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Movie Review: #TheLEGOBatmanMovie

The Dark Knight tackles his feelings for The Joker in the fun but flawed The LEGO Batman Movie.

Review by Matt Cummings

If you were like me, 2014's The LEGO Movie was not only hilarious but a breath of fresh air. It took the now-crowded (and somewhat predictable) animated landscape and turned it on its ear, by taking the genre through the Fourth Wall with memorable results. And while The LEGO Batman Movie is fun and quite good, it's clearly not on the same level with the original. But is that demotion enough of a reason not to see it?

Billionaire Bruce Wayne and his doppelganger Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) revel in the life each has created for themselves. For the Caped Crusader, it's once again capturing the notorious Joker (Zach Galifianakis), all while Gotham City celebrates Batman's greatness. For Wayne, life is about parties and acquisitions until he meets the new chief of police Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), who suggests that Batman's protection of the city is actually causing its destruction. While Wayne plots the acquisition of Gordon, he accidentally adopts Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), whose golly-gee-wiz attitude eventually sees him discovering the Batcave, much to Wayne's dismay. But trouble looms as The Joker gathers a squad of baddies from The Phantom Zone in the hopes of ridding Gotham of its hero, while proving to Batman that he actually needs The Joker in order to exist. The results will see Batman face tough realities about what he does and whether it might be time to forge new friendships in order to protect the city he loves.

There's much to like about The LEGO Batman Movie: its over-the-top meta zaniness reveals one of the best scenes of the year, as Batman self-deprecates across his various television and movie incarnations to Aflred (Ralph Fiennes), including the infamous Batnipple. There's a frenetic pace to the film, as if Director Adam McKay is trying to squeeze in as much story and meta as possible. That sort of spirit gives the film a quality we don't see often, making it perhaps the best Batman movie ever, and certainly its funniest. Arnett delivers perfectly-gravely gravitas to the role, while Cera's take on Robin is quite clever. He's just taking all of this in, including that his new dad (Wayne) has "given permission" to Batman to take the boy out on missions. That sort of naivety permeates LEGO, in which heroes and villains are as inept as the regular colored brick people. There's also a very human element to LEGO which is revealed early on: The Joker becomes hurt at Batman's revelation that his arch enemy is merely a common criminal, another piece of trash to be tossed into the Gotham City Landfill. That moment comes off better visually than Galifianakis' rather drab voicing of it, highlighting early problems that keep it from being another LEGO Movie.

While incredibly funny in many parts, LEGO descends into uncomfortably quiet moments that go on a little too long to be funny. They include sequences where we're meant to either feel pity for Batman and his villains, as if their choices were somehow forced upon them. These on-the-nose moments will go right over the heads of young ones and adults will scoff at the notion that either side "needs" the other to survive. The other thing - and this will really piss off hardcore Bat-types - is that Batman is somehow in love with Barbara Gordon. There's been attempts lately in the comics and movies to connect the two, but Gordon is essentially half of Wayne's age; moreover, there's no reason established why Wayne would fall for her, other than she's simply beautiful. It might be considered the unnecessarily layering on of the Bat-criticisms, but the film's frenetic pace - especially as Joker compiles a list of WB baddies spanning multiple franchises - doesn't give us enough time with these other properties to truly enjoy them. I was waiting for a Voldemort/Alfred moment - as the very good Fiennes meets up with his doppleganger - but this never materializes. Some of us at the test screening were also confused if we were seeing a six-legged version of Godzilla or if that was meant to be something else. Nevertheless, The Wicked Witch of the West and whole host of other WB properties show up, which will take a couple of showings to pick up.

Of course, there is a tender side to LEGO, and the idea of family is discussed (again) in this one, which is sometimes hackneyed by a team of six writers. Rogue One's harsh journey to box office success was an isolated example that usually isn't the norm. But, McKay deftly directs the colored plastic bricks, which look gorgeous thanks to Animal Logic Animation Studios. The animation is so good that you'll think that you're watching stop motion rather than the computer-generated product we're presented.

So the question remains: should you see it? If you love LEGO's, yes. If you have children, yes. If you're a hardcore adult builder that secretly watches the original too much, sure. The LEGO Batman Movie should appeal to these and even more demographics, but reaction will depend upon whether you want to see a smart or merely clever followup. Batman is clearly the latter, a movie with lots of one-liners but lacking in other scenes, some of which are almost too painfully quiet. Vocal performances are stellar and the animation yields both the bright colors and wackiness that made the original so memorable. I can't say this one will resonate as strongly, but it's the first hint that the doldrums of January cinema have finally given way.

The LEGO Batman Movie is rated PG for mild rude humor and action and has a runtime of 104 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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