'The Lego Batman Movie': Film Review

Everything isn’t as awesome the second time around.

Will Arnett reprises his self-centered Caped Crusader in this busy CGI spinoff.

Watching The Lego Batman Movie, the follow-up to the wildly entertaining The Lego Movie, is sort of like reassembling the Lego Star Wars Ultimate Collector’s 5,197-piece Millennium Falcon: The achievement just doesn’t convey the sort of triumphant, giddy satisfaction that it did the first time. 

Maybe it also has something to do with the fact that Will Arnett’s hilariously egotistical Caped Crusader has been promoted from mightily effective scene-stealer to the role of all Batman, all the time — which can prove to be too much of a good thing.

Whatever the reasons, although there is still much to enjoy here, this DC Comics-fueled Lego adventure fails to clear the creative bar so energetically raised by co-directors and writers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller back in 2014. Not that it will face any hurdles at the box office, with an all-ages-appropriate PG rating that should give the Warner Bros. release a solid run at the original’s $469 million worldwide haul.

With Lord and Miller otherwise occupied (they're currently directing the upcoming, untitled Han Solo Star Wars movie), the spinoff was trusted to Chris McKay, who served as animation director and editor on The Lego Movie, along with a whole bunch of screenwriters.

They immediately get down to the business of nailing the requisite tone, with Batman’s gravelly growl first manifesting itself over the opening production logos, offering amusing takes on the importance of starting with a black screen and dramatic musical cues. But the self-satisfied Dark Knight is starting to see that constantly dealing with The Joker (voiced by Zack Galifianakis) and his fellow fiendish rogues offers diminishing compensation for the fact that his solitary life on Wayne Island is getting pretty lonely.

Encouraged by his faithful butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), he adopts the orphaned Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), while defending his track record against Gotham City’s new commissioner, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), who contends the lone vigilante approach is no longer getting the job done.

While on the subject of teamwork, the writers — including novelist Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers (Community) and Jared Stern & John Wittington (the upcoming animated Netflix series Green Eggs and Ham) — find no shortage of satirical targets, taking sly aim at everything from Suicide Squad to Donald Trump’s taxes. But they and director McKay prove less adept at finding that terrific balance between the blissfully inspired and a non-syrupy sweetness that made the first brick-and-knob feature excursion so successful.

Instead, there’s an overriding, more-the-merrier philosophy that restlessly ventures beyond the DC universe, resulting in a frenetic pile-on that includes representatives from such Warner Bros. entities as The Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter and The Matrix.

Performance-wise, Arnett certainly gives it his disaffected all, as does his fellow voice cast of thousands, which includes Jenny Slate as Harley Quinn, Channing Tatum as Superman, Conan O’Brien as The Riddler, Billy Dee Williams as Two-Face, Mariah Carey as Gotham’s Mayor McCaskill, Doug Benson as Bane and Apple’s Siri providing the calming tones of Batman’s trusty ‘Puter.

Australian animation company Animal Logic is again responsible for digitizing those millions of bricks, but this time the effect doesn’t seem to possess the same visual magic as before.

Like the rest of The Lego Batman Movie, all the pieces are in place, but they just don’t have that same connective snap.

Production companies: Warner Animation Group, RatPac-Dune Entertainment, LEGO System A/S, Lin Pictures/Lord Miller/Vertigo Entertainment
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Cast: Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Jenny Slate, Conan O'Brien, Doug Benson, Billy Dee Williams, Zoe Kravitz, Eddie Izzard, Seth Green, Jemaine Clement, Ellie Kemper, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Adam Devine, Hector Elizondo, Mariah Carey
Director: Chris McKay
Screenwriters: Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers, Jared Stern & John Whittington
Producers: Dan Lin, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Roy Lee
Executive producers: Jill Wilfert, Matthew Ashton, Will Allegra, Brad Lewis, Zareh Nalbandian, Steven Mnuchin
Production designer: Grant Freckelton
Editors: David Burrows, Matt Villa, John Venzon
Composer: Lorne Balfe
Casting director: Mary Hidalgo

Rated PG, 104 minutes