Monday, 13 February 2017

The Lego Batman Movie

Brick Grayson

The Lego Batman Movie
Denmark/USA 2017
Directed by Chris McKay
Warner Brothers
UK cinema release print.

Warning: Some spoilers, of sorts.

I was pretty surprised when, a couple of years back, Warner Brothers allowed their Batman character (plus a load of other licensed characters from various franchises) to be diluted, just a little, by having a version of him in The Lego Movie (reviewed here) while the franchise and their film rights were still very much active in the current cinematic landscape. It was a great idea and I welcomed it heartily but I think it was quite brave of them to lampoon their own characters like that and they’ve done it again now with this spin off film, The Lego Batman Movie.

What this means is that they’re allowing a movie with a major character in ‘comedy mode’ out in the very same year that at least one movie also featuring Batman (as played by Ben Affleck) is coming out at our cinemas in the Justice League movie. It remains to be seen whether his character will also make an appearance in a cameo at the end of the new Wonder Woman movie too, to remind the audience what they are building up to but... I wouldn’t be surprised.

However, I’m pretty glad that this movie here is in existence because frankly, and I’m sure most people would probably agree on this, it’s way more of an interesting and engaging film than the current crop of dark DC movies that are being inflicted on audiences and this one really captures certain, albeit exaggerated, truths about the characters in a direct and effective way which the other cinematic representations we’ve had lately just aren’t able to compete with on a similar level.

So, this weekend, I armed myself with a kid, being as I went to the cinema with my friend, his lovely wife and their cute child... and took in the new Lego movie myself and, although there was exactly the ‘first showing overload’ problem I expected to have with it on this one (yeah, I’ll get to it soon enough), I overall had a good time with this movie and it even got me to smile at some moments, a facial expression which is fairly out of character for me, it has to be said.

The first thing prospective audience members may want to know about this one is that you absolutely do not need to see The Lego Movie to watch this. In fact, I couldn’t find any reference to the events and characters of that film anywhere in this one. They might be in there but I certainly didn’t spot them on first viewing so, yeah, this can very much be seen as a stand alone film. Well, other than the fact that Batman is in it, of course... totally not referring to his previous brick-based adventures in any way shape or form. There are, however, quite a lot of references to the previous incarnations of The Batman, both on screen and off, as there are about the DC universe in general... and they do come thick and fast. It was nice, for example, seeing a clip from the 1960s Adam West Batman on the big screen again (there are at least six homages to the Batman TV show and also the film spin off that I could count) and it was also nice to see a brief reference to the 1940s theatrical serials at one point.

And it doesn’t stop there either... the DC universe isn’t the only thing that gets furious referencing here as this follows the same modus operandi as The Lego Movie in that characters from a whole host of other Lego licensed franchises are also seen on screen. I was disappointed that a lot of the DC Universe characters were sidelined in this movie but it was nice to see The Superfriends mixing it up with their Justice League buddies in a party scene. It’s in this sequence that Batman and his newly acquired sidekick Dick Grayson, aka Robin (or Reggae Man... nah, you watch the film to find out) steal The Phantom Zone projector from Superman’s Fortress of Solitude so they can banish The Joker there. Of course, that’s exactly what The Joker wants and it’s here that he teams up and unleashes various Lego versions of their licensed characters (and some unlicensed, as far as I know) and teams up with them to destroy Gotham City. So yeah, we have Voldemort from Harry Potter, the Eye of Sauron from Lord Of The Rings, the Gremlins from... um... Gremlins, King Kong, the DALEKS from Doctor Who and the Wicked Witch of the West with her flying monkeys from The Wizard Of Oz, all involved in an all out attack on the brick city where Batman lives and... it’s pretty much as fun as you would expect.

There are a couple of problems. The main one being that there is so much going on in the movie, both in terms of cramming in a heck of a lot of laughs and action and also in terms of the dialogue/visual referencing that it does get a little difficult to process it at points. Some of the action sequences... especially when Batman, Robin, Batgirl and Alfred (as voiced by Ralph Fiennes) team up with all the supervillains The Joker left behind in Arkham Asylum and go head to head against the aforementioned army of evil... are a little hard to follow at certain points, to be sure. Of course, it could be argued that the choppiness, albeit often inventive action sequences, coupled with the sheer randomness of the assorted roll call of non-DC universe character mash ups are an homage to the free imagination of a child and, well, who am I to argue with that.

Another thing that irritated me a little was Batman’s description of the un-named DALEKS as ‘British Robots’. Okay, British is fine (even though they were created on the planet Skaro) but robots they are not. If anything, they are living creatures driving personal tanks, to some extent. So wasn’t that impressed with the almost derogatory way in which they are referred, especially when they are in the movie a fair bit.

And I also found it strange and somewhat disappointing that in a movie which has Ralph Fiennes doing one of the voices, he wasn’t also asked to voice his recurring Harry Potter villain Lord Voldemort, since he plays a big part here, instead choosing to have Voldemort voiced by Eddie Izzard instead. Don’t know what they were thinking there, to be honest.

However, these are all pretty minor things and it’s a quite fun movie most of the time. Like a lot of these kinds of films these days it also pitches its humour on two parallel levels. You’ve got all the slapstick and stuff for the kids but there’s also an adult level hidden but quite easily decryptable in the movie too... so if you’re an intelligent member of the 'grown ups' race (and not just a man-child like me) then you have something which you can hook into too.

And that’s about it for The Lego Batman Movie. Oh, apart from a quick shout out to Lorne Balfe who provides an excellent, Batman-esque score for the proceedings (the CD is in the mail) and a quick note to say that Billy Dee Williams finally gets to reprise his role of Harvey Dent (aka Two Face) from the 1989 Batman movie, albeit briefly. Other than that though, The Batman Lego Movie is not full of interesting shot set ups or mind-blowing visuals but it does have a huge sense of fun and, like the previous movie, a whole brickload of heart. This is almost certainly going to be more interesting than any other Batman related movie released this year (I’m just guessing here but we’ll see if I’m right) and it’s definitely worth a look... especially if you know your comic book history and like spotting all the references. There’s a lot here to hold your interest.

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