July 21, 2024

Film Review: The LEGO Batman Movie

When The LEGO Movie was released in 2014, it was pretty clear that this was going to be a franchisable film. It had just enough laughs, had just enough cross generational marketability, and made just enough money a boat load of money, that a sequel or spinoff was inevitable. Naturally, the first follow up was a Batman spinoff, as Will Arnett’s take on the Dark Knight was one of the highlights of the film. Mind you, this is not the first LEGO movie centered around DC super heroes to be made. Others have included Justice League: Gotham City Breakout, Justice League: Cosmic Clash, and Justice League: Attack of The Legion of Doom. In fact, it’s not the first LEGO Batman movie to come out. LEGO Batman: The Movie- DC Super Heroes Unite was released in 2013, although like all of the previous DC LEGO movies, it was a home video release geared specifically at younger audiences, and was unrelated to The LEGO MovieThe LEGO Batman Movie is a funny and irreverent celebration of Batman that, unlike its live action counterparts, does not take the character or its history seriously.

There are an abundant number references to virtually every incarnation of Batman since the character’s conception (including a fair amount of references to the 1960’s Adam West version). Like most kid films these days, there are enough adult aimed jokes to go around. One joke in particular directed at Robin’s alter ego’s name is probably one of the most “adult”  jokes I can recall in a film of this type, and had the biggest laugh as a result. Most of the jokes in the film come at the expense of Batman and every Batman trope we’ve seen to date. The Lego Batman Movie is essentially a spoof of the entire Batman franchise, playing out more like The Naked Gun or Airplane than anything else. Given just how grim and moody DC films have been as of late, it’s a pretty refreshing (albeit surprising) take. I’m rather shocked that the powers that be at Warner Bros. and/or DC gave director Chris McKay and the slew of writers as much room for parody as they did. Like The LEGO Movie, the producers were able to get their hands on some other characters that LEGO has licensed (as well as a few they haven’t), making for some pretty fun villain cameos.

As I’ve mentioned before, I am not a fan of stunt casting in animated films, and this film is chock full of celebrity voices (seriously, there is a ton).  However, there are some pretty inspired casting choices here.  Will Arnett (reprising the role from The LEGO Movie) absolutely nails the brooding yet ego driven Batman, and Michael Cera is pretty fun as the innocent and excitable Robin. But the real fun is when you look at some of the smaller roles. Billy Dee William voices Two-Face, which is a nod the Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film, where Williams played the pre-Two Face Harvey Dent (when it came time to casting Two Face as a main villain in Batman Forever, Williams was replaced by Tommy Lee Jones).  In what is probably my favorite casting in recent history, Bane is voiced by comedian Doug Benson, who often imitates The Dark Knight Rises Tom Hardy version of the character on his Doug Loves Movies podcast. By enlarge, the rest of the cast was completely un-notable. Interestingly though, Ralph Fiennes portrays Batman’s dutiful butler Alfred, while Harry Potter’s Lord Voldemort, one of Fiennes’ best known film roles, is voiced by Eddie Izzard.

The LEGO Batman Movie is very funny at times, however, the laughs are front loaded, and are dispersed sparingly as the film progresses. In place of the humor is a considerable about of chaos, more so than we see at the top of the film (an impressive feat, I assure you, given the opening sequence of the film). I’m not sure at what point it was decided that an action packed film meant having every square inch of every frame occupied with an explosion or destruction, but I hope it’s a trend whose climax is behind us. The result in this change in dynamic results in the film losing steam around the halfway point. There is an emotional through line for Batman, and as that plays out, the film becomes a bit less engaging.

While I would have liked to see the action toned down a bit, and I would have liked to see the humor more evenly distributed, The LEGO Batman Movie is a very enjoyable film. I have no doubt we’ll be seeing more films from the LEGO universe on the big screen, and if they are on par with this film, they will be welcomed.

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