At its sporadic best, the crazy velocity and wisenheimer appeal of "The Lego Batman Movie" reminds you of what made "The Lego Movie" such a nice surprise three years ago. It was my favorite comedy of 2014, even without that insidiously satiric theme song "Everything is Awesome!"
Director Chris McKay's spinoff, however, is more about expectations fulfilled than new surprises, nicely sprung. Basically a conventional superhero action movie with a constant stream of sideline heckling, "The Lego Batman Movie" goes where various franchises housed at various studios have gone before. Just as Iron Man (the target of a running gag here) fell into a narcissistic pool of self-interest and celebrity indulgence in his second movie, the lil' plastic Batman taking center stage is a raging egomaniac, all abs and no heart.
He has buried the pain of his parents' murder with a mountain of cool toys and weapons. Amusingly Bruce Wayne/Batman, voiced as he was in a choice supporting role in "The Lego Movie" by Will Arnett, isn't exactly the master of his cavernous domain; he proves somewhat clueless when it comes to working a DVR remote or programming a microwave oven. Only his faithful butler, Alfred, given just the right empathetic tones by Ralph Fiennes, knows what Bruce needs: a surrogate family, so he's not stuck on the couch watching "Jerry Maguire" another lonely night.
Toward this end, Bruce casually adopts an orphan, Dick Grayson (Michael Cera, delightfully naive) and ventures outside his loner-vigilante sphere to join forces with Gotham City police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson, better than her limited material). Batman's chief nemesis remains, inevitably, the needy, whiny, malevolent Joker (Zach Galifianakis). But as Batman says, "I like to fight around," and the screenplay credited to five writers arranges for one onslaught after another.
"The Lego Movie" benefited from its sweet-natured protagonist, Emmet, surrounded by a shrewdly judged degree of mayhem. "The Lego Batman Movie" offers more mayhem and less funny. It takes a cheerfully cynical buckshot approach to pop culture spoofing on the run, roping in Superman (Channing Tatum, voice), Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate), references to Batman's past (all the way back to the 1966 Adam West/Burt Ward feature, based on the TV series). Dozens of celeb voice cameos spice the action, from Conan O'Brien as The Riddler to Mariah Carey as the Gotham mayor. The value of teamwork; the importance of feelings; the peculiar, mesmerizing charm of Lego flames and fireballs, digitally animated: These are among the lessons imparted by "The Lego Batman Movie." I enjoyed it well enough.
MPAA rating: PG (for rude humor and some action).
Running time: 1:46