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Review: The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

Directed by: Chris McKay

Premise: A spinoff of 2014’s The LEGO Movie. Set in a LEGO version of Gotham City, Batman (voice of Will Arnett) fights crime and lives an isolated life. The Joker (voice of Zach Galifianakis) exploits Batman’s self-absorption to hatch a diabolical plot to destroy the city.

What Works: 2014’s The LEGO Movie was a charming film about the value of imagination that brought together the toy line’s various products and franchise licenses in a story that tapped into memories of childhood play. The movie was funny and smart but also goodhearted and was one of the most satisfying family pictures of recent years. The LEGO Batman Movie has most of the same appeals as the 2014 film and in some respects it is a better picture. The story of The LEGO Batman Movie is a little more coherent. It doesn’t jump out of the diegesis of the story world and so it doesn’t cheapen the drama with a last minute reveal the way the original LEGO Movie did. The LEGO Batman Movie also plays less like an obvious toy commercial than the other film. It still draws upon the various products and licenses that LEGO and Warner Bros. have under their corporate banners but everything comes together in a way that is germane to the story. The narrative of The LEGO Batman Movie is more coherent than the previous film and it is a little more sophisticated. The Batman of the LEGO movie universe is a narcissistic jerk. To make the hero of the movie an unlikable character is a bold move and the filmmakers make it work by playing it for laughs but also by using Batman’s tragic backstory to their advantage. The film is the story of a man learning to contain his ego and connect with other people, namely Barbara Gordon (voice of Rosario Dawson) and Robin (voice of Michael Cera). And that is one of the most extraordinary things about The LEGO Batman Movie. There have been a lot of Batman films and this is one of the best. As a piece of entertainment, The LEGO Batman Movie is far more satisfying than many of the Caped Crusader’s live action films but it’s also distinguished by appealing to children and families. Since the release of 2005’s Batman Begins, the superhero genre has skewed toward dark PG-13 stories. There is certainly a place for that but this trend has taken superheroes away from the kid-friendly origins of these characters. The LEGO Batman Movie is a superhero picture for the family audience but it is also wise to its place in the Batman canon. This is, at least in part, a parody of the superhero genre and The LEGO Batman Movie puts all of those awful spoof movies by Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer to shame.

What Doesn’t: Although it is a family film, The LEGO Batman Movie may actually play better for older audiences than it will for younger viewers. That’s partly due to the speed and volume of the movie. There is a lot of action and the film is dense with characters including many Batman villains but also characters from other Warner Bros. properties like Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and Gremlins. Young children might be overwhelmed by the amount of information. It also breezes through the background and mythologies of the DC superheroes, assuming that the audience will come to the movie with that knowledge. And that reveals who The LEGO Batman Movie was really made for. The target audience of this picture isn’t really children or their parents but adult fans of the Caped Crusader. The LEGO Batman Movie was directed by Chris McKay who had also directed the animated television series Robot Chicken and this movie has a similar sensibility. The humor is random and silly and relies on pop culture references, mostly to the previous Batman movies. These inside jokes will only appeal to viewers who have seen the earlier incarnations of the character.

Bottom Line: The LEGO Batman Movie is an enjoyable film that captures the fun that’s missing from a lot of live action superhero movies. It may be best appreciated by older viewers but it ought to appeal to the audience that loved the 2014 Lego Movie.

Episode: #635 (February 19, 2017)