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Building a franchise: ‘The Lego Batman Movie’ continues the winning streak

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Batman takes a disco dance break.
Photo: Warner Bros. / Courtesy

Three and a half stars

The Lego Batman Movie Voices of Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Zach Galifianakis. Directed by Chris McKay. Rated PG. Opens Friday citywide.

When The Lego Movie arrived in 2014, it was an unexpected pleasure: What seemed likely to be a cynical corporate cash-in turned out to be a clever, funny, self-aware and heartfelt movie about positivity and diversity. One of its breakout stars was a vain, arrogant version of Batman voiced by Will Arnett, and since the movie was still a corporate cash-in, no matter how well-crafted it may have been, executives immediately green-lit a spin-off movie for the Lego take on the DC superhero. Luckily, The Lego Batman Movie retains much of its predecessor’s charm, packing in nonstop visual and verbal jokes while telling a simple, fun story with some solid lessons for the family audience.

Directed by Chris McKay, a veteran of Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken and the co-editor and animation supervisor of The Lego Movie, Lego Batman finds its title character repeatedly saving Gotham City but returning home to a lonely existence, where he eats reheated lobster thermidor (in one of the movie’s most dryly funny scenes) and insists he doesn’t need anyone in his life. But that assertion is put to the test thanks to a new plan by the Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), forcing Batman to team up with his accidentally adopted son Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) and new police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson).

The message about teamwork and family gets a little redundant toward the end, and the addition of non-Batman pop-culture villains (including Voldemort, Sauron, some Gremlins and the Daleks from Doctor Who) dilutes the focus a bit, even if it fits with the Lego franchise’s mashup mentality. Still, McKay and the five screenwriters have a strong working knowledge of Batman’s long history, which they put to great use via references both obvious and obscure (the 1960s Batman TV series is clearly a major influence). The beautifully detailed animation is a constant delight, and even when the plot drags slightly, the jokes remain crisp. Score another one for corporate cash-ins.

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