Disliking a popular film is an awkward thing. When you have to sit down and argue against the grain it seems like an act of contrarianism especially if the film is fairly innocent. You don’t want to be cynical. You want to be fair. And being fair means honest.
The Lego Batman Movie doesn’t work. It seems like it should work. I should look at it and see a film that works just on the level of how much it breaks its back to include references. It’s a movie that includes everything from Billy Dee Williams finally playing Two-Face to Zoe Kravitz cameoing as Catwoman before actually landing the role. This should, like Into the Spider-Verse, blow me away. And it annoyed me.
The film certainly has a workable structure. Batman (Will Arnett) is an asshole. The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) is needy and wants his attention. Batman wants the attention of Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson.) The Joker and Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate) unleash a wave of villains from other universes. Batman must fight them with the aid of a newly adopted orphan he doesn’t want, Dick Grayson (Michael Cera). This is a good plot. So why is this film a miss?
Two reasons. Let’s begin with the one I think most people expect. This movie is too loud. That’s the big contrast between this and ITSV. That has almost precision pacing and tons of character beats for as large as it is. This is a scream in your ear. It’s so hyper it’s kind of nauseating and that extra burns next to how well made the other two Lego Movies are. (I haven’t seen Ninjago)
Part of that loudness is a terrible decision. In The Lego Movie, the universes collided logically because the movie was revealed to be a kid working out his issues. So he used various characters in kind of poetic ways. Here? It’s just done. And no it doesn’t work. It’s just noise. Yes it was fun seeing the Gremlins but it added nothing to get Voldemort or Sauron in.
But there’s the other reason and this is really an error on the writing end. See, I’ve seen a lot of DTV comic book movies and that means I watched Lego Batman: The Movie and Batman: Beleaguered. This movie isn’t just similar, it’s the exact same film as those. It’s the same lot of Batman needs to play with others. And you know what? Nobody in comics is more of a team player than Batman. He has his own team of trusted allies. Bruce Wayne is a family man defined. In fact two excellent stories, The Batman Murders and A Lonely Place of Dying, are about how weird it was when he isolated himself. For a film to reference things nonstop yet miss the character and repeat TWO Lego stories that already exist is beyond lazy.
It frustrates me because there is good here. For starters, the film banks heavily on the preexisting Arnett/Cera team and both of them are ludicrously great in their roles together. Arnett crushes his cliched role while Cera swings hard for the gee whiz. They’re matched by Ralph Fiennes showcasing his comic gift as Alfred. Fiennes threatens to steal the film. Then there’s Galifianakis, doing all he can to decool The Joker and killing it. The animation is also strong. There’s a unique vibe to this film. It’s honestly very Schumacher. The movie has energy and flair. I can’t knock it for that.
I just wish this movie had been more original. Going to other franchises couldn’t hide a familiar plot. This is ok. But it’s far from great.