A follow-up to 2014’s excellent The Lego Movie, Batman gets his shot at the Lego reigns in the subtly titled The Lego Batman Movie. Lee, Darren and Lawrence review.
Lego and Batman seem a match made in heaven. The most enduringly (ironically) pliable toy meets perhaps the most enduringly popular action star of our continuing times, a character with cinematic portrayals rapidly gaining on his action peer Mr. Bond with cooler rogues and toy potential to boot (it does help that he lends himself better to animation than JB, admittedly); the choice seems easy from a marketing standpoint. And while typically a dour and brooding character, the occasional pastiche portrayal keeps the mass-public from ever truly dismissing the Caped Crusader; it’s no accident Batman of all characters was picked for a supporting role in 2014’s The Lego Movie – the versatility of tones and representations the character has managed to endure shows the public refuses to give up on him, relegating his DC peers, as well as notable heavy-hitters like Gandalf, Harry Potter and the cast of Star Wars, comfortably in the background as bit-parts and jokes.
So when it came time to think of the follow-up to The Lego Movie, the conclusion seemed evident. The Lego Batman Movie even makes the right first step: make Batman the bad guy. He’s not a compelling hero played straight, usually defined more by his contrast to the villain of the week than his inherent arcs as a tragic saviour, and by exaggerating his faults to staggering ignorance and cruelty the potential for comedy and retribution essentially writes itself. Toss in a sympathetic supporting cast, a snappy pace and clean-intentions with a ‘family is what you make it’ moral and you have yourself a perfectly enjoyable kids’ movie for a rainy day.
However, while the humour is convincing enough and the scale of the adventure daunting and a fun feat in and of itself, there’s little more to write home about. Good intentions are always appreciated, but even kids don’t need a moral hammered home as hard as The Lego Batman Movie feels compelled to. Working together and realising when our good intentions actively hurt others are fine messages, but that’s all there is, and to keep harping on about them for nearly two hours feels excessively lazy.
The self-aware, referential tone borrowed from the original Lego Movie does much to mitigate the staleness of the story, but swapping out a montage of pop culture in-jokes for an entire movie of Batman in-jokes does little to benefit either fan or viewer. The attack looks up to something like Deadpool, but with so much more to lose, and so keeps it restrained, only willingly mocking its own lead who has been the butt of so many jokes at this point his only actual superpower is imperviousness to shame.
Nothing is outwardly offensive, but the wholesome highs never reach the level of sincerity required to take them seriously, and there are so many frequent pauses of nothing interesting happening that the occasional outburst of hysterics do little to wave off the fact you’ve been borderline bored for the last fifteen minutes. In a film this perky and upbeat, there’s much to be said for brevity, and The Lego Batman Movie is surprisingly anything but brief.
The most damning crime doesn’t relate to the actual movie in and of itself so much as the context surrounding it, but you can’t lean on pop culture and social awareness without opening yourself up to criticism of your abuse of it: it simply doesn’t warrant the use of Lego. The Lego Movie avoided outright denouncement as a feature-length advertisement by both creating a heart-warming story out of a simple principal that just happens to be a hugely popular children’s toy, and by having a narrative that was both informed and crafted around that toy’s very particular traits and characteristics. The Lego Batman Movie has a few off-hand references to Master BuildersTM and the swirling vortex that forms the central emotional dynamic of the predecessor, but nothing in the way of justifying the entire movie being rendering in Legos rather than more traditional animation other than it’s probably cheaper to render in-engine and oh my god kids look at all the new toys and characters you can collect and create this Christmas! Without Lego, perhaps the spectacle wouldn’t be so amusing, but the joke does wear off this time around, and the back-up Batman material isn’t strong enough to keep the laughs coming.
Fans will get it, kids will enjoy it, parents won’t hate it and it’s got enough fun in there to keep all outliers watching, but The Lego Batman Movie drops enough balls to contest a rewatch, and never truly justifies its existence. But that’s irreverence.
To see Batman pastiche done right, with warmth and love and essentially the same plot, check out last year’s Return of the Caped Crusaders, kids.
I know more than I want to admit about both Batman and the world he inhabits. I can name all the canonical Robins, who was it that gave Batman the famous giant Penny in his cave or name each actress who has played Harley Quinn, both live action and animated. Despite this rather sad need of mine to know as much as possible about a subject, I’m not a big Batman fan. Always more of a Green Arrow fan. You don’t get to judge me.
Lego Batman follows on an indeterminable time after the events of The Lego Movie. Batman is once again saving Gotham City from his dastardly rogues and their nefarious schemes to bring the city to ruin. But after stopping Joker’s new plot, Batman must go home alone, to his empty cave and even emptier life. Can the Dark Knight let anyone in?
Batman has always been the most boring aspect of any Batman story.
I’m sorry but it’s true. He is a totally ridiculous and predictable character, with more asinine character traits than any teenagers fanfic OC. The worst part is how bland he is. When you are the most powerful thing in the room, everything just becomes a chore. Look at the downfall of Superman’s popularity if you don’t believe me.
Couple this with a simple terrifying idea: Superman does not represent America anymore; Batman does.
Let that sink in. The big Blue Wonder is no longer America’s favourite son. Instead, it’s the emo teen who whines incessantly and watches the Crow on repeat.
With this in mind, I’m hoping Batman will have something of a renaissance, with Lego Batman leading the charge. Make Batman silly again.
This is a terrifically fun movie, with so many throwbacks and references for fans to enjoy. Everything from Bat-Shark Repellent to Bane speaking in an awful Tom Hardy impersonation; this was clearly made by people who love the source material. In the first ten minutes alone there are so many little nods to all aspects of the mythos that even the most pernickety of fans cannot fault. Yet the best part of that is that they’re fans, not fanatics. They don’t try to pretend that Batman is more than what he is, a goofy ridiculous teenager with access to large amounts of money and weaponry. And it’s fun. They have fun with it.
Will Arnett plays him as we have come to expect from The Lego Movie and is hamming it up magnificently. Hearing him talk about his nine abs or how much he loves lobster thermador is the kind of thing Batman needs right now. This is hardly the movie that shows off anybody’s acting ability but the cast feel comfortable in their roles. Cera has this truly wonderful childlike quality and exuberance that I didn’t know I needed. Dawson and Fiennes both give solid performances and Galifianakas is surprisingly toned down in this. An odd choice for the Clown Prince of Crime but works for what they’re going for.
And what are they going for?
Simply put; Friends and family.
To not wallow in a state of despair, or shut yourself off from the outside world. To let people in and just enjoy life.
This kind of thing permeates through the entire script, from having all gunshots be tiny pew-pew noises or actual touching moments between Batman and Robin. When it has these little scenes that somehow feel more intimate than the film’s predecessor, it truly shines. You want things to work out, you want Batman to learn to love platonically, you want him to actually grow and mature as a person. Something comic heroes are rarely allowed to do.
In terms of relationships, both with family and friends, this nails it. Even the Joker Batman dynamic is given a much-needed admission. It’s not exactly a fresh take but it is definitely more open and just what was needed. I can imagine many fans may be a little peeved by it, but honestly, it was always obvious.
If I had to nitpick I have two little complaints. First that in many ways this is just an expansion of the (in)famous fan made musical, Holy Musical B@man. And secondly, I’d say some of the pacing is off, the start has a rush of jokes and moments that go a little too quickly while the last third of the movie drags a little as it realises that it needs to add more to make the pay-off worth it.
But it is worth it, I have to stress that.
If you care about Superheroes or any of that, Batman is more than worth your time. It doesn’t quite match the heights made by The Lego Movie but it is a fun family movie that everyone will enjoy.
[Lee and Darren’s reviews were originally published on 11/02/2017]
When The Lego Movie came out in 2014, it was a shot of pure, childlike joy injected straight into the veins (with some E-numbers mixed in for flavour). What at first glance seemed to be another pandering vehicle to sell toys to children was in fact a crazy diamond that had absolutely no right being as good as it was. Another one seemed inevitable, and we gladly received the news when The Lego Batman Movie was announced, but now that we’ve adjusted our expectations accordingly high, does it still deliver?
Haven’t you heard? Always bet on black.
The original directorial-screenwriting tag team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller may only be producers on this one, but their influence is readily apparent. The same inexhaustible energy, the same biting-the-hand-but-in-a-good-natured-way humour, and that that undeniable sense of fun is all present and accounted for. In this world of companies jealously grasping their various intellectual properties, the sheer amount of cross-franchise mayhem seems almost impossible, and watching this film almost feels like getting away with something; like the creators broke into the great Copyright Zoo and released everything they could get their hands on.
It lacks the astonishing swerve into metanarrative that elevated its predecessor into A+ status, but it manages to maintain an emotional connection throughout all of the silliness, albeit barely. We are spared from yet another portrayal of Thomas and Martha Wayne’s death, and that’s just as well; it seems to be the only aspect of Batman the film is prepared to treat with some seriousness, and I really don’t think it would be possible to show it without the absurdity of the whole thing being simply too much. Even when being stupidly funny, all of Batman’s antics still betray the underlying insecurities of the character. Through all the chaos, there is still a faithful portrayal in there.
Fans will be overjoyed by the sheer amount of referential material to comb over, some of it far subtler than others; it’s a veritable Where’s Wally of a film. I can only imagine kids vomiting their powerful enzyme mixtures all over this movie and just sucking up the resulting nutrient paste like a fine Ribena (kids do that, right?). Really, so long as you’ve got the energy to keep up, this film will reward you over and over, regardless of your age or means of digestion.
There’s always something to be said for a movie where you can just see the screenwriters cackling madly to themselves as they write this stuff down; and let’s be honest, has the Adam West scene transition gag ever been not funny? Really, it’s excellent and you should go see it. If you’re afraid to be seen going to a children’s animated movie about Lego, then kidnap a child to see it with you. The kid won’t mind, they get to see Lego Batman; what more could they want?
(Please, please do not do that. – Ed.)
(Note to Editor: Uh-oh, this one’s a gush-a-thon! My usually unrelenting discipline slipped and I briefly confused human children with hideous bluebottle cronenbergs but I honestly don’t think anyone will notice.)