Exhausted with politics and “seriousness” in general after the two-hour Democratic Presidential candidates’ debate last night, my husband Charles and I watched The Lego Batman Movie, a 2017 follow-up to The Lego Movie and a film that when I first saw the trailer for it I assumed would be terminally and unwatchably silly. But the last time we were at Target Charles found a DVD copy on sale for just $5 and we grabbed it — and it turned out to be an utter delight, an expert spoof of the whole superhero genre and its pretensions. It opens with a black screen and dire music, over which we hear a narration by Batman (Will Arnett) setting up the film’s irreverence: “Black. All important movies start with a black screen... And music... Edgy, scary music that would make a parent or studio executive nervous... And logos... Really long and dramatic logos... Warner Bros. Why not ‘Warner Brothers’? I don’t know... DC... The house that Batman built. Yeah, what, Superman? Come at me, bro. I’m your Kryptonite... Hmm... Not sure what RatPac does, but that logo is macho. I dig it... Okay. Get yourself ready for some... reading. ‘If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change. Hooo.’ No. I said that. Batman is very wise. I also have huge pecs and a nine-pack. Yeah, I’ve got an extra ab. Now, let’s start the movie.” The movie is at once an animated superhero tale, a mad set of references to all the various incarnations of Batman on film and, of all things, a “bromance” between Batman and the Joker (Zach Galafianakis) as well as a father-and-son bonding tale between Bruce Wayne a.k.a. Batman and Dick Grayson a.k.a. Robin (Michael Cera in what imdb.com claims is his first movie with only a PG rating), who in a neat role-reversal essentially adopts him while Batman is lustfully cruising Barbara Gordon a.k.a. Batgirl (Rosario Dawson), who’s just taken over as Gotham City’s police chief following the retirement of her father. (There’s also a weird cameo appearance by Mariah Carey, of all people, as the voice of Gotham City Mayor McCaskill.)
The plot, if it matters, concerns the attempts of two rival camps of super-villains to aid the Joker in his ongoing plan to take over Gotham City (and do what with it we’re never quite told, though there’s a nice seen in which the Joker takes over Bruce Wayne’s island estate and turns it into a hideously garish amusement park), including not only the familiar menaces from the Batuniverse but also King Kong, Sauron from The Lord of the Rings, Voldemort from the Harry Potter tales and even some of the killer dinosaurs from the Jurassic Park franchises. The rivalry is between the terrestrial villains and the ones from Krypton who survived their planet’s destruction by being exiled to the Phantom Zone, only they’re released because Batman has had Robin steal the Phantom Zone Projector from Superman’s Fortress of Solitude — he uses Robin because, like the pygmy in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novel The Sign of Four, he’s little and lithe enough to evade Superman’s security system — and also Batman considers him “110 percent expendable.” Only the Joker steals it and uses it to let all the criminals from the Phantom Zone out to become his replacement gang after Barbara Gordon traps the Earthling bad guys (and gals) in a high-tech prison. The Lego Batman Movie was the brainchild of Seth Grahame-Smith, who wrote the original story — though a lot of other people (Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern and Jake Whittington) joined him in making it into a script (thereby making this at least a partial exception to my general field theory of cinema that a movie’s quality is inversely proportional to its number of writers) — and the direction is by Chris McKay. In case you were wondering, they did not do the film as stop-motion animation with Lego blocks; it’s really computer animation, and though I continue to have a problem with the thick, blocky look of computer animation (it has neither the realism of live-action nor the fluidity and artistry of drawn animation), I’ve seen a lot of movies in which the quality of the writing and voice-acting overcame the inherent limits of computer animation, and this is one.