Friday, February 10, 2017

A Reel Review: THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE



There are only two ways to make a parody; either with love, or without. The latter method pokes fun with the intent of tearing down the original material and expose faults. The former, which is often the most fun and less mean, pokes fun while acting as a tribute and a love-letter. For Chris McKay and his creative team behind THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE, it isn’t hard to figure out where they’re coming from.

In a universe built out of Lego, Batman (Will Arnett), who always insists on working alone, has his crime-fighting world turned upside down when he accidently adopts orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), while Gotham City’s new police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) decides to battle crime without the Bat. Things get more complicated when The Joker (Zack Galifianakis), decides to bring an army of villains to town to force Batman to admit that he is his greatest enemy.

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is all about Batman and his journey to accept that teamwork is the best way to go. After a fantastic opening sequence, this version of The Caped Crusader shows that he has been successful in working alone, and does so mostly because of his painful past. As the plot unfolds, Batman is forced to face those demons and accept that even he needs help. But what would seem like a clich├ęd and overused plot is made fresh not only by the colorful and vibrant world that these Lego people inhabit, but by the writing team who makes sure every character has a vital role in Batman’s little journey of discovery. Every character is worthwhile, and through some clever metaphors in this world, makes for a meaty and digestible story.

With over 78 years of history to draw from, finding material to pack this Batman movie with wasn’t difficult. Every version of Batman on film and TV finds a presence here, as does his gallery of bad guys, and the film is saturated in Batman lore. Director Chris McKay has clearly done his homework here, as everything from the character’s long history is put to good use. Not content with just stopping there, the film also uses Joker’s army to populate the film with great villains of pop culture; everyone from King Kong, Godzilla, Gremlins, Voldemort, the Daleks, and few dozen Agent Smiths show up…along with a few more surprises. The various cameos and superhero references are a blast.

The jokes and gags come non-stop, and there’s barely enough time to take in one joke before the next is happening. Our current state of pop culture, blockbuster movies, and our own world is lampooned over and over, and it provides more than one laugh-out-loud moment and big dumb grins. The movie is amazing to look at; Gotham looks rich and vast and the design for the famed Batcave is eye-popping. Closeups of the characters reveal an astonishing level of detail. Music selections are well-timed and fun, and the film even parodies the music used in the last few live-action Batman films.

The voiceover cast is perfect. Will Arnett turns in a great performance, and it’s fair to assume that he had a blast doing it. Michael Cera is probably the real surprise as Dick Grayson (spoiler-alert, he becomes Robin), as he’s unrecognizable and fully captures the character. Rosario Dawson as Barbara Gordon feels inspired (another spoiler, she becomes Batgirl), and Ralph Fiennes is perfect as Alfred. Zach Galifianakis is excellent as Joker. The rest of the large cast including Channing Tatum (Superman), Jonah Hill (Green Lantern), Zoe Kravitz (Catwoman), Jenny Slate (Harley Quinn), Mariah Carey (the Mayor), Conan O’Brien (Riddler), and Billy Dee Williams (Two-Face) are perfect in their roles.

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE throws a lot at the screen in character, plot, jokes, music, and in visuals…and even though the film is “only” 106 minutes, it’s easy to feel exhausted by the time the visual and audio assault ends and the colorful credits start. If it has any fault it’s that its execution actually matches the high-ambition. This is an absolute blast, and clearly made by people who care.

BOTTOM LINE: See it



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