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Scene-stealing characters tend to work best in small doses. No one needs an entire movie starring, say, Matthew McConaughey's chest-thumping weirdo from The Wolf of Wall Street, or Alec Baldwin's bullish corporate shark from Glengarry Glen Ross. But we instantly smile when we think of them, because in the valuable minutes of screen time they were afforded, they made a huge splash. The same went for Will Arnett's delusionally egotistical Dark Knight from the 2014 smash comedy The Lego Movie. The whispering crime fighter was an undisputed crowd-pleaser, but would a solo movie centered around his exploits suffer as it stretched familiar jokes over the course of two-hour spinoff?
Thankfully, Chris McKay's The Lego Batman Movie is way more interested in being a top-notch Batman movie than it is in being a Lego Movie clone, and in so many aspects, it wildly succeeds. This is the best pure Batman movie since Christopher Nolan's masterpiece, Batman Begins. (The Dark Knight is a Joker movie. You know that to be true.) The script has an incredible grasp on the rich history of the caped crusader, exploring facets of the hero's damaged psyche while also cracking jokes that will tickle fans with intimate knowledge of Batmen, past and present. (There's a "shark repellent" gag, for example, that references a rubber shark sequence from Adam West's 1966 Batman TV movie, so yeah, you better brush up on your trivia if you want to giggle at every rapid-fire Bat joke.)
And giggle, you will. Because The Lego Batman Movie is consistently funny. The jokes start immediately -- like, during the logos that precede the opening credits. At worst, the movie's sarcastically self-aware, skewering long-time Bat-cliches about the moody and broody superhero preferring to work alone as he fights criminals and mourns his family. At best, though, The Lego Batman Movie is screamingly hilarious, ladling pop-culture references and comic-book punchlines with blistering speed and pinpoint accuracy. One joke, involving a pivotal scene from Cameron Crowe's Jerry Maguire, made me cackle until I cried. So yeah, this movie worked very well for me.
I probably couldn't relay the plot of The Lego Batman Movie, concocted by five screenwriters, but I know it wasn't important to the overall enjoyment of the feature. In lieu of a story, The Lego Batman Movie places a microscope over the Batman we met in The Lego Movie, and delights in his comedic intricacies. A proud loner, Batman (voiced, again, by Will Arnett) repeatedly risks life and limb to save Gotham from the invading forces of Bane (Doug Benson), Two Face (Billy Dee Williams), Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz), Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate) and, of course, The Joker (Zach Galifianakis). But the Clown Prince is bothered because, despite the fact that they have been quarreling for decades, Batman still won't recognize The Joker as his arch enemy.
Meanwhile, back home on Bat Island, Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) worries that his charge is too focused on being The Bat, and encourages Bruce Wayne to ditch the cowl and possibly assume a sidekick. Enter Robin (Michael Cera), an orphan mistakenly adopted by Wayne who, of course, becomes the first member of a growing Bat family that eventually includes Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) and Alfred, as well.
It wasn't until seeing The Lego Batman Movie that I realized how underserved The Dark Knight has been on screen in his own movies over the years. Outside of Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan's first two Batman movies, respectively, the sequels placed far more emphasis on developing villains, turning the caped crusader into a co-star in his own franchise. Not so with Lego Batman, which makes hilarious observations about the egotistical hero while also breaking off brilliant jokes about his classic canon. There are great jokes about previous Batman movies. There are great jokes about how lame some of Batman's villains are. There are so many great jokes, period.
With the Lego format, anything is possible, and The Lego Batman Movie -- similar to the Lego Movie that inspired it -- does buckle a tad over the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to the pop-culture onslaught... particularly in its final act. However, Batman fanatics will soon be able to see a Batman movie filled with surprising things they never have seen on screen before (I'm holding back, for the benefit of spoilers), and for that reason, The Lego Batman Movie gets a huge thumb way up.