If you asked Batman what he thinks about spending his nights alone in the Bat Cave, eating microwaved lobster thermidor and watching “Jerry Maguire,” what would he say? That he wiles away his hours reflecting on his lonely life as Gotham City’s premier crime-fighter? On his friendless existence? On his family-free future? That he wants to change his life?
“You’ve been watching too many Lifetime movies,” he would say, “and drinking chardonnay.”
Which is exactly what he says to his faithful butler, Alfred (voice of Ralph Fiennes), in “The Lego Batman Movie,” which opens Friday, Feb. 10, and makes fun of just about everything, including DC Comics, Warner Bros. and Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror.” The big-screen follow-up to the popular “Lego Movie” of 2014, it’s a story as furiously omnidirectional as its jokes — the targets of which also include the hot-blooded-yet-unspoken bromance simmering between Batman (Will Arnett) and a resurgent Joker (Zach Galafianakis), who wants to free all the archvillains from the Phantom Zone (which is, granted, a Superman thing, but let’s not nitpick). Also, why does Robin (Michael Cera) seem to gallivant around in his underwear?
“I think Chris, Phil and I probably come from the ‘Airplane!’ school of comedy,” said director Chris McKay, referring to “Lego Batman” producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, with whom he wrote and directed the last “Lego” movie. “You want to throw jokes at people as fast as possible. And if one joke doesn’t work, maybe this next one will.”
One joke is for a kid, the next one’s for an adult, the next one is for “a Batman nerd like me,” said McKay. For those parents who regard Legos as a kind of kid version of Ikea with better directions, the whole Lego movie aesthetic will be a baffling revelation — of gags that come out of nowhere, digress from the narrative and refer, mostly, to other movies. Or comedy itself. “There are a couple of experimental jokes that only work if you know joke history,” McKay said. “Idiosyncratic jokes that only a student of comedy might understand.”
Will Arnett, who has a naturally low register and slides into the Christian Bale-Michael Keaton “gravelly whisper” of Batman without much effort, said at Comic-Con this year that his Caped Crusader isn’t really a parody of any Batman in particular, but that he had the benefit of a lot of Batmen. He also admitted that when his Bat character appeared in “The Lego Movie,” he had no idea it would be spun into its own sequel.
“I’m a dumb guy,” Arnett said. “I did not see that coming. So when they told me they were going to make a Lego Batman movie, I said ‘Really?’ ”
But it made him happy. “It’s my favorite thing to do.”
The plotline is, by design, a familiar one: Batman is facing a league of supervillains led by the Joker, and a new city police commissioner, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), who thinks that having a masked vigilante as Gotham’s leading means of crime prevention is perhaps not the best idea. All this on top of the lonely life Batman leads, surrounded by no one but Alfred — until he inadvertently adopts a wide-eyed orphan of uncertain sexuality named Dick Grayson, who becomes — of course — Robin, the Boy Wonder.
What exactly is the Batman-Robin relationship all about? The insinuations may not be true. But they’re certainly funny.
Generally speaking, “The Lego Batman Movie” never stops — not with the jokes, and certainly not with the visuals, flying at the audience’s face. Which is kind of a joke in itself.
“It’s a Batman movie, so it’s visually dynamic and cinematic and as big as an experience as we could possibly make it,” said McKay. “We wanted it to feel operatic, so I asked everybody from the production designer Grant Freckelton to the animators to step up our game. It’s an action-themed movie and I wanted it to feel like a Michael Mann or Michael Bay movie, with the action sequences and all. But in the characters, I wanted to observe human behavior very carefully and find the little grace notes that make you feel these people are alive — thinking, feeling, that there’s a lot going on there. And the animation teams did an amazing job, despite a shortage of time, and a lot of scrutiny from the studio.”
Surely, they can’t be serious
There’s an argument to be made that all superhero movies are parodies — and maybe they’ve always been. It’s hard to take something like “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” seriously on any level, and the fact it came out the same time last year as “Deadpool” only drove the point home harder. “Suicide Squad”? Reamed by critics generally, it was “pushed and pulled in so many directions that it simply falls apart,” said Newsday’s Rafer Guzmán. “Lego Batman” makes an obvious point more obvious: What do the best superheroes do? Catch bad guys and make fun of themselves. Here are some other less-than-serious Hollywood superheroes:
DEADPOOL (2016) Last year’s smash hit from Marvel took aim at Marvel and all other producers of superhero flicks with a smart-mouthed ex-Specials Forces vet (Ryan Reynolds) with super powers and a thirst for revenge. And a mouth that never stopped.
SUPER (2010) As “The Lego Batman Movie” suggests (strongly), anyone who is actually a superhero has personality problems, none as prominent of those of Frank, aka “The Crimson Bolt” (Rainn Wilson) and his disturbed sidekick “Boltie” (Ellen Page), who wreak havoc on bad guys and Western Civilization in this dark comedy by James Gunn.
KICK-ASS (2010) When ordinary (sort of) teenager Dave (Aaron Johnson) decides to become a real-life superhero, he gets thumped, but in the nick of time is rescued by real-life crimefighters Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) and his daughter, Hit-Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz), who involve him in a revenge scheme against gangster Frank D’Amico (Mark Strong). Comedy, tragedy and mayhem ensue. Terrific movie.
CAPTAIN NICE and MR. TERRIFIC (1967) Pioneers of the mock genre, both these Walter Mitty-becomes-Superman series debuted on the same night (Jan. 9, 1967), inspired by the huge success of the Adam West “Batman” series of the previous year. Both lasted about half a season.
— JOHN ANDERSON