No matter where you go or what you do, there’s seemingly no escaping politics these days — even during something as innocuous as “The Lego Batman Movie.”
Because right there on the screen, amid the hilarious roasting of everything you’ve ever loved or loathed about the Dark Knight, is the executive-producing credit for Steven Mnuchin — as in Treasury Secretary nominee Steven Mnuchin.
It’s not as though Mnuchin helped raid the DC vaults for Z-list villains like Condiment King for the Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) to abuse or crafted a single line of the comedy’s crackling dialogue. During a movie’s production, executive producer titles are handed out like half-caff double-caramel macchiatos. But his presence is just enough of a reminder of what’s going on in the real world to temporarily take politically astute adults out of what is otherwise a delightfully distracting romp.
“Lego Batman” finds the aloof Caped Crusader (Will Arnett) — the breakout star of 2014’s “The Lego Movie” was a PG-rated Deadpool before “Deadpool” hit the big screen — at the height of his popularity. After thwarting yet another crime, he takes a few seconds to swing by an orphanage to shoot Batman merchandise out of a cannon at the adoring youngsters, including an awestruck Dick Grayson (Michael Cera). “Remember, kids, if you wanna be like Batman,” he growls, “take care of your abs.”
But times are changing in Gotham. Commissioner Jim Gordon (Hector Elizondo) has retired, and his daughter Barbara (Rosario Dawson) has replaced him. Her first order of business is to have her department work with Batman and hold him accountable.
Then there’s the codependent Joker, who keeps insisting he’s Batman’s greatest enemy. Batman, meanwhile, swears he feels nothing for the clown prince of crime. “I like to fight around,” he tells a teary Joker. “There is no us.”
To prove his point, a heartbroken Joker surrenders himself and his gang to Arkham Asylum so there will be no one left for Batman to fight, forcing the hero to confront his loneliness — and deal with Grayson, whom he inadvertently adopted during a charity gala.
Directed by Chris McKay, the animation director on “The Lego Movie,” from a script by no fewer than five writers — Seth Grahame-Smith (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”), the team of Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (“Spider-Man: Homecoming”), Jared Stern (TV’s “Dr. Ken”) and John Whittington — “Lego Batman” is crammed full of so many gags, both verbal and visual, you can’t possibly catch them all in one viewing.
It’s also one of the precious few Batman projects that doesn’t show Thomas and Martha Wayne being gunned down in the dark, crime-ridden alley they had no business walking through in the first place. But their deaths still hang over something as silly and sublime as “Lego Batman.”
While he’s never far from his loyal butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), Batman — he’s rarely ever Bruce Wayne — is desperately lonely in private, thanks to his crippling fear of forming another relationship. “Batman works alone,” he says. “That’s my motto. Copyright, Batman.”
The hijinks drag a bit while he learns to trust others and be a part of a team, but it’s nothing compared to the sappy, real-world Will Ferrell ending of “The Lego Movie.”
For most of its 104-minute run time, the movie is a celebration of all things ridiculous about Batman — with a few cracks about his latest big-screen appearances thrown in.
While Joker tries to convince him that they’re mortal enemies, Batman protests that his greatest enemy is Superman, even though it makes no sense because they’re both superheroes. (Zing!) And, later, when Joker hatches a bold plot to destroy Gotham forever, Batman is forced, once and for all, to seek help. “What am I gonna do,” he wonders, “get a bunch of criminals to fight these criminals?” (Pow!)
Speaking of exclamations, during a fight scene, Batman gives his protege Robin a word of warning. “We’re going to punch these guys so hard, words describing their impact will simultaneously appear in midair.”
With that in mind, the giddy “Lego Batman” is far closer to a Kaboom! than a Kerplunk!