Monday, 13 March 2017

Lego Batman review

When I heard about the Lego movie (2014) I was like many people skeptical. I saw it, and loved it far beyond what I could have imagined. When I heard about the Lego Batman movie, I was again skeptical, and I enjoyed it, a bit.

I had seen a few reviews of the film before I decided to go and see it and the main criticism seemed to be "too many jokes". I didn't know how to take this at first but the film reminded me of Aardman animations' Pirates (2012), in which there are gags on seemingly every wall to spot while you are expected to take in sight jokes and dialogue not to mention the actual plot. I found that film to be comedy overkill in some ways though it was clearly intentional to encourage a second and even third viewing. The jokes I tended to laugh at were poking fun at the conventions of superhero movies in general, like the bluntly announced setup of a plane carrying thousands of explosives flying over the most crime riddled city. There is a not so subtle guarantee that something was going to go wrong, and that they are simply asking for trouble.

I sat in a screening room with a few adults, but mostly very young children who couldn't have
possibly understood many of the various references to Batman's past screen adventures. There is even a gag where they recreate in lego many of the past film posters that I liked, but it would have had no bearing on the vast majority of the audience I shared the screening with. Some of the nods to Batmans past were lost even on me as a viewer old enough but not comic book nerdy enough to get. It is therefore a massive achievement for this film that there is still a lot in this film for viewers of all ages, and they did a great job in trying to cater to everyone. The Marvel and DC universe can be feel convoluted and alienating with its depth and recent films like Deadpool (2016) and Logan (2017) aim at older comic book fans, but this film has to be commended for being friendly and welcoming to all. You could watch this with little knowlege of Batman or be a superfan and still find something to enjoy.

As with the original Lego movie the animation is beautiful throughout. The only thing I could pick fault with is that the film moves at such a fast and sometimes frantic pace that sometimes you want to take in a scene but it disappears, but this is something that happened in The Lego Movie too especially when ploughing through the many dimensions that film had. Regardless of this it is clear that a great deal of thought has gone into every location and backdrop and care was taken to make this blocky environment feel like Gotham City. It evokes the early Tim Burton films and also the 90's animated series in that it is dark but still has a stylish use of colour to it like the orangey skyline and the effective use of light in the Batcave.

When I saw The Lego Movie one thing that grated on me a bit was Will Arnett's voice as Batman and so I had worried that it would bother me, but I was able to go with it over 144 minutes of this film. What I couldn't cope with was the bafflingly awful story. The plot hangs on the idea that the Joker can't cope with not being Batman's number one nemesis despite the glaring flaw that we all know he is. Batman claims that Superman is in reference to the 2016 film (and various graphic novels) and but this Screen Junkies video does a good job of explaining them. The plot of this film only gets more overcomplicated from here as the Joker finds a way to recruit the most sinister villains from other peoples intellectual properties to prove some sort of point to Batman. How does bringing in loads of villains from other franchises make The Joker Batmans main nemesis? If anything it muddies the water even more. I started to wonder if the film was fast on purpose so we didn't have the chance to put all of this together. Clearly we are not supposed to put too much thought into any of this and just go along with the ride, and if you're able to suspend your disbelief and do that then the ride is at least an enjoyable one.
after the Joker points out that Superman is a hero, Brucey states he has no main nemesis and is merely "fighting other people". This makes no sense. That is the sentence that I came to over and over as the plot progressed. Furthermore Batman defeats his entire famed rogues gallery (42 villains) within the first ten minutes of the film. Some of them only exist to the most hardcore of fans and some ludicrous ones I assumed had been made up for comic affect but it turns out are real and came from the 60's. Even now I still can't decided whether 'Polka-dot Man', 'King Tut' and 'Kite Man' were the result of a creative dry spell or all the drugs the 60's are associated with

While I found myself irritated by the ending of the film the message I took from it was at least worth the journey and had been built up to well. The character of Lego Batman is the brooding loner dark knight we are all familiar with from the Nolan trilogy turned up to eleven, maybe even twelve. He spends his days watching movies alone in a home cinema that for some reason has way more seats than he needs, and his favourite meal is a microwavable lobster thermidor for one. The caped crusader actively discourages cooperation with anyone, yet is insulted when the Justice League doesn't invite him to their party at the fortress of solitude. A party being held in the fortress of SOLITUDE was another nitpick that would have annoyed me had I thought about it in the screening room but by this point I decided I was thinking too much. Batman learns that you can't just isolate yourself because you want to avoid the pain of rejection or loss and this is a lesson I took seriously, and its a lesson that is good for children to hear, especially as bluntly as it is presented in the films conclusion.

I must confess as I have in previous blogs that when it comes to comic book films I am very much a casual fan. I am part way through the Marvel films and still way behind, but I'm trying to catch up. What I'm saying is that I'm not someone who is drawn to this genre, but I was interested based on the original Lego Movie and my familiarity with Batman, and I would say that by the end I had a reasonably good experience, just not one as good as other seem to have had. In a world currently oversaturated by superhero universes and crossovers that are frankly hard to follow and are somehow still expanding, I found Lego Batman to be at least unique and you could say innovative. It is not the first of its genre to put comedy before action but to my mind it did it better than Deadpool in that it is accessible to all.

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