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…

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

What is this, the Titanic? Screw the women and children first shit, man.

Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007)
(SPOILERS) The brutal evidence, if any were needed, that Fox had no interest in the quality of its franchise(s), let alone admiring their purity. There’s almost (I stress almost) something beserkly admirable about Alien vs. Predator: Requiem’s flagrant disregard for anything and everything that set the primary series apart or made it distinctive. You might, at a stretch, argue this is a not bad Predator movie, in that it gives Wolf (not the Gladiator, alas; informally named after the Pulp Fiction character Harvey Keitel has since trodden into the dirt and repeatedly stamped on in a series of whorish adverts) motivation and everything, but that’s really doing it too much credit: AVPR is simply a bad movie.

I hadn’t seen this since its release, when I was marginally more charitable to its appetite for transgressive behaviour. And, to give it its backhanded due, in the establishing sections, the marriage of never-destined-to-meet genre subplots is at least…

I came here to take President Sarkoff back to his people.

Blake's 7 1.11: Bounty

It was inevitable that the series would trot out a retro-planet budget-saver at some point, and it’s a shame that it comes attached to a story as unimaginative as this one. Blake and Cally teleport down to a Federation planet with the intention of returning the exiled President Sarkoff (T.P. McKenna, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy) to his people on Lindor.

Sarkoff is under guard so there’s quite a bit of extended ducking and running for Blake and Cally to do, only to find Sarkoff is extremely reluctant to return. He is content to wallow in the historical artefacts that surround him in his small castle. His daughter Tyce thinks he should grow a pair.

The B-plot, which converges eventually with the A, sees the Liberator detect an unidentified ship (we are told later that it is the civilian cruiser Star Queen, which it turns out not to be) and Gan teleports over to investigate. Vila doesn’t like it, and he’s right.

Avon: As a matter of fact, I don’t like it either. …

This is hell, and I’m going to give you the guided tour.

Lock Up (1989)
Sylvester Stallone’s career was entering its first period of significant decline when Lock Up was flushed out at the tail end of his most celebrated decade. His resumé since Rocky includes a fair selection of flops, but he was never far from a return to the ring. Added to that, his star power had been considerably buoyed by a second major franchise in the form of John Rambo. For a significant chunk of the ‘80s he was unbeatable, and it’s this cachet (and foreign receipts) that has enable him to maintained his wattage through subsequent periods of severe drought. Lock Up came the same year as another Stallone prison flick, Tango & Cash, in which the actor discovered both his funny guy chops (resulting in an ill-advised but mercifully brief lurch in to full-blown comedy) and made a late stage bid to get in on the buddy cop movie formula (perhaps ego prevented him trying it before?) The difference between the two is vast. One is a funny, over-the-top, self-consciously bo…

I used to be dead, but then he brought me back to life.

Swiss Army Man (2016)
(SPOILERS) Sometimes I’ll finish watch a movie entirely bewildered by the praise it somehow merited. Spring Breakers was one notable case. Swiss Army Man is another. I’ll readily admit that music video turned feature directors Daniel Scheinert and Daniel Kwan are incredibly inventive and talented – as writers not so much – and that Daniel Radcliffe’s performance as a corpse shows range I never knew he had (I mean that both ironically and seriously). Otherwise, the experience felt like being harangued by a blowhard hipster for 90 minutes, one who thinks he has something desperately, insightfully deep to say but is actually running on empty after five. It isn’t even all that appealing if you love fart jokes: any given Austin Powers is far more flatulently fulfilling.

I was tempted to label Swiss Army Man a one-joke movie, so impressed with its own single-plane weirdness that it irons itself out into something not really very weird or compelling at all. Which would be …

This planet is a game reserve, and we’re the game.

Predators (2010)
(SPOILERS) By the time this belated Predator 3 arrived, anything that treated either of Fox’s monster franchises with a modicum of decorum was to be embraced, so Predators, overly indebted to John McTiernan’s original as it is, is not exactly a breath of fresh air but nevertheless agreeably serviceable. You might have hoped for something more innovative after 23 years in the standalone wilderness, but at least you didn’t get Alien vs. Predator: Reheated.

Of course, this is essentially Robert Rodriguez’ 1994 screenplay spruced up a slightly, and as such displays the kind of slipshod approach to narrative that has served the writer-director-producer-auteur-in-his-own-bedroom’s cottage industry reasonably well over the past couple of decades .We’re mercifully fortunate he didn’t choose to make it himself (it’s only recently, with Alita: Battle Angel and the Escape from New York remake, that he appears to have been lured back to studio fare, and perhaps some degree of dilige…

You look kind of nervous. Probably your first hostage rescue, huh?

Rock the Kasbah (2015)
(SPOILERS) The chances of making a genuinely insightful, acutely satirical Hollywood movie relating to US interventions abroad, political and military, seem minimal these days, so you might as well go back 25 years to the flawed Wrong is Right. What we have seen most recently appears acknowledge this: desperate attempts to make feel good hay from loosely factual material (“inspired by”), to disastrous effect, both creatively and commercially. 2015 saw Our Brand is Crisis and Rock the Kasbah, both based on documentaries, both plotting uplifting, redemptive tales of self-realisation for their jaded, cynical protagonists when they’re confronted by the realities fostered on other nations by their home one.

Although, reality couldn’t be further from Rock the Kasbah’s Afghanistan (filmed in Morrocco), which has about as much legitimacy as The Men Who Stare at Goats’ Iraq (there at least, the heightened sense was part of the point). Taking 2009 doc Afghan Star as a starti…

Orac has access to the sum total of all the knowledge of all the known worlds.