(Welcome back to Movie Week, where we are catching up on some reviews of movies I saw earlier in the year but was too lazy or distracted by real world issues to write about.)
I knew The Lego Batman Movie would be a difficult movie to review, at least in the way I usually review movies. It’s not that I didn’t like it– I liked it a lot– but the usual tactics of talking about casting, performances, plot, storytelling and worldbuilding, then putting the flick in context and adding my own weird observations and comments, and of course lots of throwing in lots of spoilers, just don’t seem to apply.
This is Lego, everybody. Animated Lego. And it’s great. The original Lego Movie was an unexpected delight, and the Batman character was the best thing in it. (My friend B, who is a bit of a Batman maven, says Lego Batman is the best Batman ever in a medium other than comics.) So it’s hardly a surprise that he got his own movie. The Lego Batman Movie is concentrated Batman in the context of Lego, with a cast of Batman characters (including pretty much the entire Rogues Gallery) and all the crazy vehicles and settings (including an incredibly well developed Gotham City). And everything is made of CGI Lego. Sounds weird. Works great. My notes from the day I saw the movie specifically mention the climbing Bat vehicle called the Scuttler, and two of the sets: the vast Great Hall at Wayne Manor with the animated Lego fires in the enormous fireplaces, and the winter garden party set. The world needs more giant narwhal ice sculptures executed in imaginary Lego.
Casting was sound, and the (Lego with voices) performances are sometimes quite good. Alfred the butler, who is my favorite Batman character, is great here– father figure, grandfather figure, and superhero in his own right. Robin is a fun silly-sometimes-touching kid character, and Barbara Gordon (she and Batman are Just Good Friends) makes a great sidekick. The villains are highly entertaining, including one of the best depictions of the Joker since Heath Ledger’s, but if I may offer a criticism, there are too many of them and it might have been more interesting if the writers had concentrated on a few bad guys and developed them more.
Or maybe not. Because one of the greatest things about the Lego movie world is its lavishness. Regular readers of my media reviews and other criticism know that I am not normally a big fan of bigness– in storytelling, in settings, in plots. But Lego movie world is big, so, so big, and it works for me. Maybe because it is built out of those familiar little plastic blocks that we all understand with the deep understanding that comes from our mutual childhoods. We all know what Legos are, and most of us have played with them and dreamed of having an infinite number of pieces and being able to build everything. The Lego filmmakers are in just that position, with their never empty box of digital Legos, and perhaps we are living vicariously through them.
So I end up loving the bigness of the Lego movie world– its wildly detailed sets, huge vistas and massive casts of minifigures with their endless wardrobes and selection of props. (Lobster Thermidor, anyone?) Everything I sometimes complain about in movies that are supposed to be somehow “realistic” is just tremendous fun when translated into computer Lego. In a Lego movie we are all living the dream.
(Note that I have typed the word “Lego” more times in the previous five paragraphs than I have in my entire life up to this point.)