The LEGO Batman Movie Review

THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS

(IN LEGO BRICK FORM)


 

The Caped Crusader. The Dark Knight. The Bat of Gotham. Yes, I’m talking about Batman. First created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane, Batman first appeared in Detective Comics #27 in 1939 and from there the masked vigilante flourish, spanning decades in his comic book adventure of defending the fictional city of Gotham from villains such as The Joker, Bane, Killer Croc, and Two Faces as well as joining up with other DC superheroes in Justice League comics (i.e. Superman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, etc.). Over the years, Batman has an iconic superhero figure in the DC Comics, moving beyond his graphic novel platform to be branded with clothing apparel, home décor, video games, and plush toys. In terms multimedia, the Dark Knight even had his own live action TV show (running from 1966 – 1968) and various animated series. Eventually, Batman made his way to theatrical feature films, with each iteration bring their own style and played by a variety of actors, including Michael Keaton (Batman and Batman Returns), to Val Kilmer (Batman Forever), George Clooney (Batman & Robin), Christian Bale (The Dark Knight trilogy), and most recently Ben Affleck (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice). However, I did forget to mention his hilarious appearance in the 2014 animated feature The LEGO Movie (voice by Will Arnett), which brings me to this review as Warner Bros. Pictures (or rather Warner Bros Animation Group) and director Chris McKay present the spin off sequel to The LEGO Movie with the film The LEGO Batman Movie. Does this LEGO animated tale of the Caped Crusader finds its balance of humor, action, and heart or is it just a generic cartoon feature of Hollywood?

THE STORY


When it comes to crime fighting and saving the people of Gotham, Batman (Will Arnett) is the best choice. After defeating a legion of supervillains, led by Joker (Zach Galifianakis) from such a widespread devious plot, the citizens and fans of the Cape Crusader rejoice in Batman’s heroic acts of saving the day. Unfortunately, when at Wayne Manor, Batman is reminded of his own personal life of isolation and solidarity, with only his loyal butler / father figure Alfred Pennyworth (Ralph Fiennes) his only companion. In addition, recently appointed Gotham City Police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), wants Batman to cooperate with the police (i.e. working “inside” the law) so they may battle crime together. Despite his stubborn ways to avoid teamwork with others and being a part of a family again, Batman is forced to change his “solo” ways after he inadvertently adopts the young, upbeat orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera). Adding more problems to the Dark Knight is the return of Joker, who hatches a plan to free all the powerful villains that were banished to the “Phantom Zone” in an effort to prove he’s Batman’s greatest adversary. With a score of big-time baddies unleashed in Gotham, it’s up to Batman to save the day, but, as he learns, he can only stop them with a little help from his “family and friends”.

THE GOOD / THE BAD


While I have said that I’m a more of a huge Marvel fan than a DC, I do like the character of Batman probably more so than any of DC superheroes (i.e. Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, etc.). Like many out there, I remember seeing the original live action TV series with Adam West, which was probably my first introduction to the character or rather the whole concept of the “Batman”. From there, I watched the various cartoons Batman cartoon shows before stumbling upon the original feature films (from Batman to Batman & Robin). Personally (of those movies), I liked Batman Forever the best. Of course, after that, I loved the Christopher Nolan Batman movies, with The Dark Knight being my personal favorite. As for the comics book themselves, I never picked one up, but I know of some of them (through various people, including Under the Red Hood, Knightfall, and Death in the Family. Now, switching gears towards this review, I absolutely loved The LEGO Movie (watch it all the time), especially the characters of Emmett and (of course) Batman. When I heard the Warner Bros. was going to do a LEGO Batman spin-off film, I was pretty excited, especially with Will Arnett returning to reprise the role as hilarious Dark Knight. Thus, naturally, I was pretty stoked to see this movie and thankfully….  I wasn’t disappointed with it. While it doesn’t beat out The LEGO Movie, The LEGO Batman Movie is still a worthy successor, culminating in an enjoyable animation feature that riffs on the Batman’s legacy as well as providing enough kid friendly action / comedy throughout.

The LEGO Batman Movie is directed by Chris McKay, whose previous works includes the fan-favorite Adult Swim TV shows Robot Chicken as well as Moral Orel. Given the background in those two shows (especially Robot Chicken), McKay approaches The LEGO Batman Movie in similar way, creating a very humorous madcap “LEGO” misadventure for the iconic Cape Crusader. McKay, along with screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers (known for their work on animated TV show American Dad!), Jared Stern (Wreck-It-Ralph), and Seth Grahame-Smith (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), keeps the film light and kid-friendly (set in similar fashion to The LEGO Movie), with plenty of hilarious moments for one-liner zingers and sight gags that does hit its mark, which is a good thing. Even though the movie takes place mostly within its own universe (no appearances of Bricksburg or Emmett or Wildstyle), the movie does keep the spirit of The LEGO Movie (i.e. Master-Building again plays a part in the story). In short, if you liked The LEGO Movie, you’ll definitely fine that The LEGO Batman Movie to your liking. I surely did.  In addition, McKay and his writers draw upon Batman’s iconic legacy, offering up some fun bits (i.e nods and winks) to the Dark Knight’s celebrated past. It most does it to riff on and poke fun of, but, given the nature of the film, it fits perfectly and is a great fun. Also, because this is a Batman movie, McKay utilizes a lot of familiar faces from the Batman universe in the feature, especially when it comes to the villains (some well-known and others that are a bit obscure). Be sure to catch them all in the movie. In an interesting side-note, McKay was just announced to direct the Nightwing movie, which will be interesting to see how that particular movie will shape-up to be.

Production-wise, the movie itself is pretty well-made and crafted with enough attention to detail just like The LEGO Movie was. In truth, The LEGO Batman Movie has a bit more improved visuals than its 2014 predecessor, which was somewhat to be expected since the built upon (yeah, I made a LEGO pun) the idea of a fully realized LEGO cinematic world. In terms of being compared to recent animated movies out there, The LEGO Batman Movie is a visual feast for the eyes, one that keeps up high quality visuals with intricated details within its “brick” world thanks to the film’s production designer Grant Freckelton. Additionally, the film’s score, composed by Lorne Balfe, is also worth noting, complimenting the film’s animated humorous Batman tone as well as soft dramatic moments.

Problems do arise within the movie, causing The LEGO Batman Movie, despite its overall joyful fun of giving the Cape Crusader his own movie (in LEGO brick form), tad bit lower than its predecessor (i.e. The LEGO Movie). For starters, the first act (while funny) does feel a bit frantic with its consistent barrage of things happening (i.e. Characters, events, places, etc.), making the film’s first 30 minutes a bit rushed and maniac in its proceedings. This becomes a problem when the movie starts slide into the second act, which adds the moral theme / message to the narrative. There’s nothing wrong with the film’s theme, but the overall transition from the first to second act doesn’t flow as smoothly as it wants to be, which ultimately creates a few pacing issues here and there. In conjunction with that idea, the movie (a spin-off film to The LEGO Movie) doesn’t quite measure up to it. What I mean is that it doesn’t “break the mold” of the first film, while hitting some familiar thematic plot beats along the way. That being the case, The LEGO Batman Movie does find its own rhythm (and gets comfortable in it), but not until the second half of the film. Thus, despite its intentions, the movie never seems to rise above its predecessor in either storytelling, comedy, or its underlying message.

The LEGO Batman Movie has an impressive list of voice talents to bring these DC characters (as well as some other familiar licensed characters) to life. At the front of the line (and the most important) is Will Arnett, who returns to voice Batman / Bruce Wayne once again. Fans of the Dark Knight’s appearance in The LEGO Movie will definitely be pleased to see Arnett’s Batman toting the same bravado in his loner attitude and egotistical manner. Arnett, known for his roles in Arrested Development, The Millers, and most recently in Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, layers the Cape Crusader with plethora of comedic levity, but also with enough heart as the narrative (thanks to McKay and the film’s screenwriters) gives Batman a proper story arc into superhero’s psyche from onset to conclusion. Helping add to that dynamic is the character of Dick Grayson / Robin, who is voiced by Michael Cera. Cera, famous for his roles in Superbad, Juno, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, is great as the super energetic sidekick Robin (imbuing him with the right balance of naivety and adoration for his Bat-dad figure in a way that’s both funny and touching) and a great foil to Arnett’s self-centered Batman. In addition, iconic Batman characters Alfred Pennyworth and Barbara Gordon are secondary character in The LEGO Batman Movie, but both Rosario Dawson and Ralph Fiennes voice talents (and overall sense of charm and comedic timing) help give their respective characters memorable that are unique to the film.

While the film focuses on the relationship Batman he must accept with his closest allies and friends, the same goes for The Joker, Batman’s self-proclaimed “greatest enemy”. Voice by Zack Galifianakis, known for his roles in The Hangover trilogy, Due Date, and Dinner for Schmucks, this version of the infamous “Clown Prince of Crime” is probably the most vulnerable and multi-dimensional. Sure, he isn’t as dark as Heath Ledger’s Joker from The Dark Knight or as crazy as Jared Leto’s version from Suicide Squad or even as manically as Mark Hamiil’s Joker from Batman: The Animated Series, but Galifianakis’s Joker is a perfect fit for what The LEGO Batman Movie needs, especially in its underlying theme. Also, Galifianakis’s Joker is pretty funny in the film.  As I said, The LEGO Batman Movie has a lot of characters in it, but are voice by many recognizable names. Lending their voices in these brief, but entertaining appearances (some of them act like cameo appearances) are Jenny Slate as Harley Quinn, Doug Benson as Bane, Billy Dee Williams as Two-face, Conan O’Brien as The Riddler, and Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill reprising their roles from The LEGO Movie as Superman and Green Lantern. Additionally, there are numerous other familiar named actors that appear in the movie (voicing characters both familiar to the Batman / DC comic book world and some non-DC variety) that make for some fun appearances in the film.

FINAL THOUGHTS


Will Arnett’s Batman returns to the big screen and battles his greatest enemies in the film The LEGO Batman Movie. Director Chris McKay animated spin off film works on multiple levels, delivering steady stream of jokes (ranging from physical / visual sight gags, to riffing on the Batman’s legacy) that’s couple with some great animation and solid voice acting from its principal cast and as well as secondary ones. Those it stumbles a bit in its pacing, and slightly inability to break the mold from The LEGO Movie as well as bit of a barrage of characters, the movie does succeed in being funny, lighthearted, and a great comedic romp through another iteration of Batman (one that won’t disappoint its fans). For me, I loved this movie. It was both humorous and entertaining and definitely left me with a smile on my face. Thus, I would say that the movie gets my highly-recommended stamp of approval. Whether young, older, hardcore Batman fan, or just a causal moviegoer, The LEGO Batman Movie, much like its predecessor succeeds at being genre parody with hilarious humors beats and poignant storytelling. If you haven’t seeing it already, check the movie out. It will be interesting to see where they go with these future installments of these LEGO animated movies (the next one is The LEGO Ninjago Movie). For now, The LEGO Batman Movie will surely make you laughs and is a great to see the Cape Crusader return in LEGO brick form once again.

4.3 Out of 5 (Highly Recommended)

 

Released On: February 10th, 2017
Reviewed On: February 26th, 2017

The LEGO Batman Movie is 104 minutes long and is rated PG for some rude humor and some action

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