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Family Movie Review: The LEGO Batman Movie (PG)

Kernel Rating (out of 5): whole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernalwhole-popcorn-kernal

MPAA Rating: PG       Length: 104 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 8+. A spinoff of “The LEGO Movie” that focuses on the Batman character from that film and references previous films about the comic book hero, this animated film includes a good amount of violence, with shootouts, hand-to-hand combat, explosions, and lots of other action sequences. Also some bathroom humor, an unrequited romance on Batman’s part, some scary/thrilling moments that may scare younger viewers, a few instances where the LEGO characters are pantsless, and the ongoing discussion of Batman’s fear of having a family after his own parents were killed.

‘The LEGO Batman Movie’ is a frenetic, colorful exploration into the world of the Dark Knight, as adapted to this universe of children’s toys. It’s self-aware and well-animated, but there’s a turn in the story that cheapens the whole thing about halfway through.

By Roxana Hadadi

TheLEGOBatmanMovie ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewWe are living in the time not only of movies inspired by video games and board games, but movies that are spinoffs of those movies inspired by video games and board games, and those spinoffs are also superhero movies, because it wouldn’t be this current age of cinema if these things didn’t overlap. It can be creative, but it can be exhausting, and that’s basically where “The LEGO Batman Movie” lives.

A kind-of sequel to both 2014’s “The LEGO Movie” and to previous films about the Batman character, including 2016’s “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and the Christopher Nolan trilogy with “The Dark Knight Rises” and “The Dark Knight,” “The LEGO Batman Movie” is frenetic, frantically paced, and mostly self-aware, smartly written to make viewers feel like they’re in on every single joke both ridiculing how people treat Batman and how he views the outside world.

When someone tells Batman that he loves the vigilante more than he loves his own kids, we laugh; when we see Batman sing a self-written ode to his abs and his gadgets, we laugh. The whole thing is a send-up of the self-important braggadocio of the character, an idea introduced in “The LEGO Movie” and expanded here, with a great voice performance from Will Arnett. He’s gravelly and ridiculous, equally effective whether he’s smugly explaining the “vigilante policy on cookies” or when he quietly admits that it “must be nice to be happy.”

But how the film turns about 30 minutes in, transforming from this amusingly mocking portrayal of the Bat into something more sentimental, feels forced, and the choice to further expand the LEGO universe into one that includes villains like Voldemort from “Harry Potter,” Sauron from Middle Earth, and Godzilla feels like a cash grab. The original “LEGO Movie” did the same thing, including characters from what felt like every single property owned by the Warner Brothers studio as a way to maximize merchandise sales, and “LEGO Batman Movie” repeats that move. It makes the story practically nonsensical if you take away the meta quality of “The LEGO Movie,” which “Batman Movie” does, and it doesn’t feel organic to the story at all.

What does work, though, are the thoughtful, intentional elements of “The LEGO Batman Movie” that pop up amid this cacophony of outside characters. Barbara Gordon (voiced by Rosario Dawson, of “Ratchet & Clank”) is great at her job as police commissioner of Gotham City, using an unprecedented combination of “statistics and compassion” to succeed in law enforcement. How the script allows her time to work, to show off the effort that went into her career, is a subtle acknowledgment that her choices were more respectable than Batman’s, even if he is a superhero. The relationship between Batman and the Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis, of “Keeping Up with the Joneses”), is effectively portrayed as a bizarrely codependent one, with suggestions of a rivalry fueled so much by hate that it almost turns into love.

And for every joke that doesn’t quite work (when it’s revealed that the costume worn by Robin, voiced by Michael Cera of “This is the End,” is a holdover from Batman’s days as Reggae Man), there’s another one-off that is instantly memorable, like when Batman and Joker begin fighting and a white LEGO character casually admits that he’s going to start looting. It’s those subversive moments, aimed clearly for older “LEGO Batman” viewers, that cut through all the noise—like when Robin gleefully says that with Batman and Bruce Wayne adopting him, he has “two dads.”

That kind of off-the-cuff inclusivity is what makes “The LEGO Batman Movie” work, even as the film makes obvious choices regarding Batman’s family life and seems uninspired when it has to pull from other pop-culture franchises to find people for Batman to fight. It’s not as jarringly great as “The LEGO Movie” was, but “The LEGO Batman Movie” is mostly self-conscious and creative enough to keep fans of the character entertained.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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