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Review – Lego Batman

It looks like the Warner Bros/Lego tag-team might have a far grander future ahead of them than expected. It might also be the salvation of DC on the big screen, if a somewhat comical take.

Lego Batman was something of a breakout star in the original Lego Movie (2014), perhaps based on Will Arnett‘s performance, more likely the epic song he wrote. LB is a perfect and childish parody of the comic-book Dark Knight, blending in the campy Caped Crusader, we saw him initially to be an overblown stereotype of dark and brooding, playing off every move he makes as super-cool and totally intentional, and to my mind the writers used the members of the Justice League perfectly. Green Lantern’s powers are pointless in a world where anyone can create anything, and the innate magic of imagination basically renders Superman useless, Wonder Woman is probably fine, but the ingenuity and creativity of Batman makes him the perfect Master Builder, although one with a limited colour palette.

So is it any wonder that such a memorable character… or version of a character should get his own feature-length film? And for a kids film it’s surprisingly complex and layered with references that will likely just fly over little heads.

Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Batman

We skip over the back story, probably because children should not be overly subjected to the image of parent-murder but at this point we’ve seen that story told in three major productions since 2005. The most we get is Batman looking sadly at a picture he took of his parents outside a theatre, a sign for “Crime Alley” just visible in the background just to pile onto the impossible volume of references this film shovels in.

I’d mark this paragraph as spoilers but this is a kids film, if you can’t plot out the whole story from the first fifteen minutes then you need to watch more films, read more books, or something. Batman comes to accept that he does not have to be alone and he’s actually better off working with other people. The attitude he’s put up makes LB more of a Billy-No-Mates than the lone wolf of the original Batman. With the help of long-suffering butler Alfred (Ralph Feinnes); orphan, superfan, and unintentionally adopted son Dick Grayson (Michael Cera); and newly promoted Commissioner Gordon, Barbara (Rosario Dawson), LB realises he has a whole Bat-Family just within his reach.

The character is elegantly expanded upon, using both the source material and the parody version from the 2014 film, becoming a character in its own right, a focal point that brings to life the unique Lego version of Gotham. The city is perfect, actually similar to the Joel Schumacher but in this case the cheesy and overly-colourful look actually works, complete with the towering statues, iconic landmarks like the Iceberg Lounge.

Another Joker

You wouldn’t normally cast Zach Galifianakis in the role of the Dark Knight’s chaotic counterpart, but when cast in the role of a plastic facsimile (thus removing the need to shave) he plays a pleasant balance of the maniacal mastermind of the comics, and the weirdly clingy villain desperate for Lego Batman’s attention and hatred, wanting to be his greatest enemy, even just hearing those three little words “I hate you.” He and his plans pile onto the whole relationship dramas experienced by LB.

With him comes a catalogue of villains that puts Spider-Man 3 to shame, and can only be introduced by rapid-fire naming and features some really obscure names from the DC rogues gallery like Calendar Man, Zodiac Master, Doctor Phosphorous and The Calculator, all of whom are real, I checked (as per Lego Joker’s suggestion, well done guys) and many of whom have noteworthy appearances elsewhere, like Calendar Man in a cell in the Arkham Asylum game, and Calculator appearing in Arrow. They’re all delivered and fly across the screen at a breakneck pace so that you can’t appreciate them for long bar a few of the bigger names like the unapologetic Bane impression ripped straight out of the Dark Knight Rises.

Oh but there are plenty of other villains that Lego have to play with. Not to give too much away but we get a whole collection of villains from a host of other properties including King Kong and Flying Monkeys. Here’s a question regarding Lego Voldemort – actually make that two:

  1. Ralph Feinnes played Voldemort impecably in the Harry Potter films, so much so that no other visual representation seems adequate by comparison. He plays Alfred Pennyworth in the film, but a lot of actors are serving double-duty, why not him? Is it a legal issue? C’mon, this can’t have been an oversight, there’s got to be a reason here.
  2. How does Eddie Izzard make his Voldemort sound exaclty like the impression done by the How It Should Have Ended version from the Villain Pub? When I went on IMdb I fully expected to see Daniel Baxter pop up.

Likewise with the extended cast, only one villain gets any focus, but really it’s wholly about Batman.

Lego

People are not wrong to laud this as the best Batman Movie ever made, the good Batman films have a far more compelling focus on the villains, Batman becomes a secondary focus. But let us not forget that this is a Lego Movie, and this is still the same Batman who has a seat on the council of Master Builders. Rather than calling in his vehicles he builds them on-site, and teaches his new Robin to do the same, complete with Master Builder tunes.

Having already used a lot of the available jokes regarding a universe made of Lego, the writers have dialled it back without losing the comedy that can only come from the universe they’re building brick by brick. A few more callbacks might not have gone amiss, but the bombardment of non-DC characters never lets you forget that this is far from cannon and basically a huge toy. There are fewer Lego-Effect like explosions, water and light effects, and they stand out when held against the legendary film it follows.

Issues with this film can be laid firmly at the feet of the intended audience. The pace is a little fast, no scene is given time to develop and your attention is constantly being grabbed and pulled in multiple directions. Narrative is bluntly obvious, and we suffer the classic issue of sudden villain incompetence in the face of a hero who’s undergone a personal revelation so that the story can have a hasty wrap-up. Damn you children getting in the way of a hilarious film for grown-up geeks, you don’t get it when Batman and Robin are punching bad-guys so hard words describing the sound the impact makes spontaneously materialise at the point of impact! You don’t understand Batman’s pain and how this film helps him process it in the same way Lord Business/Dad processes his pain by rediscovering the joy of play with his son’s help. LEARN NUANCE! And the Easter Eggs? Oh dear god the Easter Eggs!

Anyway… where was I?

This is a fantastic film, not without it’s flaws but well worth a watch. I think the Cinema Sins guys are going to have fun with this, most notably I found myself wondering why the Lego Batcave is full of vehicles when LB is building his own on the fly… but the Scutler is damn cool.

There’s a third Lego film underway based on one of their recent product lines, Ninjago, some weird kind of ninjas with giant un-stealthy vehicles, looks like some kind of anime-pastiche. I’m not 100% convinced by trailers, but Warner Brothers’ money has been well spent so far, the writing team have been nailing it so far, and Jackie Chan is playing the Master, Sensei Wu. There’s a Lego short at the beginning of the Lego Batman film that helps promote Ninjago which was actually entertaining.

Ah hell, I’ll watch it.

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