This might be best Bat­man yet

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - KATIE WALSH Tri­bune News Ser­vice

One of the weak­nesses of most Bat­man films is that they’re un­will­ing to ques­tion the na­ture of Bat­man him­self, to in­ter­ro­gate the vig­i­lante who pa­trols Gotham City sin­gle­hand­edly and anony­mously. On pa­per, what Bat­man rep­re­sents isn’t all that great — Bruce Wayne is a priv­i­leged one-per­center, an in­di­vid­u­al­ist who hap­pily by­passes gov­ern­ment pro­grams to work alone and de­cide what’s best and who’s bad or not.

Which is why “The LEGO Bat­man Movie” is quite pos­si­bly the best Bat­man movie ever made, if not a close run­ner up to “Bat­man Re­turns.” Lib­er­ated from the con­straints of “dark,” “edgy” or even “campy,” “LEGO Bat­man” is able to poke fun at the cos­tumed gen­tle­man hero, and re­ally dig into the el­e­ments of Bat­man that make the char­ac­ter who he is, for bet­ter or for worse. Who’da thunk you’d get all that from the se­quel to an adap­ta­tion of build­ing blocks.

“LEGO Bat­man” is very much in the vein of “The LEGO Movie,” from which this was spun off. Will Ar­nett’s growly, sar­cas­tic, heavy metal-lov­ing Bat­man was such a hit in that movie that he de­served his own pro­ject. It was al­ways go­ing to be a fun LEGO prop­erty, but no one prob­a­bly ex­pected this to be one of the best and most re­fresh­ing Bat­man movies.

It’s due in large part to writer Seth Gra­hame-Smith, who is known for his twists on the clas­sics, books-turned-movies “Pride and Prej­u­dice and Zom­bies” and “Abra­ham Lin­coln: Vam­pire Hunter.”

If there’s any­one who can give a beloved char­ac­ter a true re­jig­ger­ing, it’s Gra­hame-Smith, work­ing within the Bat­man canon and the larger Warner Bros. uni­verse. A host of com­edy writ­ers con­trib­uted to the screen­play as well, so the jokes are densely packed and fast and furious — vis­ual gags, puns, word­play, one-lin­ers. “Ro­bot Chicken” di­rec­tor Chris McKay keeps a steady hand on the di­rec­tion

of the ex­cit­ing whirling dervish vi­su­als.

The film’s meta, self-ref­er­en­tial na­ture starts at the very be­gin­ning, with Ar­nett huskily de­scrib­ing the open­ing cred­its, lo­gos and all. He plays Bruce Wayne/Bat­man as the ar­ro­gant play­boy he al­ways has been, but the film re­veals his vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties and lone­li­ness more starkly. That cowl masks more than just his iden­tity.

He still mourns his fam­ily, but in “LEGO Bat­man,” that lack of­fers the room for a new fam­ily to move in — side­kick Robin (Michael Cera), new po­lice com­mis­sioner and love in­ter­est Bar­bara Gor­don (Rosario Daw­son), and of course, Al­fred (Ralph Fi­ennes). What’s dif­fer­ent is that this time, Bat­man ac­tu­ally ac­cepts them into his world.

There’s a song that in­forms the themes of “LEGO Bat­man,” which is threaded through­out, with the lyric, “take a look at your­self and make that change.” That’s the main idea to take away from “LEGO Bat­man” — no one is be­yond re­demp­tion or evo­lu­tion.

Af­ter 10-plus fea­ture film it­er­a­tions, not to men­tion the ’60s TV se­ries and even more planned for the fu­ture, it was time to take a look at Bat­man and make that change. Some­times, ex­is­ten­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion yields great things. Also, the movie is truly hys­ter­i­cally funny, cute and very lov­able. To de­scribe any of the jokes would be to ruin all the fun of dis­cov­er­ing it your­self.

COUR­TESY OF WARNER BROS. PIC­TURE

Robin, voiced by Michael Cera, left, and Bat­man, voiced by Will Ar­nett, in a scene from "The LEGO Bat­man Movie."

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