When The LEGO Movie came out in 2014, I was more than a little suspicious of the quality of the film. The trailers didn’t seem too bad, but due to its early winter release and the seemingly run of the mill plot, this whole enterprise just screamed to be just another corporate cash-grab. Then I watched the movie and I realized that I have never been so happy to have been wrong. The whole movie just defied every expectation that I had of it and is still one of the best experiences I’ve had in the theater. So when I heard that the character of Batman was going to be in his own spin-off, I was immediately sold.
The LEGO Batman Movie, directed by Chris McKay and starring Will Arnet, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Zack Galafinakis, and Ralph Fiennes among other talents, is a spoof on the dour nature of the recent Batman movies. The joy of the movie, however, isn’t that the movie is poking fun just to poke fun, but comes out of a place of love with the property. In essence, the movie isn’t trying to lampoon Batman just for the sake of lampooning the property, but it uses humor as a way to tease out otherwise hidden aspects of the character and his supporting cast. Consider the character of Batman in the movie. Emotionally, this version of the character has never really progressed past the age of 14; and the arrested development (pun intended) provides a place where McKay can explore the deeper parts of the Caped Crusader. Batman progresses not because the plot demands it, but because he’s given a way to grow in a healthy manner as opposed to becoming an even more somber and tragic loner.
The side characters were also a delight to see. Barbara Gordon has only been in the public consciousness for just small moments at a time, so it was refreshing to see her portrayed competently and fully dressed. The villains, especially the affection-craving Joker, were all parodied in a good spirited manner. The best characters, however, we’re Alfred and Robin, who provided the honest heart of the movie. Alfred sometimes gets undeserved grief as being just the Butler, and Robin gets pinned as the childish character who doesn’t belong in the dark, brooding Brontë-like stories of Batman. But by virtue of being a comedy, and without spoiling anything, the movie is able to approach these characters and their relationships seriously without delving into any sort of dramatic melodrama.
On the more technical side, the movie was made and directed with as much love as its characters. The animation is still top-notch, with special mentions to Batman’s mouth when he talks. The world was lit, shot, and edited superbly. On top of that, the movie is directed so well that it knows when to quickly cram little jokes about Batman lore to slowing down to poignant moments and switching again to high paced toy chaos.
Still, if I had to say a few negatives, it would honestly be with the story. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with it per se, but in comparison to The LEGO Movie, where the plot had twists and turns and even addresses the 4th wall, it isn’t too hard to guess how this story is going to turn out within the first ten minutes. Again, the characters and their interactions were obviously where all of the love and care was placed, but there is just something lacking in this story in comparison to the movie it spun off from. Additionally, there were a few places where I thought that the director was trying to remind the audience of something a bit too much through editing, but it is technically aimed at kids, I can let it slide.
Could we say that this movie is as good as The LEGO Movie? No, but that’s no fault of its own. The LEGO Movie was such a welcome surprise that there is nothing that this movie could have done to live up to the hype. The LEGO Batman Movie would probably have been perceived differently if it came first, but that’s the psychology of novelty at work and not something that should be used as a way to undermine this film. With that said, the movie is still solid, fun, and a heartwarming watch and a worthy follow-up to the awesome work that it spawned from.
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