Review: Lego Batman Movie

Review: The Lego Batman Movie

By: Randy Soltero

Before I start, let me tell you a couple of things about myself. There are quite a few things in this world that I am an adamant fan of, but there’s only a few that I LOVE. For one, I love Lego. I love everything about it. I love the company, the brand, the products, the culture, the cartoons and especially the movies. I am a pretty active builder, and my house is lined with fine china cabinets containing elaborate displays of licensed sets and my own creations. Even as I write this, I am tearing myself away from finishing up the entire line of Lego Super Heroes sets. Which brings me to another one of my loves, and that’s that Ol’ Batman. I honestly can’t remember a time that Batman wasn’t a part of my life. I assume that my first introduction to the character would have to have been the ’66 show, or even the serials from the 40’s. Whatever it was, and I wish I could, I don’t remember the day I first laid eyes on the greatest super hero of all time. It’s highly likely that I was actually reading Batman: Year One (which ran the same year I was born) while in the womb. Either, way, Batman is a part of my very being. I love everything about the character, and especially the familiar faces that inhabit his world. So…a movie combining two of the things I love most in this world, especially a follow up to what is probably one of my all-time favorite films? A no-brainer, right? Yea, you would think.

And if you did think that…you’d be correct! The Lego Batman Movie released on Feb 10th, and it was pretty much everything I could have hoped it would be. It is riotously funny, clever, and full of the same heart and love for the material that made The Lego Movie so amazing. The only unfortunate thing is that The Lego Batman Movie had large shoes to fill, being the successor  to one of the greatest animated films ever built, but because they have a few glaring differences, it seems that it’s not quite as well received. That’s not to say it hasn’t done well. It’s grossed over $220 Million as of this writing and is sitting at about a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes. Not bad considering it is only second in popularity to Nolan’s The Dark Knight, which may very well be one of the best interpretations of Batman and The Joker on screen to date, and with only a 2% margin. For once, I actually somewhat agree with Rotten Tomatoes in that I honestly consider this to be one the best Batman films ever made. If that sounds a bit far-fetched, that’s because you haven’t seen the movie yet! There are some issues that I had with the film, but nothing that a well-deserved sequel couldn’t cover in the future. 

When Warner Bros (or Warner Braws as Batman hilariously pronounces it) gave us The Lego Movie a few years back, I’m sure they had an inclination that featuring Lego Batman as one for the main characters would create opportunities for more big-budget films in the same style. This type of thing tends to go either way in this situation. A spin off featuring one of the most popular characters in the world could either feel like a shoe-horned cash grab, or a comedic film that actually prides itself on respect for the character and its ancillary lore. While the latter seems to be a near impossible feat for the studio to achieve with its live action entries, they seem to handle it just fine when they stop taking themselves so seriously for a couple of hours. The movie never once felt like a forced attempt to recapture the first Lego Movie’s magic, but definitely feels inspired by it. The animation is very similar; however some different approaches were utilized to render Lego Gotham City. While The Lego Movie was animated in pure Lego brick style, from the clouds to the vast bodies of water, LBM decided to digitally add those pieces of scenery. So, the water in the film looks crisp and realistic as opposed to a pile of moving Lego. Honestly, what made The Lego Movie such a visual masterpiece was the fact that every single thing in the film was a real Lego brick, but the added effects actually made Gotham feel a bit more well-defined. At times the film plays fast and loose with the extended movements of an actual Minifigure, which can distract you from the illusion of stop-motion animation. In the end, the film is gorgeous and painstakingly filled with Easter eggs, hidden cameos and plenty of Lego bricks strewn throughout every piece of scenery. With some animation, I find it difficult to focus when there are too many things happening on the screen at once, but with Lego, it just makes me want to watch over and over to see what I missed. One of the key elements that I hope continues in the Lego films is the dedication to highlighting actual building techniques that we would use in real-life Lego play. Even down to the light posts that Batman perches upon, the props are designed as though they could actually be built by the audience at home.

The cast is magnificent, and Will Arnett’s Bruce Wayne/Lego Batman voice never gets old. As many promotional skits and interviews as I’ve seen, you would think that the rasping, beatboxing narcissism would outrun its welcome, but I find myself searching for more daily. Arnett seems pretty excited to be doing the character, and even if he doesn’t seem to have a full understanding of the comics, he understands this version of the character back and forth and is even funny when ad-libbing in interviews. There is a great balance of Batman’s dark and edgy  grit, his emotional turmoil, his almost maniacal dedication to fighting crime, and of course his too-cool-for-school humor. As odd as it may sound, Arnett’s Lego Batman may be the most well rounded interpretation of the Bat to date. Michael Cera as Dick Grayson/Robin is definitely a choice that will be a fan favorite for years to come. He brings a bright and colorful levity to the film, and to Batman’s life, that is magical to watch. Going into the movie, I honestly thought Robin would annoy me to no end, but I think I found him more entertaining than even some of the younger moviegoers around me. His whimsical view of the Bat Universe is how I imagine I viewed it as a little boy, so his perspective was a personal one to me, and I felt very important to the film. Rosario Dawson’s Batgirl/Barbara Gordon didn’t feel like a tacked on female sidekick, which was a relief to me and, I’m sure, many others. Batgirl holds her own and has some skills and moves that rival Batman’s (Something she probably learned while training at Harvard For Police). Dawson brings a great attitude to Batgirl and retains her role as the strong passionate hero she is meant to be. Batgirl doesn’t simply thrive as a kick-butt action chick either; she’s spunky enough to match witticisms with Batman. Ralph Fiennes lends his voice to Alfred Pennyworth, and he is undoubtedly my favorite version of the character to date. He brings everything I love about Alfred to the screen, including his iconic accent and fatherly warmth. Pulling from the comics to give Alfred a history with hand to hand combat makes him fit in with the rest of the crime-fighting main cast naturally and hysterically. Alfred is often the voice of reason, but here he serves as a great reference for Batman’s history seeing as he has been by Bruce’s side in every iteration of the character. Fiennes is an amazing choice for the role; however it seems a bit of loss that he doesn’t voice one of the other villains that are featured later in the film. Some of the names that scrolled by during the credits were huge surprises to me, but one of my favorites may have been Adam Devine playing The Flash.

Zach Galifianakis leads the hoard of villains that rear their nasty brick faces as The Joker. This might be the only casting that struck me as odd, and even after hearing his voice for an hour or so, I wasn’t really sold on his Joker. I love the character in the movie, from his motivations to his general evil/fun vibe, but Galifianakis basically sounds…well…like Zach Galifianakis. He doesn’t really go out of his way to “portray” the Joker, even utilizing a laugh that is a bit lackluster. He does bring his own style and comedic timing to the character, which is a plus, but it just isn’t the way I hear Joker in my head. Honestly, I am a bit biased on that topic so it may be more of a personal issue than an actual issue with his performance. Scenes with the Joker are extremely fun, and at times, even heartbreaking. An early scene, where Batman tells Joker that he means nothing to him, results in some sad Joker expressions that may be even more depressing than that whole SadFleck ordeal. Joker gets his time to shine, which is more than can be said for some of the other great actors that lent their voice to Gotham’s villainous population. Featuring so many villains (and trust me they dug deep in their long-boxes for some of them) is pivotal to conveying how time consuming being Batman can be, but also leaves little time for some of the characters to have their moment in the spotlight. Conan O’Brien portrays the Riddler, and as amazing as that sounds, he doesn’t get a lot of screen time to even notice that it’s him. That’s a bit of a bummer, but understandable considering how much they jammed into the movie. Billy Dee Williams reprises his ‘89 Batman role as Harvey Dent and after almost 30 years finally gets to play his alter ego, Two-Face. The few lines he fires off are classic Billy Dee and are truly a fan’s delight, getting quite a few cheers from the older members of the audience. One of my favorite comedians, Eddie Izzard, was brought in to play one of the most iconic villains in nerdy history. I want to stay away from too many spoilers so I won’t detail exactly how he is in involved in the story, but he plays the incomparably evil, Voldemort. Izzard does a wonderful impersonation that satisfies the needs of the character, but it just seems like a swift kick to the avada kedavra to hear Ralph Fiennes being featured so heavily elsewhere in the film. All in all, I can’t say I was truly disappointed with the any of the cast, only that I wanted to hear much, much more. 

Lego captures the massive complexity that is the world of Batman, so the animation just feels natural. At its heart the film deals with loss and the fear of loss in a way that makes you feel actual feelings while playing little plastic toys.  As deeply egotistical as Batman is, he still shows that, at the end of the day, Batman is human and will sacrifice himself to protect his idea of family. But, the movie doesn’t just try to hide behind a well-crafted story or forced emotional reactions, it is jam packed with jokes. Jumping off at the first frame, the voice cast and the visual gags battle it out for the loudest laughs. Much like with The Lego Movie, it will take multiple viewings before every joke or reference is uncovered. Every piece of Batman’s history is up for grabs, which makes the entire film feel like a celebration of the rich 75 year old fandom. It references every aspect of the genre and even manages to sneak in a few knocks at some widely disliked moments in the franchise’s history. If The Lego Batman Movie isn’t the best movie to date, and it very well may be, it certainly is the most fun I’ve had watching a Batman film...ever. It’s relieving to finally watch a superhero movie that doesn’t feel the incessant need to take itself so seriously, and actually respects the source material. One thing is for sure…and I feel like I deserve this…The Lego Batman Movie,..just,..clicks…

Get it?

Rating: IT’S ALL AWESOME!!!!

Somethings Gotta’ Be Wrong: The film starts off with a bang and kicks you in the face with action, music and humor. After the opening ceremonies, the film slams on the bat-breaks and comes to silent halt in action and is paced much slower for about a half an hour. The theatre was filled with uneasy laughs, and while I enjoyed every minute of it, I could see the younger audience becoming quite anxious and bored. 

The Definition of Fabulous is Batman