By Dan Cava
February 10, 2017
Against all odds, 2015’s The Lego Movie transcended its cash grabby shell to be become one of the freshest pieces of animated entertainment in recent memory. It wasn’t a one-joke piece of product placement with “kid’s movie” dialogue and a conveyor belt story. It was clever, visually stunning, surprisingly moving, irreverent without being offensive, and still pretty cash grabby, but in a way that let us know that they knew that we knew, which made it okay. Most importantly, it was really, really funny. The barrage of jokes in The Lego Movie was relentless, with a ten-to-one laugh-to-lame ratio, easy.
Will Arnett’s delightfully over-macho Lego Batman featured prominently in The Lego Movie, so the fact that Warner Bros chose to cross-pollinate two of their most prominent brands to make The Lego Batman Movie should come as no surprise. Yes, it takes product placement to absurd new heights, and yes, setting it in Batman-land might set limits on the nearly boundary-less world of the first movie, but they did it once, right?
The good news is that, at its best, The Lego Batman Movie carries forward the same giddy pleasures of its predecessor. The bad news is that “its best” is only the first thirty minutes of the movie. While The Lego Batman Movie throws everything it has at screen, it doesn’t sustain the dizzying heights of the predecessor.
The movie’s story, a clever inversion of the old Batman and Joker rivalry, carries the movie nicely, and its details offer some of the movie’s funnier surprises. The trouble here is that the movie attempts to match the frenetic pacing of the first film. With so much happening on screen, the mandate to stay funny is key, especially since the beginning of the film is so hilarious. There’s a whole world of DC Comics characters to lampoon, and The Lego Batman Movie makes quick work of mining much of its humor from that world. But somehow, that world, or rather our shared experience of that world (which is the only part that matters) is not big enough to sustain the number of gags that the movie needs to fill up its frantic storytelling.
The first round of DC Comics humor comes and goes brilliantly in movie’s first act, but the well starts to run dry. The story barrels along, with the same frenetic visual style of the first movie, but joke side of the screenplay gets stuck riffing on the ideas set up in the beginning. To keep things from getting stale, the movie’s writers throw in characters from other Warner Bros movie franchises, with mixed results. Seeing Voldemort and Sauron in the same movie is a kick at first, but soon those jokes run their course as well. Without all of the polished punchlines of the first movie, the screenwriters (all five of them) throw every idea they have at the screen, hoping that a quantity of chuckles would distract from the lack of big, quality laughs. The audience roared throughed the movie’s opening and kind of just smiled through the rest.
I get the feeling that comic book nerds will find more to like here than I did. I overheard another nearby critic swooning over all the Batman references, so I acknowledge there may be joys to be had that I don’t share. I want to say that those jokes went over my head, but the euphemism implies a level of sophistication that I’m not willing to concede.
For my part, I found The Lego Batman Movie to be basically watchable but ultimately tiresome. After a home run opening, the movie just keeps swinging beyond what it can hit, settling for a barrage of ground balls to first. That special Lego Movie magic slowly wears off until the film becomes your slightly-above-averagely amusing animated movie. It’s still exciting to look at. It still features a huge cast of famous funny people doing the voicework. It’s probably good for grade school kids (although maybe too manic for the very young). And it does have some truly funny, oddball humor. But it’s not front-to-back hilarious. It tries to be, it should have been, but it isn’t.
The danger for a movie like The Lego Batman Movie is always that it will be a one-joke movie, and while it doesn’t quite fail in that way, it disappoints by being a thousand-joke movie with steadily diminishing returns. While the opening scenes are almost worth the price of admission alone, and while I’m sure that some will enjoy its cascade of comic book in-jokes more than me, The Lego Batman Movie has neither the wit nor the screenplay stamina of the movie before it. It’s fast, frenzied, and…fine. But in following up a movie as innovative, as imaginative, and as ferociously funny as the first Lego Movie, fine is not enough.
Star Rating: 2.5 out of 5