Skip to main content

Iron Man sucks.

The LEGO Batman Movie
(2017)

(SPOILERS) Well, at least the DC legacy lives large in one of Warner Bros’ big screen franchises. Managing to take the piss out of the company’s comic book kingdom and make it much more fun, engaging and coherent than the real deal is no small achievement, but Chris McKay’s superior spin-off to 2014’s The Lego Movie succeeds and then some. The LEGO Batman Movie is almost exhaustingly funny, embracing the kind of rapid-fire gag momentum we’re familiar with from the Zucker Brothers (and Abrahams), Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and, of course, producers Phil Lord and Chris Miller.


It’s probably no wonder Batfleck appears poised to walk away from the wrecking ball that is the Snyder-supervised main offering, when he looks at what is ostensibly a joke that has been so rapturously received. Sure, Will Arnett’s Batman may be looking to the campery of Adam West as the true godfather of this movie (from the theme tune, to the Robin costume, to the Zap! Pow! inserts of the climactic fight, to the unrivalled Bat Shark Repellent, and even a clip from the movie – along with several from Jerry Maguire, amongst references to a number of near-forgettable romcoms), but he manages to leave you invested in his Batman/Bruce, which is more than I’ve done with the series since, well, Batman Returns probably (and Michael Keaton was hardly in that); I know, that will have Bale fans up in arms, but really there was one great movie in that trilogy, and what was great about it was all Heath Ledger.


Yes, the picture inevitably moves in the direction of inclusive sentiment, because it has to have an in-your-face moral as it’s a kid’s movie. So, a little more sincerely than South Park mocking the same, and a long way from how The Naked Gun made no pretence at such feeling at all, but it’s still far from the rather awkward and intrusive appearance of Will Ferrell in The Lego Movie, and the general bending over backwards therein to insert a message so unpalatably cynical you choke on it (I tend to the view that even kids’ movies are better when they aren’t spoon-feeding morals, although I’m not a parent, so what do I know?). 


As Arnett comments in the third trailer, “You know, it’s kind of like the original Lego Movie, only vastly superior because it revolves entirely around me”. The key is that it never loses sight of having fun with Warner’s licences and characters, cutting a swathe of irreverence across the screen even when its’s forced to wax lyrical about the importance of family (Dom Torretto would be proud, but then there is only one current emotional undercurrent to studio movies currrently, it seems).


Alfred: Sir, I have seen you go through similar phases in 2016 and 2012 and 2008 and 2005 and 1997 and 1995 and 1992 and 1989 and that weird one in 1966.

Following a deliriously funny opening in which Batman squares off against Zach Galifianakis’ Joker while acknowledging all the tropes (but not that he hates him; Superman is Batman’s greatest enemy) before riffing on the rivalry with Supes (a returning Channing Tatum) to maximum effect (I wish there’d been more of this; I did get a vague feeling that they only went so far with Supes and the Justice League so as to avoid Warner completely self-immolating the actual franchise’s chances come November – especially since what we see here is – that word again – much more fun and visually appealing than anything Snyder has come up with), Batman must face his greatest fear. No, not snake clowns, but letting others in, which means orphan Robin (Michael Cera). And, until it gets too sincere, this makes for a formidable hive of humour.


But it’s the decision to play with one of Superman’s main devices, the Phantom Zone, that yields the widest-ranging, most fruitful and freewheeling dividends. By this point, we’ve already had an obvious but still funny backhander aimed at Suicide Squad – what idiot would send villains to catch villains – and the parade of ludicrous, but I can quite believe are all accurate, C-list villains from the Bat oeuvre, including a few better-known ones (Bane in particular, is hilarious, Killer Croc is attributed one line that defines him more than Suicide Squad did – “I actually did something!” – as well as being much better designed, while Billy Dee Williams finally gets to play Two-Face).


The Phantom Zone unleashes, in haphazard yet inspired fashion, the likes of Sauron (Jermaine Clement, always great value, particularly his delivery of “My eye!”), Voldermort (not Ralph Fiennes, busy playing Alfred, but Eddie Izzard), Agent Smith(s), Godzilla, British robot villains the Daleks (I would never have conceived that Batman would meet the Daleks, outside of a Joe Dante movie, which brings me to…) and Gremlins (who even get linked to their The Twilight Zone namesake when they set to work on the Batwing).


The level of comic invention is so frenetic that, like those other comedy past masters, it scarcely matters that some of them miss. The musical interludes/Bat raps are fine, but none are as inspired as Batman’s Song (Untitled Self Portrait) in the first movie (as such, this is a classic example of something going down so well that attempting to repeat that inspiration is fated to fail). And, with regard to Batman’s emotional journey, it is undoubtedly hammered home, but all involved are far too wised-up to make you buy that it’s too genuine (as in, more important than making us laugh – the makers would be fools not engineer a reset of some description for the sequel, because that faux-moodiness is the appeal of Arnett’s performance. They’ll probably turn Cera into a rebellious teenager too).


Visually, this is, like its predecessor, an incredibly busy movie, particularly when it comes to the Day-Glo, technicolour cavalcade of ADD action that is the climax (it might have been inspired by the filmography of Stephen Sommers). Perhaps not too much for the microchipped kids, able to process ever more alarming quantities of information at ever higher rates, but for the elderly it can be difficult to keep up, best expressed (visually) by Poison Ivy killing an infinite succession of penguins (not the character) inserted between her and Batman.


So the six(!) credited writers have done well. Making a change, Seth Grahame-Smith’s mashup fixation is actually productive, enabling him to throw any element he can think of at the page, and once the gag writers (Chris McKenna and Eric Sommers from Community and American Dad probably had the most significant input) have bulked it up, he even comes off looking almost accomplished.


Vocally, Arnett is the business (after about five minutes of Wayne chilling in his Bat cowl, I thought this might be intent on reversing the conceit of unmasking the famous lead actor at every available opportunity), and his Arrested Development co-star Cera is, as expected, entirely serving and submissive to the material, while Galifianakis makes for a worthy sparring partner.


Is the Lego movie franchise unstoppable? I’d guess that depends upon whether it can maintain a broad appeal. As long as they’re holding screenings full of adults (as mine was), quite probably, but God knows what LEGO Ninja Hildago Movie (as I want to call it) will mean to anyone outside of the tots. And it’s always dangerous to flood the market with movies of the same ilk, unless you’re Marvel and know what you’re doing. There were points during The LEGO Batman Movie where I thought they’d surely left nothing in reserve for The LEGO Batman Returns Movie, so unswerving was the willingness to throw anything and everything into the pot. But then I realised that was just foolish. After all, the entire main DC franchise will probably really have gone down in Bat flames by then, and there’ll be a whole lot more grist for the Bat mill.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

No matter how innocent you are, or how hard you try, they’ll find you guilty.

The Wrong Man (1956) (SPOILERS) I hate to say it, but old Truffaut called it right on this one. More often than not showing obeisance to the might of Hitchcock during his career-spanning interview, the French critic turned director was surprisingly blunt when it came to The Wrong Man . He told Hitch “ your style, which has found its perfection in the fiction area, happens to be in total conflict with the aesthetics of the documentary and that contradiction is apparent throughout the picture ”. There’s also another, connected issue with this, one Hitch acknowledged: too much fidelity to the true story upon which the film is based.

He’s so persistent! He always gets his man.

Speed (1994) (SPOILERS) It must have been a couple of decades since I last viewed Speed all the way through, so it’s pleasing to confirm that it holds up. Sure, Jan de Bont’s debut as a director can’t compete with the work of John McTiernan, for whom he acted as cinematographer and who recommended de Bont when he passed on the picture, but he nevertheless does a more than competent work. Which makes his later turkeys all the more tragic. And Keanu and Sandra Bullock display the kind of effortless chemistry you can’t put a price tag on. And then there’s Dennis Hopper, having a great old sober-but-still-looning time.

How would Horatio Alger have handled this situation?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) (SPOILERS) Gilliam’s last great movie – The Zero Theorem (2013) is definitely underrated, but I don’t think it’s that underrated – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas could easily have been too much. At times it is, but in such instances, intentionally so. The combination of a visual stylist and Hunter S Thompson’s embellished, propulsive turn of phrase turns out, for the most part, to be a cosmically aligned affair, embracing the anarchic abandon of Raoul Duke and Doctor Gonzo’s Las Vegas debauch while contriving to pull back at crucial junctures in order to engender a perspective on all this hedonism. Would Alex Cox, who exited stage left, making way for the Python, have produced something interesting? I suspect, ironically, he would have diluted Thompson in favour of whatever commentary preoccupied him at the time (indeed, Johnny Depp said as much: “ Cox had this great material to work with and he took it and he added his own stuff to it ”). Plus

But everything is wonderful. We are in Paris.

Cold War (2018) (SPOILERS) Pawel Pawlikowski’s elliptical tale – you can’t discuss Cold War without saying “elliptical” at least once – of frustrated love charts a course that almost seems to be a caricature of a certain brand of self-congratulatorily tragic European cinema. It was, it seems “ loosely inspired ” by his parents (I suspect I see where the looseness comes in), but there’s a sense of calculation to the progression of this love story against an inescapable political backdrop that rather diminishes it.

What do they do, sing madrigals?

The Singing Detective (2003) Icon’s remake of the 1986 BBC serial, from a screenplay by Dennis Potter himself. The Singing Detective fares less well than Icon’s later adaptation of Edge of Darkness , even though it’s probably more faithful to Potter’s original. Perhaps the fault lies in the compression of six episodes into a feature running a quarter of that time, but the noir fantasy and childhood flashbacks fail to engage, and if the hospital reality scans better, it too suffers eventually.

He is a brigand and a lout. Pay him no serious mention.

The Wind and the Lion (1975) (SPOILERS) John Milius called his second feature a boy’s-own adventure, on the basis of the not-so-terrified responses of one of those kidnapped by Sean Connery’s Arab Raisuli. Really, he could have been referring to himself, in all his cigar-chomping, gun-toting reactionary glory, dreaming of the days of real heroes. The Wind and the Lion rather had its thunder stolen by Jaws on release, and it’s easy to see why. As polished as the picture is, and simultaneously broad-stroke and self-aware in its politics, it’s very definitely a throwback to the pictures of yesteryear. Only without the finger-on-the-pulse contemporaneity of execution that would make Spielberg and Lucas’ genre dives so memorable in a few short years’ time.

The game is rigged, and it does not reward people who play by the rules.

Hustlers (2019) (SPOILERS) Sold as a female Goodfellas – to the extent that the producers had Scorsese in mind – this strippers-and-crime tale is actually a big, glossy puff piece, closer to Todd Phillips as fashioned by Lorene Scarfia. There are some attractive performances in Hustlers, notably from Constance Wu, but for all its “progressive” women work male objectification to their advantage posturing, it’s incredibly traditional and conservative deep down.

Another case of the screaming oopizootics.

Doctor Who Season 14 – Worst to Best The best Doctor Who season? In terms of general recognition and unadulterated celebration, there’s certainly a strong case to be made for Fourteen. The zenith of Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe’s plans for the series finds it relinquishing the cosy rapport of the Doctor and Sarah in favour of the less-trodden terrain of a solo adventure and underlying conflict with new companion Leela. More especially, it finds the production team finally stretching themselves conceptually after thoroughly exploring their “gothic horror” template over the course of the previous two seasons (well, mostly the previous one).

One final thing I have to do, and then I’ll be free of the past.

Vertigo (1958) (SPOILERS) I’ll readily admit my Hitchcock tastes broadly tend to reflect the “consensus”, but Vertigo is one where I break ranks. To a degree. Not that I think it’s in any way a bad film, but I respect it rather than truly rate it. Certainly, I can’t get on board with Sight & Sound enthroning it as the best film ever made (in its 2012’s critics poll). That said, from a technical point of view, it is probably Hitch’s peak moment. And in that regard, certainly counts as one of his few colour pictures that can be placed alongside his black and white ones. It’s also clearly a personal undertaking, a medley of his voyeuristic obsessions (based on D’entre les morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac).

You were a few blocks away? What’d you see it with, a telescope?

The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s first serial-killer screenplay to get made, The Eyes of Laura Mars came out nearly three months before Halloween. You know, the movie that made the director’s name. And then some. He wasn’t best pleased with the results of The Eyes of Laura Mars, which ended up co-credited to David Zelag Goodman ( Straw Dogs , Logan’s Run ) as part of an attempt by producer Jon Peters to manufacture a star vehicle for then-belle Barbra Streisand: “ The original script was very good, I thought. But it got shat upon ”. Which isn’t sour grapes on Carpenter’s part. The finished movie bears ready evidence of such tampering, not least in the reveal of the killer (different in Carpenter’s conception). Its best features are the so-uncleanly-you-can-taste-it 70s New York milieu and the guest cast, but even as an early example of the sub-genre, it’s burdened by all the failings inherit with this kind of fare.