The LEGO Batman Movie aims to please everyone all the time, comes reasonably close
When I reviewed The LEGO Movie in 2014, I called it a self-aware contradiction, a cynical yet high quality commercial for LEGOs that would make for a fascinating discussion piece in a media studies class. Without a doubt, the film was well made, but even in its popularity, The LEGO Movie only served to sell more LEGO sets to a new generation of youth.
I don’t say this to disparage the product—I spent many years playing with LEGOs and my seven-year-old has his own fair share. But the entire production felt like a not-so-sneaky and derisive advertisement, rather than purposeful art.
Enter this year’s LEGO film, The LEGO Batman Movie. At first glance, it is far less cynical but still manages to maintain the same knowing winks towards the audience. While The LEGO Movie discussed themes of consumer culture amid creativity and conformity, The LEGO Batman Movie is a straightforward superhero story that only takes place in the extended LEGO universe in an incidental way.
It’s a parody of the famous Caped Crusader, with LEGOs, with nothing below the surface. It makes half-hearted attempts at developing a few themes, like family and loneliness, and pastes them together with a few clever Bat-jokes, but doesn’t quite reach the strange metacommentary stages found in its predecessor.
Much like comic book Gotham City, LEGO Gotham is plagued by supervillains of all types. One of the funnier parts of the film is the way it lists the long, convoluted, and absurd gallery of rogues from the comic’s 78 year history. Everyone is accounted for—Poison Ivy, Calendar Man, Penguin, Clayface, the Condiment King, etc. etc., all led by The Joker (Zach Galifianakis).
The film begins with a nefarious plot by Gotham baddies to rule the city under threat of blowing the residents up. Of course, Batman (Will Arnett) stops them, saving the day one more time, while reassuring the Joker that they are not in any sort of nemesis relationship—The Dark Knight prefers to “fight around.”
The opening of the film is thrilling and fun, something that will certainly appeal to an audience of children everywhere. The film slows down some after that and never quite regains the frenetic pace set at the outset.
At a retirement part for frequently embattled police chief Jim Gordon (Hector Elizondo), Batman (as Bruce Wayne) inadvertently adopts a young man named Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) and finds out that the new Gotham Police chief, Barbra Gordon (Rosario Dawson), wants to fight crime more traditionally, with statistics and such.
This, of course, makes no sense to our costumed vigilante. Ultimately, the hubris of the hero leads to disastrous consequences which unleashes a torrent of real evil on Gotham the likes of which Batman has never seen.
As I mention, the story itself is boilerplate Batman. In the previous LEGO film, Batman was characterized in a certain way and this film just continues that characterization.
If you enjoyed that version, which is arguably more entertaining than the brooding version found in nearly every incarnation since Adam West, than you’ll find more than enough in The LEGO Batman Movie to make the movie satisfying.
Certainly, anyone who is a fan of the World’s Greatest Detective will find lots to laugh at as the movie launches into parody after parody. The artwork is sleek and stylish, beautifully rendered with an exceptional eye for detail. There is no doubt that this is a great looking piece of animation. The performances are excellent as well, with each character seeming unique and rounded.
Yet, it doesn’t quite reach the level of The LEGO Movie. The cynical, barely disguised capitalism of the first film, which was my biggest criticism of it, is missing from The LEGO Batman Movie and in some ways, the film suffers. While I wasn’t a fan of the commercial aspects of The LEGO Movie, its unabashed salesmanship was amusing in an “I can’t believe they’re getting away with this” sort of way. The LEGO Batman Movie isn’t as innovative given its more direct approach.
Not that this matters for the future of the franchise. There will be years of LEGO movies, focusing on a variety of characters, and each one will be a success. The audience will always be there. Kids love LEGOs. Kids like silly jokes and comic book characters.
Truth be told, comics need a bit of levity. The LEGO Batman Movie provides it in spades.