Friday, February 10, 2017

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE: The Film Babble Blog Review

Now playing at a multiplex near you (sheesh, it's at 22 theaters in my area):

(Dir. Chris McKay, 2017)

Will Arnett’s Batman stole 2014’s funniest film, THE LEGO MOVIE, fair and square, so here’s his highly anticipated spin-off, and I’m happy to report that it’s just as funny.

Maybe even funnier, as it insanely packs its one hour, 44 minute running time with as many gags as the filmmakers can stuff into it. And amazingly, just about every one of them land hilariously.

While THE LEGO MOVIE writers/directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller are on board only as executive producers, the screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers Jared Stern, and John Whittington (all animation comedy veterans) retains their ultra meta sensibility which kicks in from the get go with Arnett’s gravelly voice-over: “All important movies start with a black screen.”

After Arnett’s supremely self-absorbed, cocky, and forever brooding Dark Knight talks us through the studio logos, and opening titles, rivaling DEADPOOL’s laugh-every-few-seconds opening sequence, the film gives us Zach Galifianakis as the Joker hijacking a plane full of explosives. The plane’s pilot, for McGuffin Airlines, mind you, isn’t appropriately scared and reminds the Joker of the many times his evil plans were thwarted by Batman including “that time with the parade and the Prince music.”

This alludes to the movie’s best and most successful idea: to riff on the entire history of Batman. Arnett’s Batman back story calls upon every incarnation of the classic character from last year’s BATMAN V. SUPERMAN back through Christopher Nolan’s DARK KNIGHT trilogy, the Joel Schumacher and Tim Burton versions from ’89 to ‘97, the silly ‘60s TV show (yep, there’s clips of Adam West doing the Batusi), and even the old black and white ‘40s serials. There’s even a can of Bat Shark Repellent from BATMAN: THE MOVIE (1966)!

Batman does indeed thwart the Joker’s latest attempt to destroy Gotham City, who it’s amusing to hear speak in Galifianakis’ Southern accent, but, worse, he hurts his long-time foe’s feelings by telling him that he doesn’t consider him his greatest enemy and that they aren’t “a thing.” This relationship talk satire makes for another great running joke (Batman: “I like to fight around”).

So The Joker devises a new plan involving getting banished into the Phantom Zone so that he can unleash an army of seemingly every D.C. comics villain ever, and many recognizable evil entities such as Gremlins, King Kong, Jaws, and the Daleks (Joker: “British robots – ask your geek friends!”) and take over Gotham City.

Meanwhile, Batman is feeling pretty down and lonely (“One is the Loneliest Number” is on the soundtrack) in his big empty Wayne Manor mansion which is on an isolated island, and it doesn’t help that the new police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) wants him to do away with his lone vigilante standing and team up with the police.

Smitten with Barbara, who history tells us will become Batgirl, Arnett’s Bruce Wayne unknowingly agrees to adopt orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), who, of course, will become Robin. Arnett and Cera together makes for a nifty Arrested Development reunion, and they play off each other wonderfully, especially when it comes to how much Batman hates Robin
s short shorts.

Reluctantly, because he’s a loner who doesn’t want to get close to anybody due to how he lost his parents (something every Batman movie has to touch on), our tiny plastic Dark Knight teams up with Barbara, Robin, and his trusty Butler Alfred (voiced by Ralph Fiennes) to save the day.

That involves a trip to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude (cue: John Williams’ score from SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE) where Batman finds out that all the Justice League crew including Channing Tatum as the Man of Steel, Jonah Hill as Green Lantern, and Adam DeVine as The Flash, are having a party that he wasn’t invited to.

The plot is fairly routine, but that’s sort of the point as the whole enterprise is a spirited take down of tropes that are in every superhero movie, and D.C.’s own troubled attempt to form an interlocking cinematic universe aping Marvel’s business model.

THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE’s digs at the failings of MAN OF STEEL, BATMAN V. SUPERMAN, and SUICIDE SQUAD (Jenny Slate contributes a mean Harley Quinn here) are a boon to the film’s smart self awareness.

Even as a comic variation on the character, Arnett’s alternative fact Batman is up there with Michael Keaton and Christian Bale’s interpretations. He’s certainly preferable to Ben Affleck’s take, which is really getting off to a really shaky start (his solo Batman movie seems to be stuck in development hell, with him stepping down as director if you haven’t heard).

A complete success as a wide-ranging parody of the entire Batman movie mythos, and as one of the funniest films in recent memory, THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE is one to take both your kids and your parents to.

For with its intoxicating visuals, and non stop, over-the-top joke assault, it’s the perfect escapism from how surreal the world feels right now. It’s got a great message too, about how we can all overcome evil by clicking together. Something like that, anyway, I was laughing too much throughout to really care about any moral.

More later...

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