The LEGO Batman Movie (2017) – Movie Review
The LEGO Batman Movie
Directed by: Chris McKay
Written by: Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern & John Whittington
Starring: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes & Zach Galifianakis
Music: Lorne Balfe
Release Date: February 10th 2017
2014’s ‘The LEGO Movie‘ was easily the biggest surprise of that particular year. When Warner Bros. pulled the trigger on the production, very few expected much of it apart from a colourful feature-length toy commercial. While the end result certainly succeeded on that front, it was also an incredibly smart, witty and endearing film so much so that when it wasn’t nominated for “Best Animated Feature” at the Academy Awards it was a legitimate news story. The brain child of Phil Lord and Chris Miller proved that the duo weren’t a fluke after the “Jump Street” movies and that Warner Bros. had a potential franchise on their hands.
It also made sense for Warner Bros. Animation to make their first spin-off LEGO movie around Batman. Not only do WB own the entire DC Comics pantheon of characters but LEGO Batman, voiced by Will Arnett, was one of the breakout characters of the 2014 film. While Lord/Miller have stepped back and are acting as Producers on ‘The LEGO Batman Movie‘, we have Chris McKay in the directors chair; an “Adult Swim” veteran directing numerous episodes of “Robot Chicken” and “Moral Orel”. This “LEGO Movie” franchise was a risky bet to begin with, but with them expanding the franchise with Batman was it the right move to bet on black?
After LEGO Batman (voiced by Arnett) saves Gotham City from the Joker (Galifianakis), during which the Joker has his feelings hurt after Batman professes to him not being his “Greatest Enemy”, Batman returns to the Batcave alone to wallow in his own pity, watch movies and play rock music on his own. That all changes, when he accidentally adopts a young orphan named Dick Grayson (Cera) and his faithful butler Alfred (Fiennes) forces Batman to start being a part of a family again after the death of his parents. But in the midst of that, a hurt Joker enacts his most elaborate scheme yet which seeks to dismantle Gotham City brick-by-brick.
Strictly speaking, ‘The LEGO Batman Movie‘ is not a self-contained standalone brick-flick. While yes, you can watch this movie without any knowledge of ‘The LEGO Movie‘ (especially since LEGO Batman is the only major character from that movie to make an appearance here) it is still tied to the laws of that universe. Batman is a “Master Builder” and he frequently uses these powers, the world is entirely made out of bricks and any franchise that falls under the Warner Bros. umbrella is fair game for an appearance here. So anyone expecting JUST a Batman movie that happens to consist of LEGO pieces may be disappointed.
However, those elements are pretty minor in regards to the actual story as ‘The LEGO Batman Movie‘ still works as just a straightforward Batman narrative. In fact, despite some minor nitpicks here and there, this could be the best thing Batman has been in since 2008’s ‘The Dark Knight‘ and is one of the best incarnations of the character committed to film. Yes, it’s a bit more simplistic than what we’ve been offered by Christopher Nolan, or the video game creators over at RockSteady but it’s pure, distilled Batman right down to the self-seriousness of the lead, the thematic importance of the supporting cast and staying true to the character’s history. This may be LEGO Batman, but he still has his gadgets, vehicles, tragic backstory, a Justice League membership (kind of) and a rogue’s gallery consisting of Top-Tier villains like the Joker, Penguin and Bane and bottom-of-the-barrel villains like the Condiment King and Polka-Dot Man. While ‘The LEGO Batman‘ movie might not be the best movie to ever star Batman, it might be the best pure Batman movie…if that makes sense.
A lot of what makes it such a good Batman movie is that the creative team are not afraid to tear down the LEGO Dark Knight and deconstruct him (pun intended) through humour. This movie is absolutely a parody, but like the best parody out there it’s done by people who love and respect the source material and don’t consider themselves above it. As great as Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy is, it’s hard to ignore the feeling that Nolan considers himself far above the material and almost treats it with contempt. Here, McKay/Lord/Miller embrace Batman’s legacy wholeheartedly and argue that some of the “campier” elements of the character, players like Robin and Batgirl, the romantic undertones between Batman and the Joker etc. are not only important but might even be essential.
But the relentless examination doesn’t stop there as the film makes meta jokes at almost every opportunity. Even the opening logos elicit laughs as Will Arnett growls dialogue over the top of them, including the DC Comics logo;
“DC; the house that Batman built. Yeah what, Superman? Come at me bro. I’m your Kryptonite!”
The first proper line of dialogue in the film is a meta-joke at plot-devices, cliches are pointed out and subverted etc. The humour in ‘The LEGO Batman Movie‘ is non-stop, even more so than ‘The LEGO Movie‘ and this is best demonstrated in the film’s opening 10 minutes which throws the entire kitchen sink of Batman canon at the viewer including (but not limited to) a callback to one of Michael Keaton’s most iconic moments as Batman in the 1989 ‘Batman‘ movie, a cross-dressing Batman, Poison Ivy/Penguin “action” and a huge musical number that Batman wrote himself.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a more insane but awesome opening to a movie for the rest of 2017.
Almost every line of dialogue that isn’t direct plot exposition or character development feels like it has an element of humour to it, but ‘The LEGO Batman Movie‘ still has a heart as it’s ultimately a story about Batman/Bruce Wayne needing to stop being a moody teenager (Alfred even bought a book called “Setting Limits For Your Out-of-Control Child”) and open up emotionally to a new family. It’s on the nose as hell and the film sometimes stops dead in its tracks after an action set-piece to have an obligatory “emotional” moment which gives the film a start-stop pace, especially in the 2nd and 3rd act, but these moments still work really well to give the film more substance beyond “Batman is awesome”.
But a lot of that awesomeness comes from the brilliant voice cast fronted by Will Arnett as Batman. Honestly, if there was some sort of Voice-Acting Oscar, I would champion Arnett for this role because while he is playing an over-to-top parody of Batman, it’s still an incredibly textured portrayal. It’s the little things, like how Batman refers to his Computer as ‘Puter, his laughing outbursts at his super-secret Computer password (“AlfredDaButtler”), his hushed whispers to himself that he thinks are his inner-thoughts but everyone can actually hear and more. Arnett’s ability to get so much mileage out of what should be a one-note voice is off-the-scale brilliant.
The rest of the cast are great as well with Ralph Fiennes doing exactly what you’d expect him to do with Alfred, Michael Cera being adorable but still genuine as Dick/Robin, Zach Galifianakis being a significantly better Joker than anyone would reasonably expect and while Rosario Dawson does a good job as Barbara Gordon her character does feel a bit generic, even when compared to other stereotypical characters in the script. Special mention to Channing Tatum as Superman, Johah Hill as Green Lantern, Billy Dee Williams reprising his 1989 role as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, Doug Benson’s spot-on impression as Bane and Zoë Kravitz’s inspired Catwoman.
If there’s one big criticism to level at ‘The LEGO Batman Movie‘ it’s that it doesn’t quite stack up when compared to ‘The LEGO Movie‘. But then again, it’s not trying to aim for those lofty heights and doesn’t have anything to compare to that film’s ingenious twist, or clever way of defeating the film’s villain etc. It may seem unfair to compare the two, but they are set in the same Universe. However, ‘The LEGO Batman Movie‘ is still a success all on its own and it all comes back to the filmmaker’s love and affection for Batman as a character.
The film is also brilliantly animated with the familiar animation style from ‘The LEGO Movie‘ being applied here; i.e. the appearance of stop-motion with a lower frame-rate but actually being done through CGI. The action scenes are an improvement on the first movie (which were often incomprehensible), the sight-gags are plentiful, the characters are incredibly expressive with great visual designs and the camera-movements feel much more inventive and cinematic than its predecessor. Lorne Balfe’s score is great, the licensed music is well-chosen (for the most part) and while the credits song “Friends Are Family” isn’t as good as “Everything Is Awesome” it’ll still be in your children’s heads for days.
‘The LEGO Batman Movie‘ is a worthy continuation of the “LEGO Movie” franchise and a fantastic love-letter to the caped crusader that also tears down the overly-serious portrayals of him in recent years. It’s more emotional scenes are telegraphed a mile away and often bring the plot to a halt and the laugh-a-second pace of the humour might be a bit much for some audience members, but it still manages to work as both a fun animated film for families and also a legitimate Batman interpretation in its own right. As far as many kids are concerned, Will Arnett is THEIR Batman and what a Batman he is.
I give ‘The LEGO Batman Movie‘ 4 and a half stars out of 5.
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Posted: 11th Dec 17