Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The LEGO Batman Movie

***1/2 out of ****

It is what it is. The LEGO Batman Movie is the kind of wonderful thing that happens when things are bad. The current run of DC Comics franchise films are making money but I certainly don't value them and neither do the many comic book and movie fans with whom I associate.

In my Batman v Superman review last year, I've gone over what's wrong with these films, so I'll try and let that go here, because whether anyone at Warner or DC is willing to admit it, this new movie represents the institutionalization of a troubled series. It isn't the cure, but Batman, Superman and Joker all got sent to the nuthouse thanks to their benefactor, Lego, where we can see if a little self-parody can help these guys work out their issues.

Directed by Chris McKay (TV's Robot Chicken) this hilarious animated film picks up on the adventures of Batman's Lego incarnation (voice of Will Arnett) last seen in The Lego Movie and continues that particular film's aesthetic splendor where simple figures with choppy animation are given a comically epic context.

The movie does everything you can expect with a plot that portrays Batman as a hero so enamored with his awesomeness that he is unwilling to do a little self-exploration -despite the insistence of his loyal butler Alfred (voice of Ralph Fiennes). Why does Gotham City continue to have a dramatic crime problem, despite Batman's help? Why does Joker (voice of Zach Galifianakis) seem so insistent on creating problems for Batman to solve while Batman allows him to get away every time? Why does Batman prefer to work alone, when a little cooperation with others would be better for everyone?

These questions all come to the surface when the criminals of Gotham all mysteriously choose to voluntarily surrender to the police for their absurd schemes and are jailed, leaving Batman without a sense of purpose until Robin (voice of Michael Cera) enters his life as an orphan looking to assist the caped crusader, which Batman refuses until he realizes the boy has skills necessary to help him agitate the crime world back into operation. Naturally, Joker is counting on this. 

This isn't such a bad plot considering that this is the first tongue-in-cheek take take on Batman in cinema since Joel Schumacher made a couple of movies in the '90s which could have stood to embrace their campiness more in order to work. 

The movie is expectedly hyperactive with pop-cultural and meta humor running throughout its simulated plastic construction blocks and I had a great time watching it. But there is still the strange feeling that came with the realization in 2014 that one of the best movies of that year was essentially a 100-minute commercial. The fact that a toy brand name attached to a franchise brand name gets people swarming to the theaters feels kind of cynical. The fact that it delivered great entertainment is just... weird.

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