My notes on the latest iteration of the Bat/Lego franchises …
The Lego Batman Movie (2017)
In the scenes you never expected to see department, this includes a sequence in which Batman fights Daleks … though, as with a lot of the micro-cameos that speed past like the Flash with a rocket up his arse, it’s pretty much visual clutter. The whole thing manages to be great fun and faintly annoying at the same time, perhaps because it doesn’t quite manage that balance between kid-friendliness and adult snark delivered by The Lego Movie. The version of Batman (voiced by Will Arnett) in the earlier hit was so popular that he earns his own spin-off here … with no one wanting to mention Lego Batman The Movie DC Super Heroes Unite from 2013, which had a different, less whiny-parodic take on the material and consequently might well play better with preteen Lego/Bat-fans who’ll find the Seth Grahame-Smith storyline imposed on this potential delight a chore to cope with. It’s a squirm to deal with the characters of Batman and Robin without featuring scenes of brick-crafted Crime Alley or the sabotaged Big Top and Lego figures of Joe Chill and Boss Zucco … but this drops a few mentions of lost parents without going into gruesome specifics. The main thread of the story is that Bruce/Batman works alone because he’s afraid of having a family he might lose, though he’s also a comical bighead who thinks he’s right all the time and is in a perpetual sulk about being left out of things he says he doesn’t want to be included in. He sneaks into Superman’s Fortress of Solitude and finds the whole Justice League of America – including frickin’ Black Lightning – having a big party he wasn’t invited to.
To get past the protagonist’s ‘issues’ – you can just imagine the five credited screenwriters talking like this while fiddling with Lego bricks – Alfred (voiced dryly by Ralph Fiennes) encourages Bruce to take an interest in Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), the hyper-enthusiastic orphan he’s accidentally adopted, and get cosier with Gotham’s new Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson). Yet again, the main female character has to be the token sensible grown-up – though she does get into a purple batgirl-suit for the finale. The plot motor is a jealous Joker (Zach Galifanakis). Lots of fanfic shipper gags revolve around his hate-crush on the hero and Batman’s refusal to commit to having an arch-nemesis. The Joker plants the idea in Batman’s mind to steal Superman’s Phantom Zone projector and send him to the extradimensional prison, where he recruits a pan-dimensional/franchise bunch of big bads – including Sauron, Voldemort (Eddie Izzard – though Ralph Fiennes was right there in the room), King Kong, a four-armed Godzilla knock-off (Toho won’t play ball, eh?), those Daleks (leftover cameo rights from Looney Tunes: Back in Action?), the Wicked Witch plus flying monkeys, Dracula, the Creature From the Black Lagoon, etc (but no Marvel villains, though there’s an ‘Iron Man Sucks’ joke) – to trash Gotham City. Besides fitting into his new four-way Bat-family, Batman recruits the Arkham Asylum rogues to join a big, scrappy, joke-filled battle.
One appealing thing about the film is that it goes very deep into DC Bat-lore, with Lego versions of all previous media Batmen back to the 1940s serials and a host of villains so obscure Batman suggests Googling the likes of Killer Moth, Calendar Man, Polka-Dot Man, the Eraser (please tell me there’s an Eraser Lego figure commercially available) and the Condiment King (the last is a bit of a cheat, but semi-canonical from the Animated Series). It’s nice to see Egghead and King Tut from the 1966 show in the crowd, though samples of Neal Hefti’s na-na-na (and John Williams’ Superman themes) show up the album’s worth of cheery noise foisted off as the rest of the music score as poppily disposable/irritating in a bad way. And it’s sweet that, after being rooked out of it once, Billy Dee Williams finally gets to play Two-Face, though not for very long since the Lego Two-Face figure is among the more disturbing renditions of the classic characters. Also with Conan O’Brien as the Riddler,Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman (note her nuzzling Clayface), Riki Lindhome as Poison Ivy, Seth Green as King Kong, Channing Tatum as Superman, Hector Elizondo as Commissioner Gordon, Mariah Carey (?) as the Mayor and Jonah Hill as Green Lantern. As a Lego film, it’s less smart than The Lego Movie, but plays games with breaking things apart and putting them back together to assemble a new generation of Bat-vehicles. Directed by Chris McKay.
Isn’t the “four-armed Godzilla knock-off” the kraken from Clash of the Titans?
Incidentally, it bothers me that they have Kong in the Phantom Zone, since he isn’t a villain or evil…
Yes, it is the Kraken (along with Medusa) – whose rights I presume are easier to clear. Also it’s been pointed out to me that it’s Black Vulcan not Black Lightning. And I have indeed bought an Eraser Lego figure. To be fair, Kong is pretty destructive so the PZ might be the best place for him. When Superman had to deal with Kong knock-off Titano the Super Ape in Silver Age comics, his solution to the problem was sending him back in time to prehistory where there were no buildings to trip over.
I had to tell a child in the audience who was sad because he was confused why Kong, a goody was in the PZ. I told him there are different Kongs, RKO Kong, Toho Kong, De Laurentiis Kong, Rankin/Bass Kong, Korean Kong, Peter Jackson Kong, Mighty Kong ,etc.
Well, Kraken/Clash of the Titans is owned by Warner, so….
The Universal Monsters are actually Lego’s own knockoffs.
Minor note: I believe the Condiment King, like several other characters who originated in the animated series, has since made occasional appearances in the mainstream Batman comics.
It’s not the source that strikes me as a cheat: it’s the implication that CK was a regular villain even on a par with some ludicrous 1950s characters – rather than a deliberate parody Bat-villain persona in an episode about ordinary folks mind-controlled into being ridiculous non-threat villains.