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MOVIES: The LEGO Batman Movie - Review

After stealing scenes in The LEGO Movie, Will Arnett's brooding, egotistical, darkness-obsessed take on the Dark Knight is getting his own adventure with The LEGO Batman Movie. The prospect of spinning a supporting character off into another film hasn't always worked for other franchises, but we're happy to report that in this universe, everything is still awesome.

"All important movies start with a black screen," our star informs us, offering commentary on the numerous studio production logos that appear before the film's first action sequence gets underway. And what an action sequence it is, as director Chris McKay expands on the already impressive achievements of The LEGO Batman Movie's predecessor by crafting a high-speed chase and a supervillain beatdown that rivals anything we've seen in the live-action DC Extended Universe.

As usual, Batman thwarts The Joker's (Zach Galifianakis) latest plan to blow up the city, but the Clown Prince of Crime's defeat comes with a startling revelation: Batman doesn't consider The Joker to be his greatest enemy, because he's "fighting a few different people right now." This leaves The Joker facing something of an identity crisis, as his entire existence is predicated on tormenting his arch-rival, and he begins hatching a scheme to ensure that Batman gives him the respect he deserves.

Elsewhere in Gotham, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) has taken over as Police Commissioner, with designs on restructuring the department so they're less reliant on a certain caped vigilante. She's appreciative of Batman's efforts, but is also smart enough to understand the PR nightmare he represents, telling another character "We don’t need an unsupervised man karate-chopping poor people in a Halloween costume." With crime rates falling and more free time on his hands, Bruce Wayne wanders the empty halls of his vast estate, while Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) tends to Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), the young orphan his employer recently adopted by mistake.

Yes, that's right - while past iterations of Batman have always framed Bruce's adoption of the orphaned Grayson as an act of compassion, inspired by the loss of his own parents, this time around it's just a big misunderstanding. This is just one of the countless gags The LEGO Batman Movie pulls off by poking fun at the character's 78-year legacy, but astute fans will catch references to classic comic book covers, the 1966 Batman television series, and even Tim Burton's iconic 1989 feature film. "Remember the time with the parade and the Prince music?" our hero asks the audience.

Mining the character's history also results in a dizzying procession of cameos, as every Batman villain from Harley Quinn to the Calendar Man shows up to tangle with the Caped Crusader (the hulking comic book version of Bane, clad in his signature luchador mask, is voiced by Doug Benson in a hilarious parody of Tom Hardy's performance). Even the Justice League shows up for a brief moment, as Batman infiltrates the Fortress of Solitude to discover that Superman (Channing Tatum) is throwing a party to which he wasn't invited.

Despite being stuffed full of more jokes-per-minute than I would have considered possible, let alone plausible, The LEGO Batman Movie still manages to forge an emotional connection with its audience, as the swaggering superhero's braggadocio turns out to be a defense mechanism to mask his loneliness. Haunted by the loss of his parents, Batman is terrified of creating another family only to lose them again, and his journey of self-discovery as he comes to terms with those emotions feels strikingly authentic in this make-believe reality.

The LEGO Batman Movie doesn't feature a beefed-up A-list star in the title role or a critically acclaimed director at the helm, and its wall-to-wall laughs create a stark contrast with the more serious cinematic approach to the character in recent years. But the film's affection for - and willingness to recognize the sheer absurdity of - the entire Batman mythology and its enduring legacy result in not only the most enjoyable big-screen Batman adventure since The Dark Knight, but one of the best Batman films of all time.

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