The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

*. It’s fitting that the most famous split personality in superhero comics has had such a night-and-day history on screen. On the more serious side you have Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy. But then, as though all this breathy and brooding angst were too much, at the other extreme you have the camp of Batman: The Movie (1966), the neocamp of Batman & Robin, and the metacamp of The LEGO Batman Movie.
*. The LEGO Batman Movie is a parody Batman movie, sending up all of the previous iterations of Batman, as well as any other comic book-movie clich├ęs it can think of. Will Arnett, for example, is unrecognizable doing Batman’s gravelly voice, and the principle of villain inflation is pushed to overload with a roll call of bad guys that reads like Homer’s catalogue of the armies assembled at Troy. Then just for good measure there’s the summoning of a portal in the sky to another dimension, something that seems to pop up, needlessly, in almost every superhero movie.
*. Not all of this works. One fairly consistent thread in the Batman movies is that the villains are more interesting than Batman himself. Usually a lot more interesting. Particulrly the Joker (be he Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger, or Joaquin Phoenix). But here the Joker isn’t interesting at all. Nor are any of the evil all-stars. Which means we’re stuck with the squares as they travel a well-worn moral arc that’s meant to teach us various life lessons. Like being nice to other people, if only because some day they may come in useful.
*. But even as The LEGO Batman Movie plays the sunny end of the dark vs. light spectrum it also occupies the mushy middle ground of a development in film, and indeed the culture more generally, that I truly deplore. This is the rise of the “kidult” audience, or movies (usually animated) that are aimed ostensibly at kids but that draw in grown-ups too with all their knowing references. I’m not sure where this got started. The Harry Potter phenomenon maybe. Or the Toy Story movies. But the LEGO movies are very much part of the same trend. It’s fun for the kids, but adults love it too!
*. Or at least some adults love it. I thought The LEGO Batman Movie was kind of clever in places, but I didn’t laugh at any of it, nor can I remember even smiling at the various jokes, all of which seemed pretty obvious to me. Certainly nothing about the basic premise struck me as having a lot of comic potential, which has jerky narcissist Batman having to learn how to play better with others. Also “friends are family.” Which actually strikes me as being a sort of anti-family sentiment, but I may be reading too much into it.
*. OK, so it’s not my thing. It’s a visual marvel, so bright and crammed with blowing confetti in every frame you can’t hope to take it all in. And it moves at such a frantic pace it seems to have no connecting narrative tissue at all. Characters magically pop from one physical place or point in the story to another. LEGO reality is plastic, meaning it can be torn apart and reassembled in any way imaginable. The categories of time and space have been tossed to the wind and the action is just a colourful blizzard of pixels.
*. There’s a lot to “ooh!” and “ah!” at, but I thought it was empty calories. A lot of empty calories. I know that sounds like a grumpy-old-man kind of judgment to make, but that’s all I got out of this. I can see people enjoying such fare, but it’s not for me.

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