett's desperately guarded Batman, whose self-importance masks a crippling emotional fear, and Ralph Fiennes as Alfred the kindly butler, patiently trying to draw the Dark Knight from behind the mask.
"The Lego Batman Movie" is a superhero film that's super funny and super fun. Every Batman (all at once) is awesome.
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