The Lego Batman Movie took front and centre stage and even though we know it would be a flagship brand film to promote Lego toys and WB franchise films on a whole, we thought, “hey, I’ll bite”
So here’s what we thought of The LEGO Batman Movie and the 3 reason it got virtually right.
The first sequence is fast and filled with action, as a plane, transporting explosives gets hijacked by the Joker which he then uses in a bomb plot demanding to speak to the mayor. The mayor agrees and gets whisked away by a helicopter suspended by a cable. The Mayor gets placed in the viper pit of Gotham City criminal elite (and Condiment Man). But the Mayor isn’t herself. It turns out to be a clever disguise. It’s Batman, who goes ham to his own authored fight-music.
The event then reaches critical when Batman and Joker go to head where the Dark Knight had to make a choice between capturing the joker, or disarming the unnecessarily intricate bomb and saving Gotham. It’s then Joker’s conception of the arch-nemesis relationship with the Batman gets a rude awakening. Batman tells him he doesn’t consider Joker his greatest enemy and that he “fights around”. Batman’s a rolling stone in vigilante terms. Which, judging from Bruce Wayne / Batman’s lifestyle, can get pretty lonely. But he doesn’t need anybody.
So Joker decides to make Batman admit how important and definitive he is to both their existences. And at the same time Barbara takes over from her father Jim Gordon as Police Commission (having finished her training at Harvard for Policing). But she decides Batman needs to be reeled in from is solo-vigilante act and be more collaborative with the police in defending Gotham. Bruce Wayne not too happy about that, despite being love-struck by Barbara at first sight and unwittingly adopting a boy in the process.
Joker hatches a plan that has him giving himself to the authorities. Batman knowing something is amiss decides to take matter into his hand.
Refusing Barbara’s extended hand to help discover Joker’s plot, Batman opts to put Joker in a more secure prison – the Phantom Zone. Which thus involves breaking into Superman’s Fortress of Solitude and using his newly adopted son (apparently Robin now) to steal the Phantom Zone Projector to open the portal to the other dimension.
Batman’s act to imprison Joker in the Phantom Zone with other nefarious badies is just what he plans and with the help of good ol’ Harley Quinn, Mr. J returns to Gotham with who’s who of WB baddies, from English robots (ask your nerd friends), the evil guy from Harry Potter with the pasty skin,, the trolls that don’t like water and a tower with a big eye that likes “precioaaass” jewellery.
Batman then has to dig deep and face his fears – getting close to anything remotely ‘family’ to save Gotham.
So with a relatively basic narrative, which potentially could become fragmented due to the varied points of focus, The LEGO Batman Movie walked away with a solid outing. Here’s the three reasons the team behind the animation managed to pull it off successfully:
One of the major successes of this film will be its ability to cross generational gaps. References are a good way to do that. There were sequences that put a lego twist of classic Batman films (and not so classic Batman films [rubber nipples]). Sequences that gave us lego-ised DKR cover adaptations, BVS clash of the titans and Batman’s Adam West ‘phase’. Or Batman hitting enemies so hard that words of their agony materialised in mid-air. Or a reference to Joker’s failed capers, particularly “the one with the two boats” (The Dark Knight). The Lego Batman Movie ensured that when you got stuck taking your son or brother to the cinema, you would not be bored out of your skull. Hell, you’ll at least get in a chuckle or two.
WB’s canon of film and references were also laid on pretty heavy, with the likes of King Kong, Gremlins, Lord Of The Rings, Doctor Who and Harry Potter. Not to mention the Justice League. All serving in some ways to elevate humour and connect generations of viewers. Which in Lego form can not be as easy as the animators and designers made it out to be. There were points where the action and design was ‘brick-heavy’ to the point it became a little hard to follow the action (especially when it came to the portraying of elements like clouds, fire and smoke). But nevertheless, there were moments you forget you are viewing a whole world built from Lego. And that is all thanks to the power of the narrative.
References can be a double edged sword. Heavy use of them can be an indication of a weak narrative. But it seems The LEGO Batman Movie tread the fine line. Right down to the now infamous “Superbuild” sequences that may as well have a freeze frame at the end with supers of price tags and where available. But nevertheless, it’s what we’ve come to expect in this brand-ladened world we’ve built for ourselves. And these references engages us and makes us feel invested in these multi-narratives that are awoken by a simple phrase or the presence of a familiar face. They slightly overdo it in some places, especially in the second half of the film, but it is not jarring to the point where it’s like a sore thumb.
It’s one thing to have a quip that gives the funnies. But when a character metafiction self-awareness highlights often absurdity of established tropes, it adds a new dimension of hilarity to the feature.
The film starts with a black screen. And Batman narrating over some tense cinematic music which he acknowledges in his 4th wall-breaking humour-filled monologue that makes “parents and executives nervous”. Especially when, on the appearance of the DC logo, Batman says “DC – the house that Batman built – yeah Superman, I said it. Come at me bro”.
The end where the film fades to white, to which Batman says “all good films end in white” and that it’s the kind of trope that makes parents and executives happy. Much of this humour also came with references to Bruce Wayne’s colourful past aka televisual history of DC comics greatest vigilant.
Referencing Joker and Batman’s relationship of hate as if it were an actual romantic relationship is something that may go over some kids heads (the really slow ones) but is still chuckle-worthy to watch. Batman lets Joker know that he doesn’t value him as his arch-nemesis, as he ‘fights around’.
Joker’s sad face is about the most adorable and memorable thing you’ll ever see. Even if his voice could never bring the sinister yet black comedic tones and cadences of Mark Hamill. Sorry Zach.
Swoon. Yes. She does deserve a whole paragraph. But if I was to be roader in analysis, it would be good casting, that somehow were abled to marry humorous notes with the gravity of quite emotive parts. I felt the characters that did this best was in a particular exchange between Barbara, Rosario’s character and Batman, i.e. Will Arnett. Rosario has been a DC staple for a while, playing Wonder Woman in many animated films. I think I was the only one voicing she should play her for real (oooh, aahs, shocks and outrage erupt from the gallery). Settle down! But it takes a certain finess to go from funny and light-hearted to emotive, heart-string plucking.
In the end, The LEGO Batman Movie was enjoyable to watch. 3D however seemed to be an after-thought rather than a integral layer preconceived and interweaved throughout the building of the animated feature.
And whilst we knew that at worst it would be a billboard of everything we can buy from lego and WB’s extensive catalogue of films, it was well balanced with a tongue in cheek humour. It may not have gotten us to laugh out loud, but it had enough references and humour to keep us chuckling and smiling. It won’t be a prolific stand alone Batman outing, but it does make for an entertaining watch. Especially if you have kids and want them to get their first embrace of the Dark Knight without consoling them from horrific nightmares of losing you in Crime Alley.