Monday, February 13, 2017

[Review] The LEGO Batman Movie

After 2014's surprisingly awesome The LEGO Movie, the film's show-stealer of a Batman has gotten his own audacious spinoff. It's death-defyingly exciting. It's darkly hilarious. And it's tons of brooding fun. Did you catch all those heavy descriptors? Because this Batman wants to make sure you know that he's gloomy and full of rage.

Its initial premise is not an unfamiliar dynamic: The Joker (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) terrorizes Gotham City... Batman (Will Arnett) shows up to save the day... But things shift when a new police commissioner (Rosario Dawson) steps in and outlaws Batman's vigilante activities and urges him to work with the force. But you know Batman--he's stubborn and likes to do things his own way. So he teams up with his Michael Cera-voiced son (yes, you read that right) whom he accidentally adopted (yes, you read that right too), in order to permanently blast The Joker into the "Phantom Zone", a place where the most notorious villains dwell--Dracula, King Kong, Voldemort, Sauron etc...

The terrific script cleverly references Batman incarnations of the past, pokes fun at them, and pays homage--all in a tightly connective and energetic manner. The volume of great jokes is high, and they fire off in rapid succession (the trailer alone seemed to pack more chuckles than the entirety of a lot of the less-than-savory comedies that enter theaters--looking at you Dirty Grandpa), stacking jokes on top of jokes--to the point where your laughs need to catch up from the previous bit. What's also amusing is how this Batman persona is somehow painfully self-aware and totally oblivious at the same time, managing to be multidimensional as a character in a movie of animated Legos that's already based on another character. Will Arnett's gravelly voicework and comic timing fits perfectly, too.

And speaking of the animation, this Chris McKay-directed film may appear basic or rudimentary at the surface, but the more you pay close attention, the more crafty details you'll notice--the scratch and scuff marks on the Lego pieces, along with the oily shine they display, as if someone has gotten a lot of use out of them. The depth of field is so impressive and the plastic textures are so vivid that it seems like you could reach out into the screen and grab the blocks. The busy color palette glows with secondary hues amidst high-contrast lighting, you know--because Batman has to have shadows. 

While The LEGO Batman Movie lacks the sly commentary and imaginative, heart-tugging revelations of its Lego Movie predecessor, it still dives into some themes of loneliness, isolation, and self-absorption and spins them into themes of teamwork, friendship, family, and the importance of setting out to make the world a better place. It might even make you feel feelings and stuff, but don't tell Batman I said that.

* 8.5/10 *

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