Sunday, February 19, 2017

"The LEGO Batman Movie" Review: It's One Joke is Stretched a Bit Thin But it's Charm is Undeniable


The surprise success of The LEGO Movie caught everyone off guard which is why there wasn't even a sequel already in the works as is often the case in this day and age of the film world. So in a last second scramble to create a follow up the studio took the safest bet they could by making more of a spin-off than an actual sequel and they were wise to pick the one character universally loved in that film, Batman. But does it live up to the film that spawned its creation or is this just a quick cash in? Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital
Film Rating: PG
Film Runtime:  1 hr 30 min
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Release Date: February 10, 2017

Biases:  
Loves:  LEGO Batman
Likes: The LEGO Movie, LEGOs
Neutral: One joke movies, too many plot lines
Hates: That we didn't get a legitimate LEGO movie sequel
Can future LEGO movies learn from this ones mistakes?: If they learn anything from this one it should be that you don't need to throw everything into one movie

He's...BATMAN!
Batman (voiced by Will Arnet) has been protecting Gotham City for so long now almost nobody really noticed that despite him locking all the villains up in Arkham Asylum the crime wave never seems to stop. This is something on the mind of Gotham's newest Commissioner Barbara Gordon (voiced by Rosario Dawson) who has taken over for her now retired father. Barbara wants to merge the forces of the Gotham City police department with Batman to help put a stop to crime for good. Batman works alone though and this news comes as a laughable shock to the caped crusader who is busy trying to discover what new scheme his arch nemesis the Joker is cooking up as his recent act to surrender himself to the police has him and everyone scratching their heads.

The LEGO Batman Movie (henceforth TLBM) is a very very busy little movie. From the almost constant action, persistent self mockery of Batman's past (including his TV and film appearances), a whole lot of in jokes and a number of overlapping storylines there is enough in this for a whole trilogy of LEGO Batman movies. Bloated is a word that comes to mind but this feels more like the writers had just way too many ideas and while clever for the most part (the scene with Batman showing up at the Justice League party was hilarious) it detracts from some of the film's more interesting ideas. This is a kids film but so was The LEGO Movie and somehow that film found a way to be interesting, fast paced and funny yet never felt as though it was trying to jam everything down our throats.

The Joker wants to prove to Batman that he is indeed his number one villain.

If TLBM is guilty of anything it is giving us too much of a good thing. The opening moments of the film are outright hilarious as we are introduced to just about the entire catalog of villains Batman has ever faced (including condiment man with his mustard and ketchup guns!). They of course are being led by the Joker who plans to destroy Gotham once again, although someone mentions that his plan with the two boats last time didn't work out too well. While the characters and their actions are funny as expected (that trademark LEGO charm is still in full effect) it is the inclusion of an actual story arc for both Batman and the Joker that stood out as the real meat of the film.

Kids could care less about the words being said between the two arch nemesis but adults will find plenty of humor in the not too subtle subtext in regards to their apparent dependency towards one another. Take a scene in which Joker confesses his love to Batman over being his number one villain but has those feelings crushed as Batman tells him that he means nothing to him causing Joker to break down in tears. It's not Shakespeare for sure but it is a thread that develops into surprisingly one of Batman's most complex (and hysterical) storylines yet in a feature film.

Robin's introduction is a breath of fresh air in a mostly one joke movie.

Batman constantly reminds us how great his abs are and that he needs no one else in his life but we see when he eats dinner alone in the bat cave or watches Jerry Maguire by himself in his personal theater that he is actually a broken man who aside from his loyal butler Alfred (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) is actually the loneliest person in Gotham. This is more of a background plot point with the colorful visuals and comedy taking center stage for the most part (as one would expect) but it was a nice surprise to see that the writers felt inclined to give Batman something to work towards instead of just making him a straight up parody of himself. Where the problems come in though is with the overall length of the film and all the other subplots.

On top of Batman and Joker's storyline we also get Barbara's story, Robin's story and Joker's elaborate plot to take down Gotham which includes an extensive trip to the Phantom Zone that results in a finale that was just a bit of overkill by the time we get there. Including Robin into the mix at least makes sense with the family dynamic storyline for Batman and does provide a slightly different dynamic for Batman but everything else just felt like excess for the sake of throwing as much on the screen as possible. Did we really need Mr. Smith from the Matrix or the Daleks from Doctor Who to show up? Isn't Batman's roster of characters enough to sustain a single film?

Batman wants to work alone but somehow finds himself needing his friend's help.

But there is still an undeniable charm to the entire film. Even when you feel as though it should have ended a half hour ago there is still that uncontrollable need to just smirk or giggle at all the silly nonsense being thrown at the audience every minute. TLBM is really fun and has a lot of visual appeal with the whole LEGO aesthetic but it does wear out its welcome far earlier than it should have. Perhaps if the filmmakers trimmed some of the fat and saved it for a possible trilogy of LEGO Batman movies this would have been a bit easier to digest. As it stands now though the kids will likely love every minute of the constant lunacy while the adults will get their fill in the first act leaving the rest of the film a countdown til the end credits roll.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

If you loved The LEGO Movie and were hoping that TLBM would scratch that same itch I am sad to report that it does not live up to the greatness of its predecessor. It isn't bad by any stretch and features a lot of great jokes and gags but never really feels like it is telling a cohesive story. If you like your movies playing out like a series of sketches stitched together that regurgitate the same joke over and over again then you will come away fairly pleased with TLBM. Otherwise I would suggest skipping its theatrical run and watch it in your own bat cave.

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