Review: “Lego Batman” is endlessly funny, sweetly sincere

 

Perhaps Hollywood really is at the point where Lego-ified franchises understand their characters better than their grounded, live-action counterparts. “The Lego Batman Movie” certainly makes that case.

And if we are at that point, moviegoers had best get comfortable with seeing more and more of their favorite cinematic icons get the brick treatment, if these films continue to be as smart as they are hilarious. If the success of last year’s “Deadpool” relied on taking jabs at itself, “Lego Batman” is a total onslaught of self-deprecating humor.

The concept would have been ridiculed a few years ago, yet here we are. Nine years after receiving the best big-screen version of the Bat in “The Dark Knight,” and less than a year removed from washing the sour taste of “Batman v. Superman” out of our mouths, we have the delightful and delightfully self-aware “Lego Batman Movie.”

A spinoff of a breakout character from the breakout animated hit from 2014, “Lego Batman” is hyper, overattentive little brother to “The Lego Movie,” a whirlwind of everything that universe has to offer (and indeed, beyond the realm of DC Comics) that dares to step out from its big brother’s shadow.

A year after being confused and frustrated by “Batman v. Superman,” “Lego Batman” comes along and shows that some in Hollywood still understand the brooding superhero.

As much for adults as it is for children in both humor (a surprising amount of which is very mature) and substance, “Lego Batman” dwells on the lonely aspect of the hero’s life – the quiet contrast to the colorful high of fighting Gotham crime. With his own theme song to boot, of course (though it’s nowhere near as euphoric as “Everything Is Awesome”).

The film boasts an incredible array of actors lending their voices, including Will Arnett as Batman, Michael Cera as the innocent and untested Robin, Zach Galifianakis as a creepily sentimental Joker, and, in a particularly entertaining “cameo,” Siri as the Batcave’s computer.

They all perform to charming effect, even when there seems to be so much happening that it’s hard to catch some of the most memorable one-liners. This movie is chock-full of them, but so much of its success relies on the endless stream of Easter eggs and references that it never feels like its overbloated with them.

lego-bats

You don’t have to be world’s biggest Batman fan to catch them, either. There are jokes for fans who are only familiar with the most recent films, the entire universe, and everything in between The film doesn’t discriminate, and it demands multiple viewings to catch all the gags.

You’d probably want to watch a second time anyway, that’s how charming the movie is. Though perhaps not as contemplative as “The Lego Movie,” “Lego Batman” is just as fun, and even more bombastic. The less you know about the plot – especially the constantly surprising third act – the better the experience will be.

Arnett’s Batman is 100 percent aware of how awesome and fun he can be; in other words, he’s completely in on the joke. The movie embraces the character’s history in that way.

Even before we see anything on the screen, as Batman proclaims in a darkened theater that “All important movies start with a black screen,” we know we’re in on it too. And it’s a wonderful joke to be a part of – sincere, thrilling and oh so awesome.

 

“The Lego Batman Movie” is rated PG for rude humor and some action 

Starring: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes

Directed by Chris McKay

2017

 

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Movie Review: Dead on arrival? Suicide Squad is barely on life support to begin with.

This could make a fantastic start to a TV show.

That’s what I kept thinking in the first few minutes of Suicide Squad, throughout Suicide Squad and as the credits of Suicide Squad were rolling. This isn’t so much a movie worth paying to see as it is a two hour mess that pleads the audience to see that it is pushing the boundaries of what a comic book movie could be.

Instead, it falls short on the promise that DC made, not even living up to the potential of its trailers, but rather a forgettable work that on multiple occasions almost blatantly references its inability to live up to the hype.

This could be a fantastic start to a TV show, I thought. And the first 40 minutes could be considered the pilot.

Suicide Squad‘s first act is, at best, a mixed bag of neon-infused cut scenes that someone forgot to edit into the right order. It’s non sequitur after non sequitur, teasing some characters more than others in a way that doesn’t let the audience breathe, like a broken rollercoaster that lurches and stops, lurches and stops at the start. It’s exposition overload disguised as flashbacks, 40 minutes worth of it. Not all of it is fleshed out later, but at least the audience gets an idea for how tonally epileptic the rest of the movie will be.

We get intros to Will Smith’s Deadshot and Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, explicitly the stars of the show, and at least the whole thing is bearable when they’re on screen. We get determined Viola Davis who seems bored out of her mind, and we get scenes that feel like climaxes ripped out of other films, including one meant to be darkly dramatic but ends up eliciting an uncomfortable, unintentional laugh instead.

At the end of it all – the characters introductions (literally about two dozen the movie expects us to be interested in), the choppy pacing and editing, the booming soundtrack seemingly meant to cover up the nonsensical writing – you truly have the right amount of material for the pilot of a series that one can expect will flesh out these characters, their different powers, their backstories and eventual arcs.

Joker's scenes have some interesting imagery, but it's usually without explanation or connection to the main plot.

Joker’s scenes have some interesting imagery, but it’s usually without explanation or connection to the main plot.

But this isn’t a pilot. That is the end of what might be the worst first act in comic book movie history, at which point it’s painfully, obviously clear that David Ayer (Fury, Sabotage, End of Watch) has not delivered on the promise of a potentially groundbreaking yarn – not stylistically, not aesthetically, not even in its attempt to imitate the formula of, say, Guardians of the Galaxy, to similar success.

Even when the movie does a stab at really grasping its themes of whether evil can be redeemed or not feels tragically forced and underwhelming.

Squad is like an angsty teenager who continually threatens to run away from home but never does. It’s gilded; self-indulgent and patting itself on the back without really being bold or giving us some shocks and “Wow” moments. If you want that, read up on Jared Leto’s apparent experiments behind the scenes while grasping his Joker character…

…who, by the way, has almost zero point being in this movie. It’s hard enough to follow up Heath Ledger’s award-winning turn as the villain, sure, but it’s almost impossible to begin when Ayer gives us zero sense of motivation behind Leto’s maniacal deviant or his actions. He’s all flash, bringing no tension to a movie that sorely needs it.

Unfortunately, the majority of the titular squad isn’t very interesting either. You get a sense of their villainous natures at the start, but when embarking on their mission don’t get equal treatment as Deadshot and Quinn. Nothing really sets them apart from standard comic book fare. The film even explicitly reminds viewers that they’re “the bad guys,” in what like a tongue-in-cheek attempt by Ayer to say, “Hey, these guys will do something truly vile and dark, this is essential to the story, just you wait.”

It’s an empty promise. The plot is confusing and not a very intriguing one anyway, much like many of its core characters. Killer Croc is expendable, barely understandable, a grunt. You forget Boomerang is in the film at all. Diablo is the most interesting at first, but it’s an attempt at humanity and pathos that misses the mark rather badly.

And Enchantress? She’s the most cringeworthy movie character to grace haunt big screens this year, perhaps even years. Hers is a combination of Maleficent and the Grudge brought to life in abundant CGI fashion influenced by Lost‘s smoke monster. All of Squad‘s supposedly extraordinary and fascinating character cases are reminiscent of a box of high-tech toys that Ayer opened and doesn’t know how to play with.

As much as Robbie's Harley Quinn steals the show, not even she seems to reach her full potential.

As much as Robbie’s Harley Quinn steals the show, not even she seems to reach her full potential.

The villain isn’t enough to save this movie either, a monstrously ancient, boring being who wants to destroy the world via the light beam trope and after that…who knows? And who cares. The movie certainly doesn’t do anything to try and make us understand his cause, let alone sympathize with it.

Suicide Squad‘s action scenes are also surprisingly few and far between, but it could only seem that way because there’s not one memorable sequence to be seen. No real threats are ever posed to the team, and their unique traits aren’t given due justice. It isn’t a good sign when you find yourself wishing that Zach Snyder was behind the camera in these bits, but the movie lacks in anything that makes its thrills unique, leading to a severe lack thereof.

Logic is also something apparently non-existant in the script. For a movie universe in which Superman – the iconic pinnacle of goodness – is seen as an apocalyptic figure, Squad‘s side characters are wholeheartedly prepared do trust these villains with named like Killer Croc and Diablo. Simply put, they’re about as dumb as can be, totally non-believable almost to the point that you want to see them lose.

Instead, the paying audience does. This movie is one deserving of being downloaded and watched at home via a shaky camera, and perhaps not even that. It’s devoid of character, soul, uniqueness and about as memorable as what you had for breakfast this morning.

If only this was a TV pilot.

In a Nutshell

Suicide Squad is consistent in one manner: its cringeworthiness. And if these moments are what DC hopes translates as “edgy” to a modern audience, they’ve got it all wrong. This makes Watchmen seem like an all-time high for the company.

3.5 / 10

 

 

Suicide Squad is rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action throughout, disturbing behavior, suggestive content and language

Starring: Will Smith, Jared Leto, Margot Robbie

Directed by David Ayer

2016