★★★★

The LEGO Batman Movie is a dizzying, laugh-out-loud, crackerjack entertainment that delights in skewering the Dark Knight’s oh-so-serious image, as well as puncturing gleeful holes in the highfalutin personas of a plethora of other superheroes and villains. Will Arnett reprises his role as the Caped Crusader from 2014’s The LEGO Movie, giving a gravelly, pretentious vocal performance that perfectly mimics Christian Bale’s take on the character. The laughs begin right away as the picture opens on a black screen, with Batman informing us that this is how “all important movies start.” He then proceeds to make fun of the film’s many production-company logos. From there, it’s KAPOW! ZAP! and WOW! as the story assumes a frenzied pace that rarely slows down.

The Joker (a sensitive rather than sinister Zach Galifianakis) leads an army of villains—some famous (the Riddler, Two-Face), some not so much (the Condiment King, who squirts mustard and ketchup at his foes)—who are threatening to blow up Gotham City. Batman, of course, swoops in and saves the day in a thrilling, eye-popping action set piece. But what really upsets Joker isn’t defeat; rather, it’s Batman’s refusal to acknowledge that he is the Caped Crusader’s greatest enemy. “I like to fight around,” he tells the Joker, which quickly turns the Clown Prince of Crime’s smirky smile upside down. However, he isn’t the only one disappointed in Batman: New police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) is happy for his help, but she points out that he never actually captures the bad guys and that Gotham City remains the most crime-infested city in the world. “It takes a village,” she says, to police the metropolis—not just Batman. His response? “Batman works alone. That’s my motto. Copyright Batman.”

Alone also describes Batman’s life at Wayne Manor, where Bruce Wayne’s alter ego microwaves lobster thermidor, watches saccharine rom-coms, and stares at a picture of his late parents. His loyal butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes, refined and sensible) tells him, “You can’t spend the rest of your life alone, dressed in black, and staying up all night.” He also reminds the reclusive billionaire that he inadvertently adopted an orphan named Dick Grayson (a cheery Michael Cera), and needs to live up to his responsibilities as a new father. Bruce/Batman is resistant, but when Alfred lets the wide-eyed future Boy Wonder into the Batcave, he has no alternative but to take on the youngster as his crime-fighting companion. And it’s a good thing he does, because he soon learns that he needs all the help he can get to defeat the Joker’s nefarious plot to prove that he is indeed Batman’s most hated adversary.

For anyone (including this reviewer) who thought that Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy was a joyless, self-important mess (and don’t even get started on Ben Affleck’s humorless Batman v Superman flick), The LEGO Batman Movie is a refreshing reminder that superhero films used to—and still should—be fun. Kids and adults alike will relish the nonstop, goofy playfulness splattered onscreen, while there are so many loony, rapid-fire gags that it will take at least a couple of viewings to catch them all. Give credit to director Chris McKay (Robot Chicken) and his tag-team crew of screenwriters for taking a tired genre and injecting it with absolute giddy delight.

When Robin takes his first ride in the Batmobile, he asks where the seatbelts are. Batman replies: “Life doesn’t give you seatbelts!” And neither do theaters, but viewers are still advised to buckle up, because you just might fall out of your seat laughing at this riotous, loopy, high-speed roller-coaster ride of a movie.