THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE
By Nathan Evans
One word: important reviews always begin with just one word; a word that makes curious filmgoers and studio executives nervous before they hear it. In the case of ‘The LEGO Batman Movie’ that word is: fun.
Much like ‘The LEGO Movie’ before it, ‘The LEGO Batman Movie’ is a near non-stop barrage of jokes and sight gags that rarely leaves one with room to breathe let alone think. Though most of the jokes skew toward an older crowd, there’s an overload of slapstick and busy, colorful visuals at work to keep the younger set entertained as well. Essentially it’s the perfect family movie; that rare gem that has something in it to please everyone, even those diminishing non-nerdy few that’ll miss out on the deep cut comic book joke references (and in their case, the film’s pretty good about letting you know when you should consult those nerdy friends and/or Google).
‘TLBM’ stars ‘Arrested Development’’s Will Arnett as LEGO Batman, reprising his show stealing supporting role from the original film. If it weren’t obvious from the title, Batman takes center stage this time around: a dangerous prospect as Arnett’s egotistical, comically brooding take on the character could easily have been a one note joke stretched too thin across the length of a feature. Thankfully, the film imbues the character, and the extensive cast that surrounds him, with just enough heart and complexity to ensure that he and they are always entertaining.
At the start of the film LEGO Batman is riding high. He’s the ultimate billionaire playboy during the day, and he’s constantly rescuing LEGO Gotham from imminent disaster at night. He’s adored all throughout the city, especially by the kids at the local orphanage. Amongst their number is Richard Grayson or “Dick” as the other kids refer to him. His regard for LEGO Batman, and his alter ego LEGO Bruce Wayne, transcends that of the other children as Dick takes it on his own initiative to make sure he’s adopted by one or the other; not realizing he’ll end up serving as ward to both; unwittingly for LEGO Batman of course.
A surprise, overzealous adopted son is the least of LEGO Batman’s worries though as the city’s new police commissioner, Barbara Gordon, is instituting a new approach to law enforcement in the city, one that doesn’t require LEGO Batman to work alone anymore. To make matters worse, LEGO Batman’s set his arch-villain, LEGO Joker, on a destructive course that just might end up a success for the long beleaguered villain; a villain who wants nothing more than for LEGO Batman to admit he is the greatest villain of all, and to hear those three words all great bad guys want to hear: “I hate you.”
As you can tell the film has a lot going on in it, surely a side effect of the fact that five separate writers had their hands on the script. For a traditional film, having that many cooks in the kitchen would usually result in an unruly mess, but seeing as how this is a film constructed from CGI LEGOs (a product that usually ends up an unruly mess on the floor), the scattershot script ends up working in the end product’s favor. The manic, unrelenting pace of the movie covers a lot of ground quickly, and to be honest, you’ll be laughing too much to really care about plot (not that it needs to make sense anyway— it’s LEGO).
LEGO Batman himself provides most of those laughs. Arnett’s gravelly baritone and extreme passion serve as the perfect spoof of the character in general, but you get the sense that he’s targeting Christian Bale’s moody performance in the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight films in particular. The characters exaggerated self-centeredness is an original invention for the LEGO films, and it works extremely well. Though the take is unusual, it does stand to reason that a man who takes it upon himself to dress as a bat and work as a vigilante would totally be into himself.
Of course, Arnett isn’t alone. The film boasts a tremendous cast of nerd icons and talented comedic actors that range from Zach Gilifianakis’ Joker, to Rosario Dawson’s Barbara Gordon, and even a scene stealing Michael Cera as “Dick” Grayson. In fact the film is so stuffed to the brim with familiar voices that many of them get short shrift. It was only due to a quick IMDB search that I knew talent such as Conan O’Brien and Jason Mantzoukas were even in the film.
Aside from the performances, part of what makes the film fun is the meta package it wraps itself up in. While none of the characters ever actually break the fourth wall, they do teeter on it. Whether it’s LEGO Batman’s narration of the traditional opening logos, Alfred’s rundown of past trends LEGO Batman has found himself taking part in (past film and television iterations (even that weird one from 1966)), or the password to the LEGO Batcave that’s actually an aggressive barb at the parent studio’s distinguished competition, you get the sense that the characters know they’re both a) made of LEGOs and b) in a film. It’s a fun (there’s that word again) and hilarious aspect of the film that is sure to keep audiences chuckling.
With all of that praise out of the way, ‘The Lego Batman Movie’ of course isn’t perfect. The film starts off strong, and while the jokes never slow, their impact begins to wane toward the back third of the movie. Maybe I was just worn out by that point, but the sense of momentum does lag just a bit; enough that I found myself glancing at my watch a couple of times in anticipation of the film winding down.
In addition to that truly minor complaint, I also found my nerd sensibilities a bit irked at a development later on in the film. While I won’t go into detail as to avoid spoilers, I will say that the film, much like its predecessor, does open itself up to other franchises toward the end of the movie. Personally I feel like Batman, his supporting players, and his rogues gallery are enough in themselves to support a film like this, and I could’ve done without the other characters intrusion. A complaint I’m sure only a couple of other ornery, hardcore Batman nerds could relate to. With that said, the above pair of nitpicks are just that: nitpicks. ‘The LEGO Batman Movie’ stands shoulder to shoulder with its source film. It’s an inspired spoof of, not only the characters, but the current state of nerd culture in general.
Though the film was nothing short of a delight, I couldn’t help but come away from it just a bit depressed. In a world where Marvel Studios is making every comic book nerd’s dreams come true, and Christopher Nolan long ago delivered a definitive Batman film trilogy, why is ‘The LEGO Batman Movie’ the best Batman film I’ve seen in the past five years? Oh well, what can you do but change your perspective, look at the man in the mirror and make a change? Sham’on everyone! (You’ll get it when you see the movie).
RATING: 4.25 OUT OF 5