LEGO Batman Movie, TheReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 02/11/17 02:06:12
Almost exactly three years ago to the time I am writing these words, I found myself settling down in my seat for the press screening of “The LEGO Movie” with more than the usual amount of trepidation. After all, what kind of movie could possibly inspired by a bunch of small plastic bricks that I could never quite get a handle on when I was a barefoot boy with cheek of tan? When the screening was over, I was more than a bit surprised to discover that the film was actually shockingly good—bright, colorful, very funny (it came close to resembling the classic ‘Gremlins 2: The New Batch” in the way that it goofed on any and all aspects of popular culture including its own existence), possessing one of the most insanely catchy theme songs in recent memory and with surprisingly smart and thoughtful things to say about the importance of creativity in a world where too many people are content to simply follow arbitrary rules because it is just easier that way. Because it was such a huge hit—one of the few blockbusters of our time to deserve such a financial bonanza—it was inevitable that a slew of sequels and spinoffs would eventually follow.The first has arrived in the form of “The LEGO Batman Movie,” a spinoff that takes one of the funniest side characters of the first film—a supremely egotistical take on the legendary DC superhero voiced by Will Arnett in a hilarious riff on the clenched-jaw intonations utilized by Christian Bale—and puts him in his own adventure. Oddly enough, I once again felt a certain degree of trepidation as I sat down, this time due to the expectations brought about by the first one—was there any way that it could live up to its predecessor or would this be another case of lightning failing to strike the same place twice. Once again, I emerged from the screening knocked out by how good it was. Like its predecessor, it is smart and funny in ways that viewers of all ages will appreciate. More surprisingly, amidst all the flash and fun, it actually manages to take the Batman character and examine what makes him tick in a surprisingly deft and intelligent manner. The end result is not just the most entertaining and ambitious animated film since “Kubo and the Two Strings” but one of the best Batman movies to date as well.
As is the case with most superhero movies, “The LEGO Batman Movie” opens with a slam-bang action sequence in which seemingly every villain in the Batman universe—led, of course, by Joker (Zack Gall)—has come together to lay siege to Gotham City, only to have their plans thwarted by Batman before they eventually get away. After taking a victory lap, Batman heads back to stately Wayne Manor, populated only by him and faithful manservant Alfred (Ralph Fiennes), for what appears to be a typical night for him—microwaving leftovers, watching “Jerry Maguire” and brooding about his tragic past, all in complete solitude. It quickly becomes clear that he is so messed up by the loss of his parents when he was a kid that he has decided to double down on his lone wolf attitude by refusing to acknowledge that there is anyone out there who is important to him. This news, by the way, breaks the heart of Joker, who just assumed that, after all their past battles and such, that a certain bond had grown between them as a result. Nope, when asked who his greatest enemy is, Batman replies “Superman.” This so frustrates Joker that, in revenge, he turns himself and his colleagues in so that Batman has no one else to fight.
Frustrated over having nothing to do, circumstances are about to conspire to force Batman to connect with others at long last, no matter how unwilling he may be to do so. First, there is the arrival of Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), who has arrived in Gotham, after graduating at the top of her class at Harvard for Police, to become the city’s new police commissioner and institute a plan for policing that is focused more on outreach and accountability and less on simply turning on the Batsignal—Batman is torn because while he is outraged by her unwillingness to let him run wild, he keeps hearing “I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight” whenever he sees her. Then there is Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), the insanely exuberant young orphan that he, as Bruce Wayne, accidentally adopts (don’t ask), a move that is bad enough for Bruce on the surface but becomes even worse when the kid, thanks to Alfred, discovers his alter ego and insists on becoming his sidekick. When Joker, with the unwitting help of Batman himself, manages to get out of jail and recruit an army of the greatest villains of all time (none of whom I will reveal here) in order to destroy Gotham City once and for all—mostly as a way of getting Batman’s attention again—Batman is forced to abandon his solo stance and accept the help of Dick and Barbara—now dubbed Robin and Batgirl—and others in order to save the day.
With his lack of superpowers and his grim backstory, Batman has always been one of the darker superheroes of note and when people have attempted to lighten the mood, the results have usually landed somewhere between the silly (the ultra-campy “Batman” series of the Sixties) and the downright idiotic (the disastrous attempts by Warner Brother and Joel Schumacher to make things more kid-friendly after the exceptionally bleak “Batman Returns”). This time around, goofiness is the chief attitude on display and the film does a wonderful job of goofing on pretty much all the various iterations of the franchise while at the same time paying affectionate tribute to them. The in-jokes and references come so fast and furious that not only are multiple viewings pretty much required in order to catch most of them, one might have to wait and go through the Blu-ray frame by frame in order to get them all. However, even those who aren’t deep-cut scholars of all things Batman will find plenty to laugh at here, ranging from Batman’s ultra-serious narration of the opening credits, right down to the production company logos, to the inspired cast of celebrity voices employed to fill out the supporting cast (you definitely want to stay through the end credits in order to discover just how many people turned up to appear) to a wild finale in which decades of pop culture symbols—not just superhero-related—collide with each other with the exuberance of a bunch of kids joyously at play. Hell, there is a scene involving Batman microwaving some lobster Thermidor that all by itself provides more genuine entertainment than “Batman vs. Superman” and “Suicide Squad” combined. (Both of those disasters inspire very funny jokes here as well.)
As funny as all of this is—and this is one of those films that is so jam-packed with jokes that even if one bombs, the next one comes up so quickly that you will hardly even notice—what helps make “The LEGO Batman Movie” work as more than just a cinematic jokebook is that it not only dares to include a sincere and serious-minded dramatic arc about Batman’s difficulties with forming and sustaining relationships but pulls it off far more successfully than one might reasonably expect from a film of this sort. The early scenes involving Batman’s obsession with his own awesomeness are hilarious but at the same time, his attempts to overcompensate for the loneliness at the center of his seemingly perfect existence is touching and all too real. Likewise, the circumstances that force him to join forces with both Robin and Barbara are also funny but the path leading from lone wolf to team player is weirdly convincing as well. Now I don’t want to oversell this aspect of the film too much—indeed, the big speech at the end about the importance of family and friends is the one moment when the screenplay flirts with clunkiness—but it is amusing to note that even though the version of Batman on display here is the most overtly artificial in terms of physical presentation, it is also perhaps the most overtly humane one from an emotional perspective.While it may lack the out-of-nowhere surprise factor of the first film, “The LEGO Batman Movie” is a more-than-worthy extension of both the LEGO and Batman screen franchises. It has enough big laughs to adequately supply three or four normal films and contains enough emotional resonance to allow it to stick in the mind after the punchlines have faded from memory. Everything clicks in such a compulsively entertaining manner that even if you don’t have kids, you will still want to carve out a couple of hours to see it, lest you run the risk of missing the first great American film of 2017, one good enough to almost restore one’s faith in the power of cinematic corporate synergy.
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