[Screen It]

(2017) (voices of Will Arnett, Rosario Dawson) (PG)

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Animated Action/Comedy: In a world where characters and everything else are made of LEGOs, Batman must contend not only with his own commitment issues, but also a new police commissioner who wants to rely less on him in dealing with Gotham's various villains, including the Joker.
In the city of Gotham, there doesn't seem to be anyone happier than Batman (voice of WILL ARNETT). And that's because the superhero loves his job of routinely dispatching the city's various villains, such as The Joker (voice of ZACH GALIFIANAKIS). Deep down, however, Batman, a.k.a. ultra rich Bruce Wayne, has commitment issues in every aspect of his life, something not lost on his longtime and faithful butler, Alfred (voice of RALPH FIENNES), who realizes this stems from Bruce being orphaned at a young age following the murder of his parents.

Not only does he not have a significant other in his personal life, but he also prefers to work alone and won't even give the Joker the satisfaction of thinking there's an adversarial relationship between them with the villain being Batman's number one enemy. Things change, however, when Commissioner Gordon resigns and is replaced by his adult daughter, Barbara Gordon (voice of ROSARIO DAWSON). Bruce is so blindsided by her beauty that, in a moment of being distracted, he agrees to adopt orphan Dick Grayson (voice of MICHAEL CERA), but isn't happy to hear that she wants their police operations to rely less on the Caped Crusader and more on her new plan to fight crime.

When the Joker surrenders too easily, Batman realizes something is amiss and has Dick -- now in the guise of being his over-eager sidekick, Robin -- steal a device from Superman (voice of CHANNING TATUM) that will project the Joker into an interdimensional prison known as the Phantom Zone. Little does Batman realize, however, that such a move is exactly what the Joker wanted.

And it's not long before he and Gotham's regular villains such as Bane (voice of DOUG BENSON) and Harley Quinn (voice of JENNY SLATE) are joined by an array of famous villains now free from the Phantom Zone, including the likes of King Kong, Sauron (voice of JEMAINE CLEMENT) and Voldemort (voice of EDDIE IZZARD) among many others. From that point on, Batman must allow others to help him battle those villains and save Gotham from ruin.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
Like their real-life counterparts, movie characters usually evolve over time. Sometimes that's simply a matter of growing up, as was the case in the "Harry Potter" flicks. In others, it's a result of new actors inheriting signature roles and the powers that be wanting to take such characters in some degree of a new direction.

That's certainly the case with the James Bond movies and it also applies to those featuring the Caped Crusader, Batman. Just in my lifetime, I've gone from seeing Adam West do pure-on, straight up camp in the 1960s era TV show to Michael Keaton going more serious (while Jack Nicholson continued to camp it up) in Tim Burton's 1989 film, followed by Val Kilmer and George Clooney.

More recently, the Dark Knight aspect reared more of its brooding, uber-serious head first with Christian Bale playing Batman, and then Ben Affleck taking over that role and doing more of the same. And in between that we had an assembly of LEGO blocks lovingly, brilliantly and hilariously spoofing Bruce Wayne and his alter-ego in "The LEGO Movie."

That character (voiced once again by Will Arnett) now gets a standalone project with "The LEGO Batman Movie." This action-comedy hybrid takes full satirical aim at just about all aspects of Batman's personality aspects over the years, including the recent turn toward uber-gravitas, the artistic and logic misfire that was "Batman v Superman," and superhero characters and related movies in general.

While it occasionally lags a bit in terms of moving the story forward, it's otherwise a welcomed and successful offering that, much like its predecessor, proves that what might sound like a bad idea on paper can turn out to be a highly engaging and entertaining finished product.

And it also proves that DC Comics has a sense of humor in allowing their beloved franchise character be spoofed in such an often merciless way. Now if we could just get them to allow some comedy in their live-action entries (like their counterpart/rival Marvel nearly always does), we'd be getting somewhere.

The film starts off with a bang, both from a comedy sense -- where we hear Batman sarcastically commenting on the pic beginning with a black screen, dramatic music and various studio and production house logos -- and an action one where the Caped Crusader once again foils the plans of the Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis).

That segues into the latter's need -- in a variation of the same in most any rom-com -- for Batman to commit to their adversarial "relationship." But the superhero says he likes to "fight around" and that he's not into "ships" (as in relationships), something not lost on his long-time butler (voiced by Ralph Fiennes).

The potential for that to change seems to occur when Batman/Bruce sets eyes on the new police commissioner (Rosario Dawson) and his heart goes aflutter. All of which leads to him being distracted and agreeing to adopt Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) who we all know will eventually become the over-eager and sometimes annoying Robin sidekick.

There are plenty of jokes to be had during all of that, courtesy of the bevy of scribes Seth Grahame-Smith and Chris McKenna & Erik Sommers and Jared Stern & John Whittington. But the plot and forward momentum stumble a bit when they and director Chris McKay opt to open up the studio playbook and allow all sorts of Warner Bros. villainous (and a few heroic) characters to show up.

Beyond the usual array of Batman-related characters (Harley Quinn, Bane, Poison Ivy, etc.) and Superhero ones (including Superman), we also end up with King Kong, the Wicked Witch (and flying monkeys), Harry Potter's Voldemort, Sauron (from "The Lord of the Rings"), the title creatures from the "Gremlins" movie, and several versions of Agent Smith (from "The Matrix"). They're all present as part of the Joker's big nefarious plan, and that plot device is present to force Batman to commit to forgoing his solo heroic act.

While it's likely to appeal to movie nerds and there are some decent laughs from all of that, so many characters end up somewhat diluting the story and its throughput. It's certainly not enough to derail the overall entertainment factor, but what probably sounded like a blast on paper turns out to be a bit less than that in executed form and thus the film lags at times during such moments.

Nonetheless, I enjoyed most every moment of the offering. And if you enjoyed "The LEGO Movie" and/or are fans of most anything and everything related to the Batman universe (and don't mind creative types poking some loving fun at all of that), I imagine you will too. "The LEGO Batman Movie" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed February 4, 2017 / Posted February 10, 2017

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