Review: Amusing Silliness in "LEGO Batman: The Movie - DC Superheroes Unite"
Back in 2009, Batman: The Brave and the Bold parodied the reaction of a particular brand of Batman fan in the episode “Legends of the Dark Mite!”, with a tirade about how Batman is best suited in a role of “gritty, urban crime detective” and going on to rant about the show’s specific brand of silliness before harumphing, “I’m sorry, but that’s not my Batman.” I advise those Batman fans who agreed with that fan to turn away from LEGO Batman: The Movie – DC Superheroes Unite as well, since if anything, this movie is probably even sillier than an average episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold. The rest of us with a sense of humor and an open mind will find a fun, enjoyable, and rather silly film that serves as a nice tie-in to the latest LEGO Batman video game.
In LEGO Batman: The Movie – DC Superheroes Unite, Lex Luthor loses a “Man of the Year” award to Bruce Wayne. In a fit of jealous pique, he springs the Joker (and a variety of other Batman rogues) from Arkham Asylum, intending to use the mind-control aspects of the Joker’s smile gas to get everyone to vote for him as President. He lends the Joker his “Deconstructor” weapon, which is capable of dismantling any shiny black object into its component bricks. Can even Batman manage to foil Luthor and the Joker’s sinister plot, even with the help of the eager, true-blue Superman?
I don’t think I’m going to spoil anything by saying the answer is “yes,” and that a whole lot more superheroes are going to get involved along the way. LEGO Batman: The Movie gets its visual style by using LEGO bricks and mini-figures to interpret Anton Furst’s dark, gothic designs for Tim Burton’s first Batman movie, but its storytelling cues are drawn firmly from the more ridiculous superhero comic books of the 50’s and 60’s, when villains didn’t need to have much motivation and a coherent plot was a lot less important than madcap “can you top THIS?” plot twists. It really doesn’t matter much that Lex Luthor’s plan makes no sense, since that’s part of the fun of the exercise. Everything is played slightly silly and over-the-top, but it’s all in good fun and I suspect younger audiences will love it. Even with that as context, there are two surprisingly exciting and well-choreographed set pieces, first as Batman (and Robin) pursue the Joker at the very start of the movie, and then in the climactic battle scene when Batman (and friends) have to battle…oh, that would be telling. Suffice it to say that the movie justifies its title in this last scene, and that the only disappointment is that the last-minute assist from a bunch of other DC superheroes means we only get brief moments of LEGO Green Lantern creating green plasma LEGO constructs from his ring.
As noted, LEGO Batman: The Movie – DC Superheroes Unite takes its visual cues from Tim Burton’s first Batman movie, even redoing that movie’s opening title sequence with a giant LEGO version of the Bat symbol. Truth be told, a lot of the film’s humor comes simply from seeing an otherwise conventional superhero story being told by LEGO mini-figures using constructs built of LEGO bricks. While this generally leads to snickers and giggles more than outright guffaws or uncontrolled hilarity, it is surprising how the joke stays funny in seeing things rendered through LEGOs. It remains amusing to see LEGO figures waddling through scenes, just as it’s surprising to see the subtle ways that the LEGO figures can still act in scenes; look at how Batman and Superman move differently as they enter an elevator in the opening scene for an example. There are also a few opportunities for really exploiting the fact that everything is made of LEGO bricks, as when Robin rapidly rebuilds his motorcycle into a boat in mid-air, although moments like this don’t come along as often as you might expect.
The latest LEGO Batman video game was the first to use a full voice acting cast, and that same cast reprises their roles in this movie. Troy Baker does a fine job channeling Kevin Conroy’s grim, dark Batman, and earns some comedy riches just because that voice is coming out of a LEGO mini-figure in cape and cowl. Travis Willingham has far more fun as the over-eager Boy Scout Superman, who’s entirely too entertaining in his gung-ho, almost aggressive cheerfulness. Clancy Brown reprises his longtime role as Lex Luthor, and is stellar as always, especially because he has to play the movie’s designated straight man and is even funnier as a result. Christopher Corey Smith does a decent job channeling Mark Hamill’s Joker. Finally, Charlie Schlatter is a riot as Robin, with a different brand of over-eagerness than Superman and a few of the movie’s bigger laughs when nearly everyone else in the cast treats him with no respect whatsoever.
LEGO Batman: The Movie – DC Superheroes Unite comes in a Blu-ray combo pack that presents the movie quite well in high-definition, with the expected 1080p video and DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack. There’s a surprisingly full collection of bonus features, but unfortunately none of them really go into making the movie itself (for that, I might suggest checking out our coverage of the movie’s premiere at the New York Paley Center for Media, he said self-promotingly). “Building Batman” follows Garrett Barati, a LEGO stop motion animator, as he shows a small pack of kids how to do stop-motion with LEGOs. This bonus is also mated to an official stop-motion LEGO short and five winning shorts from the LEGO DC Universe Super Heroes Video Contest, all of which are quite amusing. Bonus DC episodes include Batman: The Brave and the Bold‘s “Triumvirate of Terror!” and “Scorn of the Star Sapphire!” and the Teen Titans episode “Overdrive.” All are quite appropriate for this disc, though I’m a bit surprised at how “Triumverate of Terror!” looks worse in high-definition than “Scorn of the Star Sapphire!” considering the entire show was broadcast in high-definition. Also included in the combo pack is a DVD (containing all the bonus features from the Blu-ray), and an UltraViolet code for the movie. While supplies last, the package will also include a Clark Kent-changing-to-Superman LEGO mini-figure, who will match nicely with any other DC Superhero LEGO sets you already have.
The LEGO video games based on movies have been enduring hits since they started the line with the LEGO Star Wars games, and the same gentle and ludicrous sense of humor that pervades the games is also found in LEGO Batman: The Movie – DC Superheroes Unite. If you’re the type who wouldn’t ever think to say, “That’s not my Batman,” seriously, I think it’s definitely worth your time.