Delightful Brick/Bats Spin-off is Face-Achingly Hilarious
DIRECTED BY CHRIS McKAY/2017
Playing fast and loose with overly familiar DC Comics mythos the way an excited six year-old would play with a new Lego kit, The Lego Batman Movie is an inspired cacophony of frenetic super-comedy.
Warner Brothers (or “Warner Bros”, as our hero refers to his home studio) has generously taken its time to follow up on the mega-success of early 2014’s The Lego Movie. In spinning off Will Arnett’s hilariously narcissistic Batman into his own film (that would be this one), the studio has given director Chris McKay of Robot Chicken fame the biggest Lego kit possible. Batmobiles, Batplanes, Batkayaks, even a crazy-awesome Batcave are all at the center of this dazzling foray into the world’s biggest parts bin. He takes a wise visual cue from George Miller’s Mad Max: Fury Road, keeping most of the action centric in the frame, as to not exhaust the viewer amid all the flash and fast cutting. Such an approach allows the motivated intricacy of this world to pop rather than assault.
Lego Batman is a smartly streamlined foray into unmitigated playtime.
That’s not to mention Gotham City itself, an ornate urban world (if also reported to be built on a thin bed of haphazardly connected “tectonic plates” over a dreaded abyss) populated with formerly four-color familiar faces, and some nutty new ones. Calendar Man, Kite Man, The Eraser and Condiment King join Poison Ivy, The Penguin, Bane, Catwoman and The Riddler in the crusade against the Caped Crusader.
Behind it all is The Joker, who’s orchestrated his biggest criminal scheme yet, seeking to unleash a whole other array of bigger, badder famous villains onto Gotham. Even 1960s Bat-baddies Egghead and King Tut get in on the action. (No, they’re not the bigger badder villains, whom will not be revealed here.) If The Joker just wants attention, he’s got ours (despite a merely passable vocal performance by Zach Galifianakis).
The Lego Batman Movie is an inspired cacophony of frenetic super-comedy.
McKay and his raft of ten writers appear to be having a blast as they embrace the opportunity to make a Batman movie that’s fundamentally about Batman, something entirely rare, pre-Christopher Nolan. The filmmakers are clearly well versed in the DC Universe to the point that they’re comfortable upending certain aspects. For example, Robin (Michael Cera) is now Batman’s adopted son. A little weird for an old time comics guy such as myself, but as Barbara Gordon says on the matter, “It’d be weirder if he wasn’t his son.” And with that, seventy-eight years of furled brows are given voice in the material itself.
Lego Batman brings more gags and mayhem than ten other movies combined (as long as those other movies aren’t Speed Racer, Looney Tunes: Back in Action or The Lego Movie), but still finds time to grapple with the obligatory angst and self-inflicted isolation of the main character.
In the inevitable comparison to Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s The Lego Movie, the edge of spirited purity (where it truly counts) goes to Batman. As beloved and satisfying as the former film is, it also bears the weight of a proud over-complexity. Whereas The Lego Movie feels like the work of a comedy-fueled intellectual high schooler insisting on showing off his braininess (commentaries on consumerism! Complacency! Free will! Society!). Batman is a smartly streamlined foray into unmitigated playtime. Lord and Miller’s original, like that oh-so-sharp high schooler, handily avoids being insufferable by virtue of of its wit, magnetism, earned popularity, and being spot-on about everything. But McKay knows his movie doesn’t need all of that, settling in to tell a tale of a how personal community truly matters. Especially in tough times.
Not that the movie goes down any kind of political rabbit hole, but allusions, however intentional, are there for those so inclined. Batman is a rugged individualist who stubbornly insists on doing things his way. He’s wealthy beyond all reason, but brags that he doesn’t pay taxes. Above all, he wants to be adored. If that means putting on a show and pulling out the merch gun every now and then (yes, Batman has a gun that fires logo t-shirts and lunch boxes into crowds of orphan children), so be it. The filmmakers of course understand that, silly details aside, this is the Batman most people know and love. Is it possible that he’s got big lessons to learn?
Orson Welles once said that moviemaking is “the biggest electric train set any boy ever had.” By that rationale, today’s advanced state of things makes moviemaking more of a Lego kit. For McKay and company, it’s literal. Of course, toys are meant to be played with, and man, do they. The delightful fun they have is delivered in spades.
If this isn’t my own favorite Batman movie, it is my favorite Lego movie. Never mind where he gets those wonderful toys, this Batman IS a wonderful toy!