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

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

Something something trident.

Aquaman (2018)
(SPOILERS) If Aquaman has a problem – although it actually has two – it’s the problem of the bloated blockbuster. There's just too much of it. And the more-more-more element eventual becomes wearing, even when most of that more-more-more is, on a scene-by-scene basis, terrifically executed. If there's one thing this movie proves above all else, it's that you can let director James Wan loose in any given sandpit and he’ll make an above-and-beyond castle out of it. Aquaman isn't a classic, but it isn’t for want of his trying.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

Mountains are old, but they're still green.

Roma (2018)
(SPOILERS) Roma is a critics' darling and a shoe-in for Best Foreign Film Oscar, with the potential to take the big prize to boot, but it left me profoundly indifferent, its elusive majesty remaining determinedly out of reach. Perhaps that's down to generally spurning autobiographical nostalgia fests – complete with 65mm widescreen black and white, so it's quite clear to viewers that the director’s childhood reverie equates to the classics of old – or maybe the elliptical characterisation just didn't grab me, but Alfonso Cuarón's latest amounts to little more than a sliver of substance beneath all that style.

The wolves are running. Perhaps you would do something to stop their bite?

The Box of Delights (1984)
If you were at a formative age when it was first broadcast, a festive viewing of The Box of Delights may well have become an annual ritual. The BBC adaptation of John Masefield’s 1935 novel is perhaps the ultimate cosy yuletide treat. On a TV screen, at any rate. To an extent, this is exactly the kind of unashamedly middle class-orientated bread-and-butter period production the corporation now thinks twice about; ever so posh kids having jolly adventures in a nostalgic netherworld of Interwar Britannia. Fortunately, there’s more to it than that. There is something genuinely evocative about Box’s mythic landscape, a place where dream and reality and time and place are unfixed and where Christmas is guaranteed a blanket of thick snow. Key to this is the atmosphere instilled by director Renny Rye. Most BBC fantasy fare doe not age well but The Box of Delights is blessed with a sinister-yet-familiar charm, such that even the creakier production decisions may be vi…

I am so sick of Scotland!

Outlaw/King (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that it isn't enough just to want to make a historical epic, you have to have some level of vision for it as well. Say what you like about Mel's Braveheart – and it isn't a very good film – it's got sensibility in spades. He knew what he was setting out to achieve, and the audience duly responded. What does David Mackenzie want from Outlaw/King (it's shown with a forward slash on the titles, so I'm going with it)? Ostensibly, and unsurprisingly, to restore the stature of Robert the Bruce after it was rather tarnished by Braveheart, but he has singularly failed to do so. More than that, it isn’t an "idea", something you can recognise or get behind even if you don’t care about the guy. You’ll never forget Mel's Wallace, for better or worse, but the most singular aspect of Chris Pine's Bruce hasn’t been his rousing speeches or heroic valour. No, it's been his kingly winky.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

What you do is very baller. You're very anarchist.

Lady Bird (2017)
(SPOILERS) You can see the Noah Baumbach influence on Lady Bird, Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, with whom she collaborated on Frances Ha; an intimate, lo-fi, post-Woody Allen (as in, post-feted, respected Woody Allen) dramedy canvas that has traditionally been the New Yorker’s milieu. But as an adopted, spiritual New Yorker, I suspect Gerwig honourably qualifies, even as Lady Bird is a love letter/ nostalgia trip to her home city of Sacramento.