Directed by Chris McKay (2017)
by Neal Mates
I know how I’m supposed to feel about a movie like The Lego Batman Movie. Cynical cash grab...playing off nostalgia…pop culture references...fan service. Whatever gets the grubby little kids into those seats, wanting the toys. It’s going to be pleasant, but I shouldn’t expect anything good. And yet, here I am, saying that this is a REALLY great movie.
Full disclosure: I still have not seen all of The Lego Movie, which this spun off from. I’ve heard from people I trust that the creators of the original film, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (both producers on this one, as well) were able to create something more fun and heartfelt than it had any right to be, and this one seems to follow suit.
The main plot revolves around the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) getting his ultimate revenge on Batman (Will Arnett) for hurting his feelings (Batman can be a real dick!) by gathering a set of villains more diabolical than the rogues' gallery the Caped Crusader usually faces (the voice cast is a set of contemporary comedy all-stars too incredible to list. Just peep the full list on IMDb.) Meanwhile, Batman is having a bit of an existential crisis, unable to come to terms with the fact that he can’t keep going it alone. I mean, Alfred (Ralph Fiennes!!) is always there, but he doesn’t count, and he pretty much says it straight to his face (honestly, the amount of emotion displayed by these pixels and plastic in these scenes puts most thespians to shame). He spends his down-time alone, eating reheated Lobster Thermidor and watching…well, you’ll see.
As he attends Commissioner Jim Gordon’s retirement party as Bruce Wayne, he both falls in love with the new Commissioner, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), and unknowingly adopts a young orphan boy, Dick Grayson (Michael Cera). It’s hard to be the brooding loner that he’s comfortable being, keeping Gotham City safe, and being a new parent all at once.
Somehow, the film manages three feats at once: keeping the intricate plot flying along at a decent clip, maintaining some serious emotional resonance without getting sappy, all while being uproariously funny. (Not to give anything away, but there is one scene in the film with the standard superhero trope of “You can’t save them both, which one will it be?” that managed to keep the audience I saw it with silent. Everyone was roped in…)
Still, being a bit cynical and nerdy, I couldn’t help but notice what would be termed by WB executives as “corporate synergy," with all the non-DC villains are explicitly named (Voldemort, Sauron, King Kong, Gremlins, etc.) who just so happen to be Warner Brothers properties. How convenient! The others were never named or given generic titles (things that clearly looked and sounded like Daleks being called “British robots”), but were designed to remind the Gen-X parents of movies they grew up on (Jurassic Park, Jaws, the original Clash of the Titans) Even a throwaway shot of Superman references the climax of Superman II, including General Zod looking like Terence Stamp instead of Michael Shannon.
One other thing I noticed is that the film takes dead aim at the flailing DC Cinematic Universe, saying that it pretty much has no sense of fun. I’d agree with that. Maybe they should let Lord & Miller oversee all their films instead of that “artiste” Zack Snyder.