Film in review: “The Lego Batman Movie”

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

Nathaniel Nelson / Winonan

One of the most anticipated movies of the year, “The Lego Batman Movie” has finally landed. After the near perfection of 2014’s “The Lego Movie,” all eyes were on Will Arnett’s return to the cape and cowl for another fun, brick-filled romp. Aside from the constant references to Batman continuity and interesting genre parodies, “The Lego Batman Movie” is a relatively shallow affair that tries too hard to be funny. The animation is still top notch and it does have some depth in the early stages, but it squanders its potential with a so-so final act and too many flat jokes.

The film follows Batman (Will Arnett) as he navigates life as a perpetual loner. Following the retirement of Commissioner Gordon and the promotion of his daughter, Barbara (Rosario Dawson), Batman is tasked with finding a way to cooperate with the police department in the battle against the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) and the rest of the Gotham City rogues gallery. Meanwhile, Batman is also dealing with the arrival of a young Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), who is also known by his sidekick name, Robin.

As a character study, “Lego Batman” works surprisingly well. It’s obvious that the creative team understands the character and what makes him tick, which allows them to go fairly in depth in their exploration. His penchant for overcompensation and need for respect and admiration serves as a guise for his deeper problems, namely his fear of having a family again.

By now, we all know the backstory of Batman; his parents were killed when he was a boy and after years of training, he returned to Gotham City to become the caped crusader. However, none of the past films explored what that means

for the character himself. This time, it provides the framework for his main conflict with personal isolation. Of course, it’s all played for laughs, but there is some real depth to the main character this time around.

Visually, the film is astounding. The brick-focused animation still comes through as colorful as ever, and it might even be more detailed than the first time around. Additionally, there are some great stylistic cues early on, including a black and white montage to “One is the Loneliest Number” and an awkwardly long section showing Batman’s night after patrolling the city, but for the most part it looks and feels almost identical to “The Lego Movie.” This isn’t a bad thing, per se, but there are aspects that the team should have kept separate.

The problems start popping up later in the film, when the focus shifts to include aspects from the first Lego movie, introducing villains like Voldemort, King Kong and Sauron. This bit misses the mark immensely, feeling more random than intentional. It would’ve been markedly more interesting if they kept the focus on Batman mythology, instead of shoehorning in a plethora of other franchises. With a title like “The Lego Batman Movie,” you’d think that they’d stick to just Batman and company, but instead they chose to go wacky, while worthy of some laughs, pulls you out of the narrative.

“Lego Batman” is a comedy through and through, and for the most part, it succeeds. Its meta-dialogue on the past films and pieces of Batman media consistently land well, which is where the film is at its best. It parodies every character presented in overt self-deprecating and referential ways, including the superhero genre itself. For instance, the passcode for the batcave is “Iron Man Sucks” and in one scene, Batman accidentally crashes a party held by an uncaring Justice League. When it sticks to these quips and trope sendups, the film is hysterical. Yet, with as many jokes as there are, there are bound to be a few that miss the mark, and some feel too forced and borderline childish to be funny.

Casting-wise, “Lego Batman” is a mixed bag. Arnett is an absolute riot, playing Batman like a pop culture caricature, and Cera’s Robin is a delight. The rest of the cast is so-so, but the real misstep here is Galifianakis’ Joker. What should be an overdone, over performed blast of a character is instead disappointingly subdued. The pseudo-romance he shares with Batman is a high point, but his limp take on the character takes a lot out of the film.

I will say ‘The Lego Batman Movie” is a ton of fun. It might not be anywhere near as good as its predecessor, but there are some good moments and ideas in here, especially for Batman fans. It’s no “Lego Movie 2,” but the high points of the film are absolutely worth a watch for fans of the franchise, but prepare to be a bit disappointed. 3.5/5

By Nathaniel Nelson

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