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Mildly amusing LEGO Batman keeps the franchise alive

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Mildly amusing LEGO Batman keeps the franchise alive

Of all the sins committed by Zack Snyder in Batman v. Superman, the most ignorant was giving Superman a dark side. Ahem: Superman doesn’t have a “dark side.” He’s Superman. The worst sin, however, was turning Batman into a skeevy dope–and Ben Affleck did a masterful job of embodying this “vision.” (The nonsense continued in Suicide Squad, where Affleck’s bat was also revealed to be a tool of the security state.) Batman can be comically virtuous and brainy, as in the 1960s TV series, or dark and brooding as in Tim Burton’s films, or dark and brooding and fascist, as in Christopher Nolan’s films. (To paraphrase The Big Lebowski, say what you will about fascism, at least it’s an ethos.) But a morally skanky billionaire idiot who drives a Jeep Renegade? Even Joel Schumacher’s Batmans–Val Kilmer and nipple-suited George Clooney–were much better than that.

So I guess it’s progress that the LEGO folks have given us a Batman, voiced by the terrific Will Arnett, who is only an obtuse egomaniac.

I only mention all this because, strangely, the animated kid comedy The LEGO Batman Movie spends a lot of time, in its fan-servicey, family-friendly way, taking a self-reflexive look at the various TV and movie “Batmans.”

In this LEGO iteration, Wayne Manor is on a grotesque Wayne Island and the Batcave under said manor is tricked out with weapons and gadgets and multiple levels equally suited to a Bond villain or Team America. Save for Alfred (voice of Ralph Fiennes), Batman lives alone, eats alone, stares at pictures of his dead parents and–finally something funny–never removes his cowl.

The movie is very funny in parts and frantic in place of funny in other parts, and gooey as corn syrup in others. Guess which Gotham villain got the biggest laughs? Bane. Nolan really missed an opportunity with that character. Guess which voice actor blew it? Zach Galafianakis. His Joker voice is needy, with no menace or weirdness.

The kids at the screening I attended lapped it up; the adults were amused by the double entendres that flew over the kids’ heads. In brief, that damned Shrek model of animated feature comedy still rules.

I’m not going to go on about how I found the LEGO “people” ugly and the animation impressive and exhausting in equal measure. I’m in the minority on this point. (But I did, and it is.)

Frankly, the most fun part of the movie was contemplating the varied intellectual property rights owned by Warner Bros., as manifested in the villains who take over the last part of the movie. There’s Lord Voldemort, a couple of Agents from The Matrix universe, a half-dozen Gremlins, Sauron from The Lord of the Rings, the Wicked Witch and her flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz, and Godzilla. No, wait: That’s not Godzilla. What is it? It’s a giant prehistoric “sea creature” with multiple little arms who just happens to look a lot like Godzilla. Warners may own J.K. Rowling’s characters lock, stock and wand, but damned if Godzilla’s Japanese keeper, Toho Studios, is going to let anyone turn their beastie into a LEGO cartoon.

Good for them.

The LEGO Batman Movie, directed by Chris McKay, a Warner Bros. Picture

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