LEGO Universe Returns With a Silly Satire of a 'Batman Movie'

Directed by: Chris McKay; Runtime: 104 minutes
Grade: C+

The Lego Movie came together at an ideal point in the history of the iconic building blocks, right when popularity was toned-down toward both the toys themselves and the brand's humorous videogame adaptations -- tie-ins -- of popular movies. Instead of delivering one of those run-of-the-mill products that functions as a kid-friendly outing designed just to sell toys, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller built something that mixed genuine sentiments about individual importance with psychedelic visuals and a colorful sense of humor, borrowing the aesthetic and jubilance of the games and ramping it up several levels. That irreverence, along with the clever use of other properties under WB's umbrella, made The Lego Movie something special, and it's that same attitude that Robot Chicken director Chris McKay hopes to bring into the second big-screen adventure from that universe: The LEGO Batman Movie. Playful, loveable self-reference isn't enough this time, though, as McKay's take on the Bat-universe dials up the bravado without showing mindfulness toward how inexplicably bonkers it can come across.

Batman played a critical role in the initial LEGO Movie, helping lead characters Emmet and Wyldstyle (his girlfriend) save the world from the oppressive big bad Business and a dearth of creativity in their realm. Aside from a continuation of this version of the character himself, there aren't any real connections between that story and the events of Lego Batman Movie, one that begins with the Caped Crusader -- again played by Will Arnett -- duking it out with the full breadth of Gotham's rogues gallery, led by Joker (Zach Galifianakis). Similarly to Joel Schumacher's installments into the Batman canon during the ‘90s, a vibrant and chaotic introductory scheme interrupted by Batman gears and focuses upon a personal side of the brooding hero: the fact that when he gets home from fighting crime, he does so alone. In a state of Gotham City where the commissioner calls into question the necessity for his vigilantism, Batman starts to confront his separation from allies and friends, growing complicated when he gives orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) a home. Will this new sidekick help or hinder Batman from preventing whatever scheme that The Joker's hatching?

Fans of the Caped Crusader who watched The Lego Movie will come in armed with the knowledge that this version of Batman should be taken entirely tongue-in-cheek, but that's something Bat-fans who skipped out on Emmet's awesome adventure could find unusual and might require some adjusting to it. This one's a self-absorbed, credit-hogging showboat with little difference between his personality in the suit and the rare times where he dons the appearance of Bruce Wayne, keeping him from being a reliable shadow of, well, pretty much any iteration of the character throughout his lore. In smaller cameo-serving doses, this works, coupled with Will Arnett's grumbly voice and how he projects similarly to his goofy magician Gob Bluth from Arrested Development. There's a different sort of audience coming to see his standalone movie, though, and the more adult-minded Batman fans might find him too out-of-character, too dissimilar of a lampoon, to enjoy beyond the kid-friendly shenanigans that his attitude creates. This Batman swoops right past parody and into the realm of a different character altogether.

This builds into an odd situation within The LEGO Batman Movie, because a whole lot of Chris McKay's intentions are devoted to representing the annals of Batman's history, and these flashes are an enthusiastic joy to behold. From quick Lego-infused representations spanning from the first comic appearance in the ‘40s to Christopher Nolan's trilogy, to the inclusion of a lot of esoteric villains following the Joker around -- The Condiment King, anyone? -- this film offers a trove of references that'll put a smile on the faces of Batman aficionados of all stripes. This makes it even harder to embrace the silly deviations of the plotting pieced together by five writers, spearheaded by Seth Grahame-Smith, the scribe responsible for the Dark Shadows remake and the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies novel. A desire to be as different as possible in how it plays around with the Batman mythology, including the role Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) fills in overseeing Gotham City and how Dick Grayson ultimately came to live with Bruce Wayne, stumbles alongside the film's many lovingly crafted in-jokes.

The LEGO Batman Movie concentrates on a premise frequently touched upon in other takes on the character, shining a light on the Caped Crusader's desire to work alone and keep his personal ties to a minimum. There's meaningfulness involved with the message surrounding Batman's resistance to accepting help and letting others into his life (or lives), but they've been simplified and caricaturized for the sake of broader, sarcastic jabs at both Batman and the superhero genre, and it largely makes him look … well, like a big old narcissistic jerk instead of someone struggling with real reasons for keeping them at arm's length. Infused with zany mischief trying to duplicate the off-the-wall charm of The Lego Movie, the sense of humor here lands on a puzzlingly idiosyncratic note, gravitating around Batman's reluctant -- and initially unknowing -- adoption of a son and sidekick and a kooky spin on the hero's frenemy bond with The Joker. While aiming for playfully self-aware ridiculing of these elements, it gets its thoughtful wires crossed and overestimates the sharpness of its wit.

Still, most of the design choices that made the visuals and pacing of Lord and Miller's film such an infectious surprise can also be found on the toolbelt of The LEGO Batman Movie, where digital effects replicate the texture and movement of the actual building blocks within endlessly vibrant locations. Chaotic action throws Batman and Robin into crazy situations more befitting the Schumacher-directed movies and the Adam West television series than the more "grounded" scenarios of Burton and Nolan's entries, emphasizing the comic-book gravitas some fans may have missed in recent films. McKay never leaves the audience without something bold and exciting to look at, whether it's those aforementioned throwbacks to prior iterations of the character or the craftiness in how familiar (WB-owned) entities -- and some cleverly ambiguous ones, too -- show up in the midst of end-of-the-world pandemonium. By the end, however, unlike the original movie that it's spun off from, The LEGO Batman Movie leaves one basking in the mildly-amusing glow of its labored teasing and peculiarity than enlivened by awesomeness.

For the full Blu-ray review, head over to [Click Here]


Post a Comment

Thoughts? Love to hear 'em -- if they're kept clean and civil.