The Lego Movie was a surprise hit. What was initially tossed aside as a promotion for the popular building toy turned out to be a really good movie about the importance of imagination and play. This led to a series of “shared universe” type movies, and coming soon the sequel. One of those spin-offs was The Lego Batman Movie. This isn’t the first movie re-imagining popular characters as Legos. There are shows and direct-to-video movies about Lego-ised parodies from Star Wars to…Batman, actually. This isn’t even the first Lego-fied Batman. This is however the one that hit theaters. I recorded this during one of the HBO free preview weeks so I don’t know what if any editing changes were made. But what do I think now that I’ve seen it? I have mixed feelings.
RELEASE DATE: 2017
RELEASED BY: Warner Animation Group, DC Comics, Lego, and a bunch of other places…seriously, how many companies and studios does it take to make a theatrical animated movie nowadays?
RUN TIME: 1hour, 44 minutes
STARRING: Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, and Ralph Fiennes
SCREENWRITERS: Seth Grahame-Smith, Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Jared Stern, & John Whittington
DIRECTOR: Chris McKay
GROSS INCOME: $311,950,384 ($175,750,384 domestically) out of an estimated budget of $80,000,000
The Plot: Set in the Lego Cinematic Universe (or at least following that tone so I’m calling it…I’ll come back that), Batman (Arnett) is the hero of Gotham City, gaining all the praise and rewards Darkwing Duck could only dream of. However, it’s a life alone because Batman doesn’t want to handle losing another family. Even loyal butler Alfred (Fiennes) can’t seem to reach him. Events will force a change in his life when he accidentally adopts Dick Grayson (Cera) while the new Commissioner, Barbara Gordon (Dawson), want to make some changes in how Gotham is defended. Meanwhile, the Joker (Galifianakis) wants to be Batman’s #1 villain, even if he has to go through the Phantom Zone to do it!
Why did I want to see it?: It’s Batman. Of course I want to see it. Also, The Lego Movie was a surprise hit, as the movie focused on play and imagination and how we need it in our lives. So one would assume the same people could pull off a Batman movie. This is the theatrical version of Batman and I was curious what they’d do with him.
What did I think?: I’m going to confuse you here but there are two Lego Batman movies. You have The Lego Batman Movie and you have Lego Batman: The Movie – DC Super Heroes Unite. The latter is a direct-to-video movie that set up the Lego DC Super Hero series of direct-to-video movies and was based on the second Lego Batman video game. I’m going to call this the Lego Videoverse and the other the Lego movie verse. I think that’s the best way I can simplify this. For the record, this is what the direct-to-video version is right.
So, as a continuation of the Lego Movieverse…it’s not very impressive. The last half is actually quite good as it goes into Batman’s character arc but the beginning just falls flat. I don’t think they really knew how to make a full movie around Lego Movie Batman. It’s trying to follow the same writing style as The Lego Movie but that worked because it was a movie ABOUT a kid who makes up stories while playing with Legos, tied into the problems he had with his father when it came to play and imagination. The same thinking doesn’t really work when the movie is supposed to be about Batman. Is this movie also a kid making up a huge adventure about Batman learning to accept a family? Is this a different kid who is learning through play that he needs to accept a family or not be alone? If that was the direction the theatrical Lego movies went that might work. The writing style and humor worked in The Lego Movie but not so much in The Lego Batman Movie.
There’s also an adaptation issue. The Lego Videoverse gets this so much better. It still has the theme of Batman wanting to work alone and having trust issues. Serious trust issues. The difference is the direct-to-video Lego movies aren’t trying to be a kid at play but a comedic take on the franchise (usually one Lego licensed for a toyline or video game) it’s adapting. This is true for all their videos and TV series. (In addition to DC they also do Marvel, Scooby-Doo, and Star Wars among others. The Freemaker Adventures are part of my head canon for Star Wars.) The theme works better. Additionally the lore is all screwed-up in the movie verse. How Dick gets adopted is wrong, how Barbara becomes Batgirl is really wrong (and they also did this thing where Bruce is attracted to a Barbara that’s now his age, so I wonder if Bruce Timm was involved because he does the Batman/Batgirl romance far too often), Batman’s personality is really ramped up too high compared to Videoverse Batman, and the Phantom Zone has villains from a lot of Warner Brothers movies, including Sauron and King Kong. That last one is probably also tied to the style of the Lego Movieverse and again it just doesn’t work as well in this movie.
Was it worth the wait?: Honestly, no. The direct-to-video movies are a better adaptation/parody of the DC heroes and the comedy is better. The Lego Batman Movie tries too hard to be a continuation of The Lego Movie without the same theme that made that writing work. I’d recommend sticking with the direct-to-video Lego Batman: The Movie and the other Lego DC Super Hero movies and leave Lego Movie sequels to the second Lego Movie that should be coming out soon. I’ve seen similar problems in trailers for the Lego Ninjago movie, based on an original Lego concept versus the Ninjago cartoon that aired on Cartoon Network, and I don’t even watch that show. I’m hoping Lego Movie 2 better justifies the theatrical Lego story structure by continuing the end bit about the kid’s little sister and her Duplos, maybe about him learning to play with his sister even though her imagination isn’t as developed. We’ll have to wait and see.