The Lego Batman Movie and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures
Directed by Chris McKay
Let’s see… you take something awesome like The LEGO Movie, and you add more Will Arnett. How could this POSSIBLY fail!? I mean granted, adding Will Arnett to ANYTHING is an automatic improvement (unless it’s Bojack Horseman), but considering what we’ve gotten from the DC canon since Nolan’s second movie, how could we NOT be excited when one of those movies isn’t fraught with astounding mismanagement and crushing solemnity!? Does this offshoot of The LEGO movie prove to be a success while laying the groundwork for other LEGO based offshoots, or has Warner Bros utter mismanagement of the DC licenses somehow managed to spread to this colorful and vibrant take on the characters? Let’s find out!!
The movie is about Batman being Batman and everyone getting really sick about it, and I can certainly relate to that. More specifically, Batman (Will Arnett) has just locked away a whole bunch of villains for what has to be the millionth time, but something’s a little bit different. While The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) managed to escape like he usually does, Batman managed to hurt his feelings by claiming he’s NOT his arch-enemy, so now he’s got a NEW axe to grind with the caped crusader. On top of that, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) has just become the new commissioner and is somewhat skeptical about letting some sociopath with silly ears and a cape beating up poor people and other weirdos in the streets of Gotham which makes SENSE but isn’t all that comforting to Batman who’s already having enough trouble finding things to do in what little spare time he has NOW; let alone how much he’d have if the police department started doing their jobs right under Barbara’s new rule. To cap things off, he JUST SO HAPPENS to adopt a young boy named Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) which you’d THINK would require just a LITTLE bit of paperwork, but I guess the Orphanage could use the extra bed; especially considering how many kids they have to take in considering how many supervillains are blowing shit up around the city. ANYWAY! Batman, who’s been avoiding his feelings all this time by punching baddies in the face now has to deal with that one thing we all fear… CHANGE! Will he be able to keep his cool now that the status quo has been upended? Just what does The Joker have planned now that he’s even MORE pissed at Batman than usual? Is it too soon to reboot the DC films and just make them all based on toys?
Pack it up, DCCU (or DCEU, or whatever the hell it’s called). You’re done! The toys just kicked your ass! These mother fuckers had THREE chances to get it right, and while I wouldn’t say any of them (even the be loathed Batman v Superman) are without merit, the fact that an animated LEGO movie just blew them out of the water in one fell swoop doesn’t bode well for the whatever the hell else they have planned; especially when this one so effortless dismantles everything misguided and boneheaded about Warner Bros creative vision for the DC Cinematic Universe. On the one hand, it’s kind of brave of them to let something like this be made considering how much worse it can make the other DC movies look. Movies that I will remind you Warner Bros has staked their entire future as a movie studio on. Then again, mining the LEGO franchise for all its worth might just be the kind of counterbalance Warner Bros needs now that it’s getting harder and harder for them to keep a handle on ANYTHING that’s happening with their Marvel Lite venture. All of this is secondary however to the big question as to whether this movie is any good, and the answer is OBVIOUSLY yes! Look, we may not have Phil Lord and Chris Miller on hand which definitely shows in this movie (at least just a TINY bit), but this ground up deconstruction of everything that fans hold dear and sacred about the character is perfect for anyone who’s gotten tired of the last decade or so of the character’s dominance in popular culture and how he’s been portrayed in that time. Sure, it worked that one time for Christopher Nolan (I’m really not a fan of Batman Begins) and I did like that anime DVD they released, but this is clearly the breath of fresh air we needed to drag Batman out of the Bat-hole that DC dug him in and the filmmakers manage to make a fun and entertaining film on top of that.
We’re gonna try and look at the main reasons why this movie works, but first we need to point out the one big flaw this movie has that is consistently evident throughout all aspects of the movie. This film has a problem with excess and really could have used another editing pass that took everything down a notch. We’ll start with the humor which is probably the film’s greatest strength. There are SO many jokes in here that it’s mind boggling and a majority of them land which is something you don’t always get from a lot of other comedies; even the ones that are actually considered GOOD. When the movie ISN’T nailing the humor though, it’s usually because they won’t stop beating a dead horse or because we couldn’t comprehend the damn thing before the film moves along to whatever they have lined up next. The movie is irreverent so that kind of THROW EVERYTHING AGAINST A WALL AND SEE WHAT STICKS approach is appropriate, but the movie also tries to have a message and make salient points about Batman as an icon and how he’s changed in recent years which begs for a slightly more toned down approach for that to really get across.
Still, if the jokes end up not working for you (which they SHOULD because most of them are hilarious), the other great thing about these LEGO movies is the animation which is top notch here… but a bit of a problem as well. There’s just way too much going on in most scenes to fully grasp what the hell is going on which I guess encourages repeat viewings, but it also makes the action devolve into white noise several times which undercuts any real sense of threat that many of these scenes are supposed to evoke. Now when you ARE able to see everything that’s going on and it flows together in a cohesive manner, it’s freaking SPECTACULAR! Hell, I’ll go ahead and call it right now that none of the other DCCU movies we’ll be getting in the next few years are going to be as exciting to watch or as intricately designed as what we get in this goofy movie about plastic toys, even during the brief times where it’s too damned cluttered. Not only that, the LEGO aesthetic that is carried over from the last film is still just as vibrant and mesmerizing in how it finds that sweet spot between stop motion animation and the modern day animated film aesthetic; making it one of the most visually stunning films we’ve gotten in some time. Hell, I’d even put up against the likes of Moana and Zootopia as far as how the movie looks, though there was clearly a difference in priority as far as the aesthetic. Those movies went more for towards perfecting the design and artistry involved so that every frame looks like a carefully crafted painting, while this movie (as well as the last LEGO movie and I’ll even throw in the Hotel Transylvania movies) is more about intricacy in animation and execution. You may not be able to wring out the same emotional depths from the characters’ faces in this movie as you would in a Pixar film, but the sheer number of moving parts that populate every single scene is a marvel into itself, even if that ambition did get ahead of itself and it simply had too much going on at some points.
Now the story and characters that all these great jokes and visuals are built upon is PROBABLY the weakest link in the movie; not just because of the aforementioned excess problem (the third act is unbearably long), but… well it’s just not all that deep of a story. It’s basically just a simple framework for lampshade hanging, bat-jokes, and awesome visuals, but the emotional beats ring much hollower than they’re intended to, and the characters don’t have much going on beyond their one joke premise. Dick Grayson in particular always feels like he’s playing everything up for laughs; and while a decent amount of his material is funny, he probably has the least engaging part. There is one huge surprise however which turned out to be Zach Galifianakis as The Joker who is surprisingly great in the role. Granted, The Joker has been good to plenty of actors in the past, but Zach really manages to imbue a sense of pathos and depth to the character that he’s always had trouble bringing to a lot of his mainstream films like The Hangover, Masterminds, and Keeping Up with the Joneses. Also, his chemistry with Harley Quinn (played by Jenny Slate) is fantastic in the few scenes they get together and I wish there was more of that. Is it too late to get them into Suicide Squad 2? Hell, let’s just get everyone from this movie into the DCCU! I’m sure Ben Affleck would be happy with that!
Ultimately, the story fails to really live up to what was accomplished in The LEGO Movie, and I think a lot of that is the absence of Phil Lord and Chris Miller who are simply producers on this. The other movie was paced better, the central message of the movie hit SO much better than the one they were going for here, and despite taking place across many worlds, that movie managed to feel a bit more cohesive than this one that pretty much just takes place in one city. Now to be clear, I am comparing this movie to one of the best animated films in a decade, so this one coming up SOMEWHAT short is still an accomplishment to be proud of. If they had pulled back in certain areas by making some of the action less chaotic, some of the characters less off the wall and one dimensional, and streamlined that third act so that it doesn’t go on for far too long, it could have been the equal of the first one. Instead, it wanted to have it all and the end result is a much denser yet less fulfilling experience.
Whatever minor issues I have with this movie in terms of its structure and pacing pale in comparison to everything that it manages to get right, and it’s just so damn satisfying to see Warner Bros ACTUALLY make something compelling with Batman who just hasn’t been the same since The Dark Knight where Nolan managed to get the formula right as far as the dark and brooding incarnation of the character. Like Frank Miller before him however, this ended up with a whole bunch of lousy imitators (including Nolan’s own Dark Knight Rises) and a rather obnoxious fan base who seems to latch on to the superficial trappings rather than the heart of the character. This one, while a bit too irreverent to truly get to the core of Batman, manages to get closer than Zach Snyder or even Bruce Timm have in recent years while still making a damn entertainment movie for audiences of all ages. Isn’t it amazing that it’s been so long since a movie about a SUPERHERO managed to feel like something that kids could enjoy? DC and Warner Bros need to learn from this and hopefully can straighten out their cinematic universe before the whole enterprise collapses under its own gargantuan weight. Until then though, go out and see this movie and just be happy that for one brief shining moment, they got it right.
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