Today, we’re trying a different kind of review. Dan and Steve both went to see The LEGO Batman Movie this past week, and rather than fight over who gets to review it, they decided to do a joint review in the form of a conversation.

(Spoiler Alert: Steve and Dan discuss plot points of The LEGO Batman Movie in the following article – read on at your own discretion!)

Dan Lett

For me, The LEGO Movie is the probably the best general audience comedy movie of the last decade.

Steve Zillwood

That is high praise indeed, but I would have to agree. The Lego Movie was fantastic – surprising, fresh, interesting, nostalgic, and it had Chris Pratt. Top that, Batman.

DL
And Batman was one of the funniest things about The Lego Movie: Will Arnett’s voice and comic sensibilities were purring like catwoman. Does cat woman even purr?

SZ
If you have to ask, Dan, you’ll never know. Wait, isn’t this a PG movie we’re reviewing?

DL
Before this descends into innuendo that belittles us both, suffice to say that I had very high expectations.

SZ
As did I.

DL
And it was with some powerful optimism that I took my two kids (9 & 5) to watch it.

SZ
I took a gaggle of 6 and 7 year olds – 12 kids in total.

DL
How did you end up with 12 kids?

SZ
I thought we were going to avoid the embarrassing innuendos… Most of them weren’t mine.

DL
The charm of TLM [The LEGO Movie] was that the adult/kid joke balance was immaculate, without really sacrificing anything on either end.

SZ
Agreed. There was something for everyone there. And I really, really enjoyed Batman too, but I have to admit, I didn’t almost fall asleep in the middle of TLM like I did for this one.

DL
OK first impressions of The LEGO Batman Movie? What’s your overall take? Then we’ll go deeper into the cave.

SZ
Well, I found it to be one of the most thoroughly self-aware films of a generation of self-aware films (think Deadpool), but that it did it with just the right balance of elbow nudges and humor. I didn’t find it offensive, is what I’m trying to say. And I laughed out loud more often than I have at a movie since, well, perhaps since TLM. I did find Batman to be one of the funniest parts of TLM, so my expectations for this movie were high. Plus, I love Will Arnett in general.

DL
I thought it was good. I did laugh a fair bit. But I have to admit, it fell a bit short of TLM. That might be a by-product of expectations. Self-aware is the word I think. In TLM, the self-referential bits and intertextuality were a major part of the charm. References to “Middle Zealand”, countless nods to classic lines from other movies, and most importantly, the appeal to actual experiences playing with the toy. The cracked helmet of Ben the space man for example. And the dad being one of those douchebags who yells at you for touching his Millennium Falcon. But it worked because it was all seamlessly woven into a tight storyline, with likeable characters, and some real stakes. And I felt like LBM [The LEGO Batman Movie]failed in several regards there.

SZ
The inclusion of a multitude of different franchises (which naturally follow the licensing agreements held by LEGO) allowed them to play around a lot with that intertextuality. But here with LBM, the intertextuality takes on some of the tenor of navel-gazing. It’s intertextual with itself. Sure, they do go outside the Batcave now and again, but the majority of the memorable moments for me were shout-outs to previous iterations of Batman himself. Everything from the original comics, to the 1960s TV series, to the earlier movie franchises.

DL
It was so busy nudging, it forgot to move, if you know what I mean. I mean, what was the central plot of the movie? I could tell you vaguely that Batman was lonely, ended up with a sidekick, and that hate is as important as love. Other than that, I can’t trace the plot in my mind. The whole movie passed me by like a flurry of images.

SZ
Another issue is that LBM in many ways undermines the world building done in TLM. I found it disconcerting that there was no apparent attempt at continuity. There is TLM, and then there is LBM. They both use LEGO, the Batman seems the same, but he has no awareness of his other life/experience from before. He exists in a world that seems to be unrelated to what came before.

DL
That’s true! One of the big jokes in the movie is that there have been a million Batmen. The movie kind of forgets that this particular Batman also has a history, and there is no attempt at continuity at all. Other than the general shit-eating attitude and the penchant for bad metal.

SZ
Exactly – this one seems like the one we already know, so it can be confusing for the audience who have come here from TLM. I did find his shit-eating attitude and penchant for bad metal among his most endearing qualities. Everyone loves a good narcissistic misanthrope now and again.

DL
Yeah. I came out of the theatre a bit bummed, thinking it was a let-down. But thinking on it now, it was really only flawed in those two ways — not-so-tight in the plot, and a bit haphazard with continuity and references. If the script had been 10% better, I think that the hyperactive look-at-me, meta stuff would have been perfect.

SZ
The plot meandering felt more like the writers were trying to fit in as many gags as they could without really worrying too much about where the movie was going at that point.

DL
There’s one more thing that bothered me: the Joker. There’s a big problem with him. Whether you think that Heath Ledger’s version should be canon or not, the Joker is some major big boots to fill as a result of the attention that character has gotten in recent years. And this Joker was a total non-entity. Real misread of the character. The point of the Joker — his one recurring characteristic — is that he can find ANYTHING funny. Whining about not being appreciated, in a sincere manner, was a massive tonal misread for me. I can imagine The Penguin getting all butt-hurt, but that shouldn’t be in the Joker’s box.

SZ
Yes – here, they remolded him into a mirror of Bats, only one that didn’t get any of the love. Joker should find that hilarious – the irony that he and Batman are, in essence, equally violent and cause tons of damage, but for that he’s vilified, and Bats is canonized. The Joker would love that.

DL
The Joker loves irony, loves disappointment, loves the dark side of everything.

SZ
And Bats not recognizing him as his essential enemy? The Joker would be all over that and taking advantage to gain even more leverage over Bats and Gotham.

DL
The idea that he’d be so lonely and needy completely didn’t work for me

SZ
I thought that Harley Quinn was played much more true to character. She’s malleable – her morals are flexible, and the only truism is that she’s infatuated – often to her own detriment – with Joker. But here, she turns on him, turns against him, which is really how I think she’d react to this wimpy, humorless Joker that we get right through the middle act. So, and this is probably stretching to give the screenwriters too much credit, Harley Quinn’s reaction might indicate that they did know what they were doing with Joker, and this is why all the baddies turn on him.

DL
Hmm. Anywhere else in Joker lore that he has vulnerabilities, other than hubris?

SZ
Not to my knowledge. But the character has been played so many different ways. I agree that Ledger’s was amazing, but most Batman comic fans will tell you that it’s Mark Hamill who is the real Joker. Nicholson’s was far too campy (although he appealed to teen-aged me) and although he was before our time, I’ve seen some of Cesar Romero’s Joker. I can’t take him seriously, because he refused to shave off his mustache before putting on the make-up! So perhaps what we have here, then, is a new take on Joker.

DL
Indeed. But the point of having a comic-book universe — it’s main advantage over other formats — is that when you want to explore a new vice, a new character facet, you invent a new character that really embodies it. Two-Face is conflicted, Riddler is disingenuous and tricky, Penguin greedy and slothful, Joker is pure cackling madness. Repurposing a stock character to explore something new entirely is a bit of a betrayal of lore.

SZ
They were likely too afraid to put in a secondary or new villain being that its the first movie in a potential franchise. Then again, they kind of used ALL of his enemies in some context or another.

DL
Right! Cake-and-eat it scenario. Went too far with the references. Missteps and carelessness crept in. Yeah. I think that there was too much noise. It was like when it’s your birthday and someone orders you a glass with a shot of everything behind the bar in it, and you end up feeling confused, and a bit ill.

SZ
I had that drink once. It wasn’t pleasant.

DL
A couple of other characters were developed, in less radical ways. First, Alfred. He finds his assertive side, being more of a father figure than ever before.

SZ
Interestingly, the Alfred development nicely mirrors Alfred’s role in Gotham. Of course, in Gotham, Bruce Wayne is still a minor, but it makes sense that Alfred would become a father figure – it’s kind of surprising that he isn’t played that way more consistently.

DL
And how about Robin? What did you think about him? Personally, I thought the gag about his outfit being a rejected Rastafarian superhero suit was great.

SZ
The Rastafarian gag was great. I think that Robin should have kept the knit cap, though. I felt that Robin was played in an entirely metatextual manner. People who are familiar with the original live-action series are fond of making jokes at Robin’s expense. He’s often little more than a plot device to get Batman into trouble, and is quite annoying at times. This Robin is played with this knowledge, so he becomes an echo-chamber for the audience’s perception of the original Robin.

DL
So, you liked him. Overall I enjoyed the movie, but this is a LEGO film, so we should really throw this one out to the kids. How did it go down with your birthday party crew?

SZ
They loved it. They sat mostly quietly, which is saying a lot for 11 boys and 1 girl with adults sitting out on the outskirts of the row. How about your kids?

DL
I got a mixed reaction from my two. The 5-year-old thought it was incredibly funny. But the 9-year-old has a stronger sense of narrative, and she was confused by the plot. Her first comment was “it didn’t really make sense. I didn’t know what was happening.”

SZ
Good on her. Maybe the adult/child divide for this movie skews young.

DL
What you’re saying is you have the tastes of a five-year-old

SZ
And proud of it! I love everything equally and with no critical apparatus!

DL
I think a lot of the jokes were lost on the kids though. They don’t know Michael Jackson lyrics, they have never seen Jerry MaGuire. Plus, in TLM you were really rooting for Emmet. He was the everyman character. There wasn’t a character for the kids to get behind in this one. Batman is relatable to middle-aged men, mainly. Robin was too ridiculous to emote with. I really didn’t give a shit about any of the characters.

I’m quoting my five-year-old there.

SZ
I see he’s becoming more eloquent with age – well done!

True, most of the fan-service for older Batman versions would be entirely lost on a five-year-old, or even a twelve-year-old for that matter. And yes, some of the references were esoteric. Rickrolling, anyone? But don’t undersell the empathy kids feel for Batman. A lot of them dream of being superheroes one day. He was the hero our five-year-olds deserve.

DL
Well, I think we’ve covered most everything we wanted to, but it seems like we’re complaining a lot here. I actually liked the movie.

SZ
So did I.

DL
So, what were the best moments of the movie for you?

SZ
Hmm, best moments? The Rastafarian origin of Robin’s costume was great; the pause where Batman explains that they’re going to be hitting bad guys so hard that their hits will be showing up as words as a nice homage to the original series; the use of their LEGO head buttons to attach to each other and to the ground so that they could prevent the world from splitting apart; Batman’s reply that he “only has one butt” when asked by Barbara Gordon why his vehicle has only one seat; the password to the Batcave being “Iron Man Sucks” was a nice dig at the MCU; there were others, but those are the ones that pop into my head.

DL
Those are good. I thought the line, “Does Batman live in Bruce Wayne’s basement…. No, Bruce Wayne lives in Batman’s attic” was pretty smart, and when Batman takes out Alfred and says, “I am so sorry. I have incredible reflexes.” The whole best friends piloting the plane sequence as well; the setup alone was hilarious. “OK, guys – until I get back, rope’s in charge.”

SZ
So what do you think of the movie overall?

DL
The LEGO Batman Movie is an animated movie based on a toy that stars Batman, a character from a comic, and actively parodies not only that character, but multiple TV and filmic iterations of that character and that character’s universe. Batman battles enemies not only from that universe, but also enemies from the broader DC universe, and from multiple other film and television franchises, including Dr. Who, Gremlins, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix and King Kong. Batman also watches live-action Tom Cruise movies, listens to Michael Jackson, and gets rickrolled by Robin (whose characteristic outfit, it turns out, is actually a repurposed Rastafarian superhero’s garb). To top it off, Batman offers a wry voiceover analysis of the movie’s cinematic devices and aspects of the mise-en-scène, as they play out.

I think we have hit peak meta-intertextuality. Even a jaded old postmodernist like me found it a bit much. Good movie, but man. It was a frenzy of one-liners and references that made me laugh and despair at the shallowness of it all in equal measure. Like a huge slathering of condiments on a tiny meal, LEGO Batman needed a bit more substance to truly satisfy — but it marks a solid follow-up to the miraculous first LEGO Movie. 7/10 on balance for me.

SZ
There were a lot of niggling little things not to like about this movie, but none of them were overwhelming or detracted from what was, for me, rather a solid follow-up to the original LEGO Movie. The constant jokes, interesting characters, and Will Arnett – the good far outweighed the bad for me.

Overall, I really enjoyed the movie. Yes, there were problems, yes, they’re trying to sell more LEGO, yes, it was ridiculously self-aware. But none of those things stopped me from having fun, and enjoying it like I was five again for a short time. I’d give this a solid 9/10 for the laughs, and a 5/10 for losing me with the plot. Let’s split the difference – 7/10 from me as well.
Joint Rating:  7 Stars (7 / 10)


Director: Chris McKay
Writer: Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern & John Whittington (screenplay); Seth Grahame-Smith (story by)
Starring: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Zack Galifianakis, Siri
Release Date: February 10th, 2017
Runtime: 1h, 44min
MPAA Rating: PG