Saturday, March 18, 2017

New Release! The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

Director: Chris McKay

Another fun LEGO movie, in keeping with 2014's original, if not as visionary or rich in social commentary.

Back in 2014, we were all treated to The LEGO Movie - which was a hyper-active but hilariously transgressive piece of family cinema. In that movie, one of the most memorable supporting characters was none other than Batman himself, voiced by Will Arnett. So popular was the character, the writers' take on him, and Arnett's voice acting skills, that they went to work on a "solo" movie. In its simplest form, it has Batman squaring off against his nemesis The Joker, as the evil clown enlists other-dimensional villains to destroy Gotham City.

In The LEGO Batman Movie, we get a much closer look, through the frantic lens of LEGO worlds, at the entire Batman mythos. It's a character and world which has been constructed, deconstructed, and reconstructed countless times since the character's creation back in 1939. In all that time, Batman has been portrayed, alternately, as a grim and tortured vigilante, a goofy slapstick do-gooder, and virtually everything in between. The LEGO movie essentially starts with the brooding, self-involved version of Bruce Wayne/Batman and throws every silly, weird, and oddball element that the numerous and varied comic books, TV shows, and film adaptations have offered fans over the decades. The sheer amount of references and Easter eggs scattered through the movie will be worth the price of admission for people who have ever been a fan of "The Caped Crusader" in any of his many iterations.

Like the original LEGO film, this one goes full gonzo with its approach to world building and maintenance. Fans of comic books, especially the superhero variety, are fanatics for continuity (I'm speaking from experience here). It can be a dicey proposition to take one of the single most popular comic book characters and throw him into the middle of a zany, silly take on everything that has made the character what he is. But this movie does pull it off. Being an animated LEGO film certainly helps, as it drives home the point that this is the stuff of purely goofy fantasy. Sure, there's an attempt at a "life lesson" about letting other people into your life in order to make it more fulfilling, but it's a flimsy dramatic point, at best. It's even weakened a bit by dwelling on the co-dependent relationship between Batman and The Joker, making any meaningful lesson sillier through this lampooning.

Insisting on wearing his cowl, even when lounging at his
mansion, Batman is presented in a hilariously self-absorbed
and out-of-touch way.
Like the visuals, the gags come extremely quickly and with maximum fury. It really is a "joke every ten seconds" approach for nearly the entire film, with a handful of slower-burn visual gags thrown into the mix here and there. And like every rapid-fire gag movie, not all of them hit with the same force. In truth, it can be a tad wearying by the final 10 or 15 minutes, but it's still funny enough, consistently enough.

So it is now clear that the ultra-successful LEGO company has blown open another door for their products. They had long been a dominant force in the toy market, and in recent years had become major players in the video game and cartoon fields. These two recent movies have been hits, and a third one is on the way - LEGO Ninjago. Truthfully, as much as I enjoyed the first movie and was even entertained by this Batman chapter, I think my interest in this series has run its course. They are certainly fun, quick, and more clever than you might expect, but I can already see a watering down happening. The "anything goes" zaniness is fun for a movie or two, but it is already starting to overwhelm any chance the films have of creating an "all-audience" story of the depth of the very best animated movies such as the recent Kubo and the Two Strings or Inside Out