Monday, February 13, 2017

The LEGO Batman Movie

After the success of The LEGO Movie in 2014, an inevitable sequel was announced, and with it a pair of spin-offs based on Batman (as depicted in the movie) and LEGO’s popular Ninjago theme. Upon hearing about The LEGO Batman Movie, given Batman’s humorous portrayal in The LEGO Movie, I did have some reservations at first on whether his shtick would be able to carry an entire movie. A trailer paired with the disastrous Batman v Superman gave me a glimpse as to what such a movie would be like, and further trailers towards the actual release helped to assuage any doubts I may have had. In the end, I can say I enjoyed the movie much more than I thought I would initially.

After foiling a plan by The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) to blow up Gotham City, Batman/Bruce Wayne (Will Arnett) goes home to his large and empty mansion, eating microwaved lobster thermidor and watching movies alone in his theater. As Batman looks at an old family photo, his butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) suggests to him that he not only fears having a family of his own, he should also consider the possibility of raising a child. At an event commemorating Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) as the new Commissioner of Gotham, this comes to a head when Bruce Wayne unknowingly adopts Richard “Dick” Grayson (Michael Cera), an orphan. Meanwhile, The Joker is upset about Batman not paying him any attention despite being a major villain, and so concocts a new scheme to earn that attention after watching a TV interview with Superman (Channing Tatum) involving the Phantom Zone.

The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) just wants some attention from Batman (Will Arnett).

Though this movie is a spin-off of The LEGO Movie, it generally presented itself as a stand-alone story, the only major connections being the existence of a swirling abyss at the edge of reality and Batman’s abilities as a Master Builder (allowing him to construct whatever he wants using LEGO bricks from the environment). Aside from that, the story was actually rather easy to follow and had some solid writing amidst a slew of largely-clever humor (among them a number of Michael Jackson references). In general, the movie can be viewed as both a celebration and parody of Batman as a whole, since there are a number of references/jokes to previous Batman media (up to Batman v Superman at the time of the movie’s release), many of them to the 1966 Adam West series. The movie also notably features the film debut of a great number of Batman villains (including Z-list characters such as Clock King, Polka-Dot Man, Calendar Man and Condiment King), as well as the first time the entirety of the Justice League has been seen on-screen together (beating out the upcoming Justice League movie by nine months at the time of this writing).

Yes, Condiment King is a real Batman villain.
(Pictured: His appearance as he debuted in
Batman: The Animated Series.)

As with The LEGO Movie, the animation is very well-done, mimicking the stop-motion style rather well. I did notice, however, that more liberties seemed to be taken in regards to character animation, such as minifigure arms and legs, while retaining static positions, moving more free-form around the body to achieve certain poses, as well as there being more ambiguity as to whether the minifigure characters have a static “neck.” Batman’s cowl is also noticeably more animated compared to it remaining static in The LEGO Movie, however the end result maintains the stop-motion illusion by appearing as though multiple cowl molds were swapped out between frames. There is also some minor cheating in that some realistic smoke and water effects are used at times rather than having said elements be made of LEGO bricks, as in The LEGO Movie, though the animators still did a good job overall in maintaining the illusion of being a high-budget stop-motion production.

The voice acting is actually pretty good, with Will Arnett returning to voice his version of Batman and being able to run with it while still delivering a good range of emotion when needed. I honestly did not recognize Michael Cera playing Dick Grayson/Robin, mainly because I’m used to seeing him perform characters along the lines of Scott Pilgrim, which to me proved that he actually has some range as an actor and makes me wonder if he will ever get an opportunity like that again in any future role he is given. Zach Galifianakis delivers a rather interesting take on The Joker, who is portrayed here as being a serious villain while at the same time edging on being one of the sillier Jokers, as he goes out of his way just to get Batman to recognize him as a threat in a way comparable to unrequited love. While Galifianakis is not Mark Hamill, he certainly makes his Joker memorable, which is unfortunately more than I can say about Jared Leto’s Joker as seen in last year’s Suicide Squad. The other voice actors in the movie do a good job in playing the roles in which they are cast, a number of which seem to be played for laughs, such as editor Matt Villa delivering a higher-pitched voice in a brief moment of Killer Croc speaking and The Big Bang Theory’s Kate Micucci voicing Clayface.

The main score is provided by Lorne Balfe, whose resume includes the main entries in the Skylanders video game franchise among other things, in collaboration with drummer Chad Smith from Red Hot Chili Peppers. While his score might not be as memorable as Mark Mothersbaugh’s score in The LEGO Movie, he does a good job in giving The LEGO Batman Movie its own identity separate from its predecessor. A well-composed lounge music cover of the song “Everything Is Awesome” is performed by Richard Cheese & Lounge Against The Machine, however its use is more subtle here than in The LEGO Movie.

The LEGO Batman Movie is a movie for fans of all things LEGO, Batman, and LEGO Batman. While not as good as The LEGO Movie, it keeps the same spirit of its predecessor while having its own identity as a fun action-comedy. It’s especially fun if you are a Batman fan, since, as I said earlier, the movie is essentially a simultaneous celebration and parody of the caped crusader’s 75+ years of history, many of it stemming from the Dark Knight Trilogy and the Adam West series from the 1960s. Attached to the main feature is a trailer for The LEGO Ninjago Movie; while I am not well-versed in the Ninjago theme, I remain cautiously optimistic that the movie will convince me to go see it in a similar fashion to how The LEGO Batman Movie managed to convince me.

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