Despite the fact that I wasn't one of the critics who thought that everything was awesome with The LEGO Movie, I wasn't particularly surprised or bothered by that film's franchise-making success. The same is not true for this second entry, The LEGO Batman Movie, a busier and more befuddled entry based upon the first film's breakout character, Will Arnett's gravelly-voiced loner of a superhero Batman.
Despite The Lego Movie's considerable success, Warner Brothers is playing it relatively safe in terms of budget and only upping their investment another $20 million from $60 million to $80 million, an amount it should have no problem recouping within its first couple of weekends even without the global markets included.
The truth is that weekends like this one at the box-office are a nightmare for a critic like me with subpar films like 50 Shades Darker, John Wick 2 and this one pretty much all guaranteed to light up a box-office that has been weighed down by Oscar season's weightier, more critically acclaimed yet less market friendly fare. One can only hope that this film, easily the best of the three wide releases opening up this weekend, takes the box-office title this weekend as a 50 Shades Darker win may very well lead me to submit to flogging from one of LEGO Batman's 600 or so superheroes.
To be fair to The LEGO Batman Movie, I'm admittedly suffering from a bit of superhero fatigue. Do we really need cartoon superheroes based upon cartoon superheroes?
I suppose it doesn't help that if I wanted to see a narcissistic billionaire yammer on about being misunderstood all I'd have to do is turn on a White House press conference or open up my Twitter account. You know? There comes a point where it's not exactly entertaining anymore. It's even worse, or maybe better, that Trump-nominated Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is an executive producer of the film.
Sigh. Just make it all go away.
Directed by Chris McKay, The LEGO Batman is a more fast-paced and frenzied affair that takes advantage of Batman's lengthy television and cinematic history with a wealth of inside jokes that fly by but will likely be caught by those in the know. The story is paper thin, a demented bromance of sorts between Arnett's caped crusader and Zach Galifianakis's more whiny than evil Joker whose major beef with Batman is that the do-gooder refuses to acknowledge Joker as his greatest arch-enemy. Warner Brothers empties out their villain archive for the film with everyone from Voldemort to the Gremlins to the Flying Monkeys and more making an appearance here.
Maybe you'll find it all funny. I didn't.
In fact, my favorite scenes in The Lego Batman Movie are the quieter scenes when Bruce Wayne is left alone alongside his manservant Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) to contemplate what was and what he refuses to allow to ever be. In case you don't catch on that The LEGO Batman Movie is dealing with Wayne's unresolved commitment issues, you'll be reminded a dozen times or so throughout the film.
This is not to say that The LEGO Batman Movie has no redeeming value. While it grows a tad tiresome, Arnett's vocal work continues to be impressive fun. Ralph Fiennes is tremendous as Alfred, while Rosario Dawson's vocal work as new police commish turned apple of Batman's eye Barbara Gordon gives the film a bit more smolder than we're used to seeing in this kind of film. Kudos must also be given to Michael Cera, whom I think most would have chalked up as a one-note actor but who has absolutely mastered finding roles to fit within his limited range. As a doe-eyed youth accidentally opted by Wayne, Cera believably transforms from Dick Grayson to Robin.
As fast-paced a film as is The LEGO Batman Movie, by about 2/3 of the way through the film I found myself starting to nod off and consciously having to beat myself with one of Christian Grey's whips to keep myself awake. The LEGO Batman Movie may not live up to its predecessor, but the odds are pretty good it'll be awesome enough for kids and families this weekend.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic