Thursday, February 23, 2017

Reserved Seating: The LEGO Batman Movie

by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
The review duo whose favorite LEGO actor is the great Willem Duploe.

Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam Riske.

Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino. In The LEGO Batman Movie, the Caped Crusader (Will Arnett) must yet again save Gotham City from his famous rogues gallery (led by Zach Galifianakis as The Joker), who plan to blow it up or set it on fire or something. But when new police commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) outlaws vigilante justice, Batman must learn to work within the system to save the day. Kind of. They sort of drop that along the way. Anyway, since movies also need emotional stakes, Bruce Wayne must give up his lonely bachelor lifestyle and open his heart to his new ward, Dick Grayson (Michael Cera, full twee).

Adam: In this clip, Batman gets the news from Commissioner Gordon that the police force has plans to work alongside the longtime vigilante.

This is a relatively quiet scene in the film. While still filled with one-liners, it doesn’t have the manic quality of the rest of the movie. It’s a quality I grew very tired of very quickly. It’s difficult not to compare The LEGO Batman Movie with The LEGO Movie from a few years back, which was similarly exhausting but also fresh and clever enough to recommend with little reservation. Here we have a one-joke idea stretched past the breaking point of a 104 minute running time. Boy, did this movie get on my nerves around 30 minutes in. By the climax I was totally zoned out.

Rob: There’s enough material here for a 60-minute DTV animated special, but things really drag when we get the same few gags shuffled and repeated over and over to pad things out to feature length. I understand you’ve got kids’ attention spans to worry about, but there was very little in the way of plot propulsion (which is absolutely possible and welcome in a kids movie) or character growth. It’s also a perfect example of why producing a sequel centered on the stand-out character from the original film (and depending on the audience's love for that character’s charisma to carry things) is almost always a bad idea. He works in doses but that shit gets old fast. Even Batman gets old fast.

Adam: It’s a peanut gallery. It reminded me of the teens in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, who prove how much they love film by MAKING FUN OF FILMS. This is cynicism to the hilt. Everything about The LEGO Batman Movie rubbed me the wrong way. We get a joke, then a music cue, then a whip pan, then a zoom in and repeat every 10 seconds. It’s certainly a dense movie (in that it’s packed with gags), but it becomes too much muchness.

Rob: Oh god, I just remembered that Me and Earl and the Dying Girl existed. Douche chills. Anyway, I was really with the movie for the opening sequence. I thought the commentary on how unnecessarily grandiose and complicated the Bat Plots tend to be was introducing something interesting (especially for kids who might be learning that movies have seams and that you can see them if you look close enough), but it lost all its goodwill by the second bloated action sequence in which Batman’s isolation issues are introduced AGAIN. For the SECOND time.
Adam: I have very little patience for animated action sequences. Too often it becomes nonsense or visual noise, similar to two CGI creatures throwing each other into walls. The LEGO Batman Movie is so not for me.

Rob: The entire movie is pitched at one joke and one tone, and it’s really unfortunate to see so much time and talent wasted. It’s like JB said last week: you have to DO the thing if you’re going to make fun of the thing.

Adam: Yes! You can’t make fun of Batman movies and then be worse than many other Batman movies. The movie felt like a roast. What’s wrong with making a Batman movie out of LEGOs aimed at kids? Here it comes: I would rather watch Batman & Robin twice than watch 30 minutes of this movie again.

Rob: Oh shit! Hot take! Hotter take: So would I. Batman & Robin’s goofy charm comes from more varied directions, which makes it a bit more tolerable (a bit). To borrow your phrase, The LEGO Batman Movie is hundreds and hundreds of wasted pop culture calories. Oh look, Superman! Oh look, The Flash! There’s a Batman Beyond suit! And look, no disrespect to the artists who took lots of care in filling every frame with fun stuff for those paying close attention, but they forgot to make a movie first. Kids are capable of handling a lot more nuanced ideas than “even cool people are nice.” If Warner Bros. is going to make ten thousand LEGO spin-offs, they’d better learn that just shoving a bunch of licensed characters into a movie together doesn’t mean the movie will work.

Adam: I would like to pivot and say something nice about the picture but I can’t. There’s nothing that I liked. I found the whole experience to be obnoxious.

Rob: I liked when Gordon said that her plan was to fight crime with statistics and compassion. That line made me giggle. I also thought Will Arnett would start getting on my nerves, but since he wasn’t ever asked to vary up his performance aside from the standard grumble, it all become white noise. So. Yeah.

Adam: I don’t normally address the audience on our program, but I’m going to this time. Be gentle. I didn’t like the movie. I know the vast majority of you like it. That’s fine. I’m kinda jealous. We can disagree. Be gentle.

Rob: And look, I like The LEGO Movie and I like Batman. I have big problems with pretty much all of the live action incarnations of the character, but I was rooting for this movie. It just fell so far below its potential that by the sixty-minute mark, I was cringing and squirming in my seat.

Adam: So you and I are fans of the character and some of the films. What are your five favorite movies that have featured the Batman character? Also, who is your favorite Bruce Wayne and who is your favorite Batman?

Rob: The Officially Correct Internet Nerd Answer to the Batman questions is Kevin Conroy. But I like Kilmer’s Wayne (because I like Batman Forever more than I should) and, honestly, Affleck’s Batman. If we’re willing to go outside the big screen, I think my favorite version of Batman is that from the Arkham game series. You?

Adam: One sec, bub. Five favorite Batman movies? Go!

Rob: Sorry, whenever you talk for more than a few seconds, I start spacing out and thinking about aluminum siding and stuff like that. Let’s see. The Dark Knight, Batman Forever, Batman Begins, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, and Batman Returns, because Michelle Pfeiffer’s catsuit did things to me as a young man that I just wasn’t prepared for.
Adam: Whenever you talk I think about you letting down the public with insensitive remarks! My five would be The Dark Knight, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman Begins, Batman (1989). Best Bruce Wayne is Christian Bale. Best Batman is Michael Keaton. I have never watched any animated Batman. No subtext there, just circumstance.

Rob: Try to check out Mask of the Phantasm, if you can. I think it’s like $3 on Amazon.

Adam: I’ve had 24 years. It’s not going to happen. What’s your favorite Batman song? For me it’s “Kiss from a Rose,” but “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me,” “Batdance,” and that Smashing Pumpkins one in Batman & Robin are all good. Why didn’t the Nolan ones have a hot single?

Rob: Because there’s nothing hot about Christopher Nolan. That dude is a wet blanket. Gut instinct: I’m going with the ‘89 Elfman theme. Final answer.

Adam: The unofficial theme to the Nolan Batman’s is Sting and Eric Clapton’s “It’s Probably Me” from the opening credits of Lethal Weapon 3. It’s morose, kinda jazzy and sets the tone that everything is Batman’s fault.

Rob: But we digress. The LEGO Batman Movie is not great. Mark Off.

Adam: Mark Off for me too. Join us next week when Rob & I don’t review a new movie because Get Out is not being screened for us. The studio caught us red-handed and let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. So instead, we’re going to settle the 28-year old debate of which is better: Turner & Hooch or K-9. Until next time…

Rob: These seats are reserved.


  1. "I have very little patience for animated action sequences."

    haha An anime fan like myself can't understand you there, but hey the world is a rainbow (to quote the great P-Broms).

  2. Great piece guys!
    I was also annoyed by the movie, but I understand why some people liked it. It just felt like a joke that was being forced for 100 minutes. I found it interesting that director Chris McKay's previous work includes a number of Robot Chicken episodes. You can really feel that frantic style in the LBM.

    The only thing I found more obnoxious than The Lego Batman Movie was the trailer for The Lego Ninjago movie that played before. Was that the first time that movie was mentioned? Is it a real Lego movie or a straight to DVD thing? I'm confused despite the fact that I'll never see it.

    1. They are finally doing the Lego Ninjago movie? I remember hearing about it a few years ago, but I had assumed it had been abandoned.

      The Ninjago TV series was pretty good. Well, my kids thought it was good, and I enjoyed the episodes that I watched with them. But something that works as a TV series aimed directly (and only) to kids, I don't how well that'll translate to the big screen.

    2. There was a trailer before LBM and it was the first I'd heard of it. Animation wise, it looked like the Lego movie (and LBM) in quality, but felt tonaly different. It would make sense if it's made just for kids like you say, but it was just very surprising to see.

  3. I love Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me Kill Me, even though the song makes little sense. Mark Ahn for a rad concert song!

  4. First, I love F This Movie and always will. Second, Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl is the worst. Hopefully that earns my some credit, because I'm about to say something as shocking as your Batman and Robin comment: I would rather watch The Lego Batman Movie two more times than 30 minutes of La La Land. I haven't just jumped on the Oscar backlash bandwagon - I saw La La Land opening night and enjoyed it, but it's reverence for old movie musicals (which I love) annoyed me then and it annoys me now. Which is precisely why I loved Lego Batman so much - it loves Batman more than anybody, but it isn't afraid to be as irreverant as possible. I think the makers of Lego Batman understand what the makers of La La Land, The Force Awakens, and the Beauty and the Beast remake don't. Sometimes the best way to explore your love of something is to make fun of it. There is so much to make fun of in the Batman universe, but we still love it. Why? This movie makes the best possible argument for Batman being ridiculous, and it's conclusion is: Batman is awesome. He's complex, and cool, and mysterious, and goofy, and scary, and so much goddamn fun. La La Land is too afraid to question why old musicals featured white casts, thin plots, and, often, songs that aren't that great. Instead it just made an old musical with all the problems that old musicals have. I totally get being worn out by Lego Batman, but, personally, I think it's something really special - a movie that isn't afraid to destroy something, because they're so confident that even with all the mockery, it's still...well Batman. And Batman is the best.

    1. Glad you liked it as I'm sure you're glad I like La La Land. To use an analogy, sometimes a song just doesn't sound good to you but it's another person's fave. Super subjective. Thanks for commenting!

    2. So so true. Keep up the great work with this column - I look forward to it every week! PS - I also really really like Titanic and sincerely hope that the Danny Nucci impressions are a reoccurring bit

  5. I don't know that my experience with this movie could be more completely opposite than your guys'. I'm not going to douchily try to argue every point, but there is one I want to comment on.

    I really, really don't see LEGO Batman as mocking other Batman movies and especially not in a cynical way; it is celebrating them. There is some gentle ribbing at the most exaggerated parts of each incarnation, but the joke is more about how mutable a character Batman is. This is (at least) the 10th theatrically released movie to star Batman and (at least) the fifth completely distinct version of the character in those ten movies. With the sort of meta comedy that this movie, and its predecessor, use that is perfect fodder for some good jokes.

    The only one of previous movies that LEGO Batman even pretends to actually mock is Batman '66, but again that is serving a meta-textual point, using that version of the character to show that Batman doesn't need to be dark or brooding and that fun and silly is an equally valid take. Though LEGO Batman starts out singling that version out for mockery, but by the end has successfully embraced nearly aspect of that character that subsequent versions have discarded, right down to using the Bat-shark repellent. It ends up being a apology for Batman '66, which I will admit is somewhat misguided since everyone has long since acknowledged that Adam West's Batman is great. Right?

    1. Thanks for this! I just want to clarify some of my comments: I ABSOLTELY agree that the film is commenting on Batman from a loving place, which (as a huge Batman fan sick of the grim dark interpretations) I really appreciated. I was in on every joke and really going along with it (which I why I loved the opening sequence so much). My frustration came when it started relying on generic and repetitive jokes that didn't feel like they came from as much of a real love and understanding of the character as the first sequence did. It seemed like they ran out of interesting things to say about Batman, which bummed me out.

      Take Hot Fuzz or Kingsman, two films commenting on their genre while also BEING and LOVING their genre. That's what I wanted more of in this film. Thanks for reading!

    2. That's fair. I do agree it started running out of steam in the back half, basically when it pulled in a bunch of random villains from other movies. It felt a like they got cold feet about the wider appeal of their Batman love letter and tried to steal some of that LEGO Movie magic of seeing Gandalf, Superman and Shaq interact in LEGO form but it didn't quite work. I still thought it was a lot more good than bad but it definitely didn't pull this off as well as Hot Fuzz did. I can't comment as to Kingsman, since I refuse to see movies based on things written by Mark Millar.

  6. Good column. I know neither of you guys is ever cynical just for the sake of being cynical so I can't argue with you for not liking the movie. Of course I've forgotten about 95% of the movie so I don't think I'd be able to anyway. Watch Batman & Robin twice though? I'd almost like to see you guys do it. And by almost I mean absolutely.