I feel sorry for people who dismissed The Lego Movie based on its title. I know people that tolerate the Smurfs movies who have sworn off The Lego Movie out of the fear that it’s too childish for them, when really it is one of the most cleverly made, self-aware, imaginative and detailed animated productions of modern times. When you could have easily done a feature-length version of the cartoony cutscenes of a Lego Star Wars game (which is, inexplicably, already a thing), these people decided to make sure everything’s rendered, lit and animated in such a way that it looks like millions of actual Lego pieces are being filmed. And now Batman, one of the best characters in the film, has gotten a spin-off.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that, out of the countless superhero movies coming out this year, The Lego Batman Movie is the one I was looking forward to the most. The plot concerns Lego Joker (Zach Galifianakis), devastated that his caped nemesis Bruce Wayne/Batman (voiced by Will Arnett with the same endearing arrogance and delusion as last time) no longer finds him relevant. Indeed, the Batman we meet has no company in his manor besides Lego Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) and claims that he needs none. There is a moment during the opening action scene where Joker first learns this and its resemblance to a break-up is anything but accidental.
In response to this, The Joker turns himself in to Lego Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) as she’s being sworn in as the new Gotham commissioner at Jim Gordon’s retirement dinner, along with other well-known enemies of Gotham City, including Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate), The Riddler (Conan O’Brein for some reason), Catwoman (Zoë Kravitz), Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze, Clayface, Penguin; the list goes on. There’s even Harvey Dent/Two-Face, played by Billie Dee Williams, finally getting to embody Dent’s villainous alter-ego after being replaced with Tommy Lee Jones in the “original” Batman tertralogy.
Thus, Gotham is without crime and Batman without anything to do. But suspecting that The Joker is up to something bigger than ever, he aims to one-up Lego Superman (Channing Tatum), his friendly rival in crime-fighting who won’t invite him to Justice League parties, by sending Joker and his allies to the Phantom Zone – which houses all sorts of horrible supervillains, not all of them from the DC Comics universe. He is reluctantly joined by Dick Grayson/Lego Robin (Michael Cera), an orphan who idolizes and relates to him something fierce, and later Barbara in the cowl of Lego Batgirl. You can also imagine what sort of mayhem ensues when Batman’s plan backfires and The Joker gets his paws on the Phantom Zone key. You’re probably going to recognize a few of those Lego baddies. And voices.
Ultimately, my thoughts on this picture are mixed-to-positive. It is confused, in a way, since it seems somewhat more geared towards younger children than the last film, yet with all these references and genius bonuses that only the most hardcore of Batman devotees could grasp (there is not a single iteration/adaptation of the character that isn’t referenced). Let’s be real; most people who see this will operate under the assumption that majority of the side-villains are one-off jokes and not based on, say, Vincent Price‘s Egghead from the 1966 series. They likely haven’t heard of the 1940’s serials either, for better or worse.
On that note, though, the film is surprisingly refreshing in how little it resembles the typical origin stories for these characters. We don’t see another tedious flashback to the murder of Bruce’s parents, the way he “accidentally” adopts Dick Grayson at the gala dinner is new (as far as I know), and I don’t recall seeing him break up with The Joker before. It just feels over-all like it isn’t following the beats of any particular comic, show or movie too closely. Then again, I don’t read comics or watch that many direct-to-video animations.
Of course I cannot fault the CGI or the animation, which still makes all the characters and environments damn near indistinguishable from what the real-life toys would look like on camera. My only problems with it are rooted in the kind of over-thinking that, to be fair, isn’t welcome when watching a movie like this. Why is all the fire made from toy flames while the smoke seems to be normal smoke? Why isn’t the water made out of bricks like everything else? Or the light beams? Or the very air itself? And also, are live-action Tom Cruise movies this universe’s equivalent to our cartoons? So many questions.
I will say that I enjoyed the film and that it’s a recommended watch (it has just as much heart as comedy), but I am starting to get worried. The next movie in this franchise is coming out this exact year, making me feel as if the time has come to milk the cash cow instead of being original and self-aware to the point of self-deprecation. Again, some of that love is still going into these movies and the visuals are still unreasonably gorgeous. I would hate getting tired of it.
When the first film came out, it was quite astonishing how a film that’s basically just one giant product placement could be so witty and creative. With this sequel, it feels like we’re moving closer to what giant product placements would normally look like. I’m sure plenty of money will be made regardless, is what I’m saying.