Brick bat house

Fitting that the best comic-book movie in years is literally about toys.

Fitting that the best comic-book movie in years is literally about toys.

Rated 4.0

Remember when comic-book movies were fun? Chris McKay does, and with The Lego Batman Movie he reminds us. On 2014’s The Lego Movie he was credited as “Animation Co-Director,” whatever that means. (Wasn’t most of the movie animated?) Anyhow, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller were directors of record on that one, and here McKay is promoted to full director, with a script by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern and John Whittington.

Batman hasn’t really been fun since Adam West hung up his purple tights; once Tim Burton dressed him in black back in 1989, everybody seemed to take the new look as a state of perpetual mourning for Bruce Wayne’s murdered parents. Christopher Nolan picked up the ball where Burton dropped it and ran like hell into the gloom. God knows those Dark Knight movies with their idiot solemnity are long overdue for some irreverent ridicule, and McKay et al. take on the job with manic relish.

Even the countless millions of fans of Nolan’s lugubrious Batman will get a kick out of The Lego Batman Movie, not just those of us who got enough of Christian Bale’s take on the role two movies ago. The fun is that contagious.

Will Arnett voices Batman and Wayne, reprising his cameo in The Lego Movie, with Ralph Fiennes redeploying his flair for comedy (rarely seen before or since The Grand Budapest Hotel) as Alfred, the butler and surrogate father figure. Michael Cera does the honors as the orphan whom Wayne inadvertently adopts (“Richard Grayson, sir! But my friends all call me Dick!”), rummaging through a closetful of costumes to come out as Robin the Boy Wonder. Cera is a bit of a boy wonder in the part himself; normally so wry and diffident on screen, he demonstrates once again how voicing an animated character can be wildly liberating for an actor. The same dynamic can be seen in Tim Allen’s Buzz Lightyear and Joan Cusack’s Cowgirl Jessie in the Toy Story movies—neither one of them has ever been better, and Cera has never been better or more, well, animated than he is here.

Zach Galifianakis hardly needed liberating to begin with, but he rips into the Joker with enthusiasm, leading his army of villains in a drive to conquer Gotham City—all the usual suspects, from the Riddler through Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Bane and beyond (including King Kong, Voldemort and Sauron), and voiced by the likes of Conan O’Brien, Seth Green, Billy Dee Williams, etc. Arnett’s Batman must contend with that while trying to adjust to being a family man with the help of Rosario Dawson’s Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. The recording sessions on this movie must have been a real party.

Fans of the Nolan and Bale Batman movies will share the fun, then perhaps go back to cocooning with their Dark Knight trilogy Blu-rays. But I’ll bet somewhere Batman’s creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger (who left us in 1998 and 1974) are smiling.