Friday, May 19, 2017

REVIEW: "The Lego Batman Movie" (2017)

In the opening minutes of The Lego Batman Movie, star and lead voice-actor Will Arnet's impression of Christian Bale provides hilarious commentary ("Black. All great movies begin in black") over what could be an alternate and humorous prologue to The Dark Knight (2008). Along with the moment where butler Alfred practically recaps the Caped Crusader's live-action cinematic history--including "that weird one in 1966"--the humor in this film is so self-aware and meta, it gives Deadpool a run for his money.

According to one resource, Batman is regarded as one of the most adaptable fictional characters in any media and art form. Whether as as campy 1960s cartoon, a dark and brooding vigilante, or a mysterious hero, he's made his mark on almost every medium in history. This time around, he's given a slight twist. Batman may be the biggest hero in Gotham City, but at home he's a loner. (Although he wouldn't be the first to admit that.) As Alfred tells him, "Your biggest fear is being part of a family again."

"I've seen you go through similar phases, Master Bruce."
And then, the Joker--out of humiliation that Batman doesn't consider him his "greatest enemy"--hatches a plan that unleashes chaos on Gotham (though not as we expect). And then, newly appointed police commissioner Barbara Gordon makes a deal with Batman to save the city on the sole condition that they (along with Alfred and newly-adoptive kid Dick Grayson/Robin) do it together.

While The Lego Movie (2014) really tapped into the mindset of childlike imagination and creativity when it comes to playing with toys (and it did so with art, style and substance), this sophomoric outing and spin-off seems to have been made by filmmakers and comedy writers having a ball by aiming more for pure satire, silliness, and commentary on the Dark Knight's legacy and mythology. Nevertheless, they still manage to tell a surprising, in-depth story, even though the film seems to abandon, at times, the charm of Lego figurines.

The voice cast is clever, with Zach Galifinakis as the Joker, Michael Cera as Robin, Rosario Dawson as Barbara/Batgirl, Ralph Fiennes as Alfred, and just about every member of Batman's rogue's gallery on display. I did also enjoy the clever homages to classic movie villains from Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, King Kong, and even "Doctor Who." All of these elements give the film a colorful charm that would fit right at home at a Cosplay event. On the other hand, this film could arguably serve as an antidote for the retrospectively-depressing Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), as well as a lead-in to this fall's highly-anticipated Justice League (which, according to the trailers, promises to be an entertaining and rocking thrill ride). With that in mind, Lego Batman, perhaps, is truly the first film that bridges the gap between the campy Batman and the dark and brooding version.

Adults will probably enjoy this one more than kids, which is both a plus and sort of a minus, in terms of subtle references that will easily fly over the latter's heads (like clips from the R-rated Jerry McGuire, as well as the aforementioned movie-villain homages in the Phantom Zone sequence). The same goes for an arguably subtle nod to Suicide Squad's original treatment ("What am I gonna do? Get a bunch of criminals to fight criminals?") Nevertheless, Lego Batman is still a fun ride for any and every Batman fan, with messages of family, self-doubt, and teamwork over individualism ("It takes a village, not a Batman"), as well as the theme of losing loved ones and yet honoring those still in our lives. Now, that's something you don't see every day in the form of colorful toy bricks.

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