By Will Ashton (Three Beers) –
2014’s The Lego Movie was a one in a million hit. Initially, it was unfathomable to imagine it becoming anything beyond a lazy corporate sellout. By all means, it had every right to be terrible. But it wasn’t. In fact, it was honestly amazing. It was lively, fresh, inspired, creative, emotional, strangely poignant — all words nobody expected to utter with any resemblance of sincerity about a cartoon based on a popular toy brand. It was legitimately awesome, and that’s without quoting its theme song. Seriously, did anyone honestly expect to get mad when The Lego Movie got snubbed at the Oscars? That’s the magic of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the geniuses who spearheaded the unlikely comedy into Toy Story-level greatness.
Suffice it to say, their influence is missed throughout The Lego Batman Movie, the kinda/sorta spin-off/sequel/continuation to their popular animated Lego-based cinematic world-building experience.
Centered on the titular miniature superhero supporting standout from the previous Lego Movie, with no Emmet, Wyldstyle, Unikitty, Benny, or Lord Business in sight, The Lego Batman Movie is an earnest, if moderately shallow, attempt to bridge the gap between Batman’s previous on-screen incarnations, his ongoing comic book legacy, and the general public’s broad assessment of the character, while fitting the mold of the established Lego variation. The result is, expectedly, a little scruffy, if not necessarily bad. For over 70 years, Lego Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) singlehandedly protected Gotham from the crooks that swarm the city, most notably The Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis), a would-be archrival who wants nothing more than to have Batman admit he hates him. He is often unsuccessful, however, for as Batman admits again and again and again, he works alone, and he doesn’t care how others feel for him.
Lego Batman’s life is one of grandeur and solitude. Accompanied only by Alfred (Ralph Fiennes, in a superlative turn), Batman isn’t necessarily miserable, but he’s unwilling to admit his biggest fear: family. Tormented by the death of his parents, as per usual, Batman refuses to mend the wound that was left gaping. Batman would rather live his life in expensive emptiness than try to invite another meaningful relationship into his life, and while Alfred strongly suggests he work towards ending his loneliness, Batman refuses to listen to such parental advice. He’d rather be ignorant than heartbroken again.
In the midst of such personal anguish, however, Batman is left with other concerns. While unclear at first, The Joker and all the other villainous vigilantes in town, including Harley Quinn (voiced by Jenny Slate), Catwoman (voiced by Zoe Kravitz), Bane (voiced by Doug Benson), Scarecrow (voiced by Jason Mantzoukas), The Riddler (voiced by Conan O’Brien), Two-Face (voiced by Billy Dee Williams) and many others, have an ace up their sleeve, and it threatens the city more than ever. If that weren’t enough, Batman needs to learn to be a good father in the process, as a misunderstanding with an impressionable orphan named Robin (voiced by Michael Cera, the film’s highlight) turns Batman into his legal guardian. And if that weren’t enough, Batman needs to juggle his bubbling feelings for Barbara Gordan (voiced by Rosario Dawson), Gotham’s newest police chief, in the process as well. It’s never a dull day for Batman.
The Lego Batman Movie is a busy one. There’s not a tenth of a second where something isn’t happening — visually, narratively, or a combination of the two — and it’s nearly impossible for your eyes to be bored. Something is always whizzing. Something is always flying. Something is always crashing. Something is always crackling. If anything, you might find yourself bored by the sheer excess, but that’s another matter. This sorta-sequel is packed with more jokes than it knows what to do with, and if one doesn’t work, there is always one or two that do. Some of which work exceptionally. Some don’t. But the success ratio is, notably, quite healthy. I’d feel comfortable saying roughly three of the five jokes work. Your mileage might vary, obviously, but it’s hard to believe anyone walks out without getting at least a few chuckles.
Indeed, like The Lego Movie, it’s easy to predict all the various ways The Lego Batman Movie could’ve failed. But it doesn’t. Your feelings towards Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice aside, director Chris McKay (who was credited as co-co-director on The Lego Movie) works hard to ensure Batman fans, general audiences, and everyone in-between got their money’s worth out of this one. It’s spunky. It’s zippy. It’s wild. It’s maniacally goofy, and against the odds, it’s often pretty charming and largely likable. It’s self-aware — both to its benefit and disadvantage — and it’s earnest in its giddy attempts to earn squeals from the audience, both younger and older. Even if the success rate isn’t as high, it’s still a fun little ride.
While The Lego Batman Movie is persistently charming, it’s not effortlessly charming. Where the original was a little more consistent and authentically engaging, this one is more chaotic and forced in its delivery. More than that, it’s tiresome and demanding in all the ways The Lego Movie ultimately wasn’t. While it incorporates the same enthusiasm and sugar-rush energy to the comedy and the material, it runs a little too thin for its own good. Where the initial movie could run for hours upon hours, The Lego Batman Movie runs its course after the initial 60-minute mark, and it’s cloyingly bombastic in its wall-to-wall jokes.
As far as its sense of world-building within this Lego-based world, The Lego Batman Movie doesn’t really know where to land. Considering how it doesn’t quite fit in line with the childlike worldview of the first movie, it’s safe not to call it a direct spin-off. After all, what 10-year-old kid knows about Gymkata, or what ’60s Batman was like? In short, The Lego Batman Movie is almost directly appealing to the 30/40-something Batman lovers in the audience more than the wider demographic, although they’ll certainly be entertained by what’s in front of them. If that’s the case, however, then the movie makes no damn sense.
The Lego Batman Movie wants to act as if every previous Batman film incarnation is canonized — in ways both amusing and annoying. Although it’s fun in choice moments, notably Batman’s longstanding love/hate relationship with The Joker, it starts to get a little confusing whenever Batman first meets Robin. After all, if they never met, then that would mean it’s a different Robin, for Batman already met at least a Robin in the ’90s, fought alongside him for years, and then watched him die at the hand of The Joker. Sure, these are all nerdy details that only bother me, but they make you question the logic of this weird world.
While most people want to belittle Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, it at least had a clear vision for Batman. He was older, darker, meaner, more violent, more vengeful. He was morally gray. His story was bleak, merciless, and unforgiving. He didn’t take fools lightly. Sure, it might not have been the very best version of the popular superhero legend, but it was fairly consistent, one should admit. Lego Batman isn’t.
The Lego Batman Movie is as energetic and lively as it is messy and overcrowded. It’s not the overwhelming success that was The Lego Movie, but it’s certainly fun, free-spirited and filled with energy. It’s an appealing crowd-pleaser, for audiences of all ages, and it renews the public’s fading, weary interest in Batman, which is something that shouldn’t be taken lightly these days. But it can be a little tedious too.
The Lego Batman Movie (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time the previous Batman films/comics/etc are referenced.
Take a Drink: every time Batman pouts, whines, moans, or growls in disgust.
Take a Drink: every time you can place a voice actor. It’s okay if you cheat on this one.
Take a Drink: every time Batman flies the Batmobile.
Take a Drink: every time a popular superhero/pop culture character comes onto the screen.