By Gavin Arucan | Staff Writer
Whilst the DC Extended Universe is crumbling apart with “The Flash” replacing directors and “The Batman” losing Ben Affleck’s creative vision, one constant manages to stick together through the chaos and give us the DC heroes we deserve. That constant is the up and coming Lego Movie franchise. “The Lego Movie” was easily the most surprisingly great movie in the last few years. Moviegoers went from assuming it was nothing more than one and a half hours of product placements to complaining that it wasn’t nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars. This “Lego Movie” spinoff gives the spotlight to the most popular character from that movie: Lego Batman.
I mentioned in an earlier article that “The Lego Batman Movie” is my most anticipated movie of 2017. “The Lego Movie” is one of my favorite films of all time. That sounds ridiculous, I know, but it’s one of the most well animated, funniest, and heartwarming movies of the decade. As someone who’s played with Lego sets and video games throughout his entire childhood, “The Lego Movie” impacted me in ways most other films cannot. Therefore, I had the highest hopes going into “The Lego Batman Movie.” And, even with dangerously ambitious expectations, “The Lego Batman Movie” blew me away.
First of all, Lego does a stellar job at utilizing all of its intellectual properties to their highest comedic potential. With “The Lego Movie,” the “Lego Dimensions” video game, and now “The Lego Batman Movie,” Lego is able to make fun of other franchises while using the actual characters, and sometimes actors, as well. Forget Marvel; Lego is the real master of crossover.
The Batman character and world is a prime source of comedy, as proven by shows like “Robot Chicken” or “How it Should Have Ended” on YouTube. It’s a world that’s so deeply rooted in pop culture and has such a dark theme that silly jokes and satire come naturally. Warner Bros pulls no punches at itself and makes fun of everything that is Batman, from his tendency to brood over Gotham City as lightning strikes behind him to his sudden animosity towards his fellow super friend, Superman. Even Batman’s lengthy rogues gallery gets some hilarious shoutouts. Joker’s relationship with Batman is played for laughs rather than for the usual dramatic tension. There are dozens of deep cuts into the Batman lore that a comic book reader and DC animation fan like myself will appreciate. Some of Batman’s lamest villains such as Kite Man and Condiment King show up for good portions of the movie. It’s an amazing world we live in that Polka-Dot Man gets to be in a theatrical feature film before Martian Manhunter.
There are a ton of references to Adam West’s portrayal of Batman in the ’60s, but my favorite reference has to be Billy Dee William’s return as Two-Face. For those who don’t know, the actor, who’s best known for playing Lando Calrissian in “The Empire Strikes Back,” once played Harvey Dent in Tim Burton’s 1989 “Batman.” To the fan’s disappointment, Williams never became a fully realized Two-Face, until now.
Speaking of voice actors, the entire cast of “The Lego Batman Movie” is spectacular. Will Arnett, who was born to voice the bat vigilante, reprises his role as Lego Batman. Arnett is definitely near the top of my list of best Batman actors. Recognizable talents such as Michael Cera (Robin), Rosario Dawson (Batgirl), and Ralph Fiennes (Alfred) are also attached and bring new life to these well known characters. Cera did an especially good job at reinventing the Dick Grayson/Robin character into a wide-eyed orphan. Zach Galifianakis voices the Joker in the film, and while I still would’ve preferred Mark Hamill, I’m glad that Galifianakis brought his own unique take to the Joker. Most Joker voices try to imitate Hamill’s voice, and though I appreciate the effort, those performances always leave me wanting to hear the real voice instead. Galifianakis provides a voice that I would’ve never pictured coming out of the Joker’s mouth before, yet it still works perfectly. If I have one problem with his performance, it’s that I can’t pinpoint that one Joker laugh that audiences will remember for years to come. Every Joker has had one, but I just don’t remember any good cackles from the Lego Clown Prince. Also, Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill return to voice Superman and Green Lantern respectively. They only get a few minutes of screen time, but it’s nice to see cameos from “The Lego Movie” being carried over.
The animation, while technically amazing, disappointed me a bit. The colors and sets do add to the overall gothic feeling that Gotham City is known for, and the level of detail on every Lego brick and minifigure still blows my mind, but I do have a very minor and specific criticism with the animation that took me out of the film at times. What happened to the Lego water and smoke? One of the most impressive aspects of “The Lego Movie” was how everything stayed within the limits of Lego pieces, including the ocean, clouds, smoke, and blur lines.
“The Lego Batman Movie” is very inconsistent with its animation design. Explosions, fire, and lava are still completely built out of Lego, yet water, smoke, and other particles are animated realistically. It seems like the Warner Animation Group worked hard on “The Lego Movie” to create a program that simulates all of these objects as Lego blocks, yet they didn’t utilize it in the spin-off that shares the same universe. There are some shots of creatures emerging from the ocean or Batman throwing a smoke bomb that would’ve been more epic if it were made entirely out of Lego.
I know it seems like I’m making way to big of a deal over water animation, but the animation in “The Lego Movie” was so lovingly crafted and revolutionary that it seems like carrying that over to a spin-off would only be natural.
Another animation quirk that bugs me is that the minifigures are given a wider range of motion than they did in the original. Being fully digitally animated, “The Lego Movie” took a few liberties and moved character’s limbs in ways that a real Lego can’t, but it tended to keep the character animation grounded to reality for the majority of the film. “The Lego Batman” movie does this with almost every action the characters make, and it gets a little distracting if you study how animated characters move like I do. This flexibility does admittedly provide smoother fight sequences than what “The Lego Movie” had, but a part of me wants to see how the animators would have worked around the limitations of a Lego minifig. This character animation does allow for some pretty funny poses though, so I don’t think I would change it back in this instance. I just hope that by the time “The Lego Movie 2” comes out, all the original details are retained.
Additionally, the moral of the story is rather cliche. It’s a standard arc of learning to accept your family and work in a team. “The Lego Movie” already played its trump card by revealing that the entire franchise takes place in a child’s imagination, therefore explaining away all the cliches, but I hope that all the future Lego movies don’t rely on that plot twist as a crutch. I know that the writers can be clever, so a more intelligent moral would have been greatly appreciated. In fact, didn’t Lego Batman already learn the value of teamwork from Emmet?
These few inconsistencies keep me from liking “The Lego Batman Movie” more than “The Lego Movie,” but it is still one of the strongest comedies in a while. I was laughing non-stop throughout the film and I didn’t grow tired of it either. I’m looking forward to watching this movie a dozen more times because, like “The Lego Movie,” it’s the type of comedy that you can watch repeatedly and still catch new jokes years later. It’s awesome that a franchise centered around building blocks can be so entertaining. Since Warner Bros recently released a trailer for the next Lego spin-off, “The Lego Ninjago Movie,” there’s an entire Lego universe of films ready to hit the big screen. So, as Lego Morgan Freeman so eloquently put it: “cover your butt.”