Let's face it; the Dark Knight has been really living up to his name since Tim Burton's Batman came out 28 years ago. He can be a morose sourpuss in the middle of pretty heady stuff.
Wait a minute ... has it really been 28 years since Burton's Batman came out? Holy crap, I just totally freaked myself out. Hang on...I need to catch my breath and gather my thoughts. It's been nearly three freaking decades since Nicholson did Joker? I need to drink five beers.
All right ... okay ... back on point. Batman has been sort of a downer at cinemas. Even when he wasn't being quite so dour, he was just plain sucking in the Joel Schumacher Batman movies that started coming out 22 years ago.
Wait a minute ... did Kilmer really do Batman over two decades ago? I think I'm having a panic attack. I have to do the breathing into brown bag trick...I'll be right back.
Okay, back. So, granted, Batman is inherently dark by nature, being all orphaned and inspired by bats and dispatching vigilante justice at night and whatnot. But, hey, sometimes it's good to have a laugh or two while watching the Caped Crusader do his thing, if only because some of us have a sweet spot for when Adam West played the character for laughs 50 years ago.
Okay ... seriously. I have to take a long break and contemplate my life before finishing this review. I'll be back in the morning after a good cry and extended sleep jag.
Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, Batman. Batman's a trooper all right, having survived the debacle that was Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (Affleck is a good bat; his cinematic vehicle was not). The LEGO Batman Movie is the great Batman story that Batman v Superman failed to be.
Even better, it has Will Arnett voicing Batman with a new, super amped, still dark, but amazingly well rounded and sometimes humorous incarnation. After all of these years watching dark (and admittedly sometimes brilliant) Batman movies, it's nice to have a vehicle where we can just have fun with the character.
Director Chris McKay, along with a long list of writers, has come up with a story that will please adult Batman fans as much as the kids who will most assuredly be dropped off at the local Cineplex to watch a movie while parents catch a break from the little mayhem makers. Arnett's Batman not only faces off against the Joker (a very funny Zach Galifianakis), but finds himself in a scenario where he's battling a smorgasbord of movie villains including King Kong, the Gremlins, Dracula, evil British robots and Voldemort (Eddie Izzard), to name just a few.
It's a nutty plot element that also allows for Batman mainstays like Bane, Two-Face (Billy Dee Williams, who voiced Harvey Dent in Burton's Batman) and the Riddler (Conan O'Brien!) to get in on the act.
It's a geek fest, a movie lover's delight that has a funny little trivia bit at nearly every turn, and an emotional center (Batman has family issues; the Joker longs to be hated) that gives the movie a surprising depth among the chaos.
Michael Cera and Ralph Fiennes bring good humor as Robin and Alfred, although Fiennes doesn't voice Voldemort, which seems like a wasted opportunity. You had the real Voldemort on hand, in your employ for the same movie. It just seems like some money could've been saved.
The LEGO Batman Movie gives us a Batman tale that is a little brighter than those brooding Nolan films, and way better than last year's Zack Snyder atrocity. It's loaded with funny nods to the entire history of Batman, and fully functions as a standalone Bat story. May sequels abound!
Writer's Addendum: After mentioning Adam West above, I was reminded that West and Burt Ward revisited Batman and Robin last year, voicing the characters in Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders. I watched it last night...not as good as Lego Batman, but still pretty cool!