BY DYLYN PETERSON
Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong
I probably don’t have to tell you, but DC superhero movies are in a bad spot right now. We haven’t seen a really good one since 2008’s “The Dark Knight.” Movies for kids are in even worse shape, with app adaptations, suspiciously similar premises, and franchises based around tiny yellow idiots. With this in mind, I was understandably nervous about a hundred-minute expansion film based on a gag from “The Lego Movie.”
However, I liked “Lego Batman.” It’s filled with great jokes, from Batman microwaving a lobster dinner in silence for about a minute, to the sound of gunfire just being whoever’s holding the gun yelling, “bang,” over and over, to my favorite, the glorious theatrical return of the bat-shark repellent. The animation is just as high-quality as in Lego Movie, with realistic wear marks on the figures, and an extreme adherence to the idea that all of this could theoretically be done with actual Legos in stop-motion.
The plot is relatively straightforward. Batman’s quest for justice and vengeance is ended prematurely by Barbara Gordon taking over as Police Commissioner of Gotham City from her dad, bringing with her an increased skillset and knowledge base that renders Batman a little pointless. Additionally, the Joker, dissatisfied by Batman’s insistence that he doesn’t have an archenemy (and, if he does, that it’s Superman), turns himself and all of his supervillain buddies in, and they’re all locked up in Arkham Asylum.
Batman and Barbara both realize that there’s some funny business going down, but he refuses to work with her, and instead decides he’s going to steal Superman’s portal gun to the Phantom Zone and lock the Joker away forever. Unfortunately, Batman’s too big and slow to break into the Fortress of Solitude alone, so he sends in Dick Grayson, an orphan he adopted by accident, to get it for him. This goes poorly, and the Joker ends up releasing a ton of antagonists from other franchises into Gotham City.
This leads to one of my biggest gripes with the film: it invests far more time and creative energy into the “Lego” part of its name than the “Batman.” While it is cool that we get to see some classic monsters and villains (some of whom can’t be named, but can still use their catchphrases, I guess), it undermines a lot of what the movie was doing right. It could’ve played up more on the Batman/Superman rivalry (hey, we might’ve gotten a good Batman vs. Superman movie), or spent some time developing Gotham City, maybe have a Robin training montage, or, perhaps, actually show Batman being Batman.
Aside from the beginning of the movie, wherein he fights just about every Batman villain of note (for good reasons or bad; both Crazy Quilt and Condiment Man are featured), he spends a lot more time sulking, staring at pictures of his parents, and talking to his computer (who is voiced by Siri), than stopping crime. This is a real wasted opportunity. Wouldn’t it have been funny if, for example, after his entire rogues gallery went to prison, Batman intervened in obscure or petty crimes, taking people down for Internet piracy or unpaid taxes?
On the topic of characters, I’m extremely disappointed that Wonder Woman only appeared for five seconds and got no lines, considering that “The Lego Movie” was her first theatrical appearance ever. However, Batman gets more character development here than he’s arguably ever gotten in a movie before. His arc centered around his reluctance to work with others or create a family because of the tragedy of his parents’ deaths. Dick Grayson is adorable and funny, but less awesome than he is traditionally. Also, I guess this version wears big glasses, because…reasons? Alfred is Alfred, although he dresses up as ‘60s Batman at one point. Barbara has nothing to do with comics-Barbara, and she’s also not very memorable, sadly. The Joker is…fine. I liked him better than Jared Leto, for sure, but he isn’t intimidating, or particularly crazy. He just has the traditional hate-crush on Batman. Otherwise, it could’ve been anybody in a purple tuxedo.
I can’t fault the film too much for not being the movie I’d make, though. I find it difficult to fault at all, seeing as Billy Dee Williams, who played Harvey Dent in the 1989 Batman movie (my favorite), finally got to play Two-Face. Judging it on how successfully it manages to be the movie it wants to be, which is still a charming and funny one, I’m forced to rate it six villains-worth-a-Google out of seven.