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Review: “The LEGO Batman Movie” – Bet On Black (& Yellow)

by on February 4, 2017
 

The LEGO Batman MovieThe LEGO Movie was a surprise hit in 2014, with no one expecting the witty, heartfelt tale laced with political commentary that we got. Who would have expected a film based on a toy line to be so critical of consumer culture? The film’s success led to the swift announcement of sequels and spin offs, with the first of them arriving in the form of The LEGO Batman Movie.

Batman is the beloved hero of (LEGO) Gotham City, a one-man beatboxing defender of justice who protects Gotham with punches, kicks and a smorgasbord of gadgets. To the outside world, Batman’s life seems pretty sweet, but faithful butler Alfred is all too aware that Master Bruce is hiding the truth of his identity from himself as much as from his rogues gallery. When the Dark Knight’s ego leads to the greatest crisis in the city’s history, can he finally accept he can’t fight alone?

In The LEGO Movie, Batman was primarily a rival to Emmet, playing on the idea that women prefer bad boys while making his flaws readily apparent. That take on the character transfers to this new movie, with Batman being presented as a stereotypical male power fantasy: able to single handily face off against super villains while being a cocky narcissist. It would be easy to make such a character unsympathetic, but Will Arnett returns to provide hilarious heart to the “little boy in a playsuit crying out for mommy and daddy” as the Joker once opined. Speaking of the Clown Prince of Crime, this take (portrayed by Zach Galifianakis) is equally unique. The duality between these two characters has been explored countless times across various media, so this film offers a unique take on It with the Joker a slightly saner trickster who wants an epic mutual rivalry with Gotham’s defender. To say much more would spoil the fun, but it’s welcome that the film tries to strike new ground. Trust me, the creators know their Batman and there are a ton of references here waiting for you to find.

At the same time, I would advise caution if you’re going into this expecting a straight DC lore movie. Certain things prominent in the promotion and merchandising don’t quite get the focus you might hope for, and the second half of the film feels like it’s partly promoting the LEGO Dimensions video game.

The LEGO Batman MovieArnett and Galifianakis are joined by some other star talent. Michael Cera offers an adorable take on Dick Grayson/Robin, with the film exploring the under utilised idea of Bruce as an adoptive father vs a superhero boss. Rosario Dawson is a fiery and determined Barbra Gordon, newly inducted as Police Commissioner and looking to better serve a city that has become dependent on Batman. Ralph Fiennes rounds up the main cast as Alfred, the loyal butler and surrogate father to the titular manchild.

Animation retains the pseudo-stop motion charm seen in the first film, with locales all designed as if they were built with genuine LEGO pieces and the characters showing subtle stresses and smears. This combines with a few other subtle nods to the big reveal of the first film to provide a connection.  On occasion, the film does feel like it’s ever so slightly repeating The LEGO Movie, but never too broadly. Batman’s status as a Master Builder is referenced a few times but only to introduce the Scuttler, an adaptable battle mech that gets prominent use and of course has a toy available.

The film will be available in 3D but the screening I attended was 2D IMAX. This was a really solid presentation with crisp HD images and sound and pseudo-3D quality as is. If you can’t make a 3D showing then your nearest IMAX screening might be the way to go.

The LEGO Batman MovieAs the first of a planned spin-off series, The LEGO Batman Movie shows that there’s weight behind the idea. The film is hilarious and charming, continuing what made the first one so solid. At the same time, I hope future LEGO films can show a little more belief in new ideas. Given its scope was LEGO’s entire history, the broader ideas of The LEGO Movie made sense, but occasionally The LEGO Batman Movie suffers from what feels like a lack of confidence in the area the film has chosen to zero in on. If other spinoffs like the upcoming Ninjago movie are to stand up, they’ll need commitment to their central idea. I understand in many ways the crazier stuff emulates LEGO’s inclusive, adaptable play style but can’t help but feel a film should have more of a focused scope.

This misgiving doesn’t damage the film too much, however, and it still receives a strong recommendation from me. If recent theatrical outings like Batman V Superman and The Killing Joke left you short, The LEGO Batman Movie is a reason for all audiences to bet on black.

The LEGO Batman Movie opens 10th February in the UK and America. Preview screenings will run in the UK on 4th & 5th February.

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