Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Lego Batman Movie – Is It Better Than The Lego Movie?

     So The LEGO Batman Movie is pretty good. Really good, in fact. I’ve gone to watch it twice in IMAX 3D – besides the obvious addition of the great sound and picture quality that the IMAX experience offers, the physicality of the LEGO world and all its elements lend itself perfectly to 3D viewing.

      But is it better than The LEGO Movie?

      In a word, no. The Lego Movie is still slightly stronger than The LEGO Batman Movie, but we’ll get into those precise reasons later.

      Let’s first look at some similarities. Both go in unexpected narrative directions (not just extended toy commercials with simplistic ‘good vs evil’ plots as you might expect); both feature surprisingly mature themes beneath the colourful and child-friendly exterior (in a fashion not too dissimilar from Disney’s recent output); and both showcase a diverse range of humour (including jokes that are broad, ‘adult’ jokes for the parentals to enjoy, in-jokes for LEGO fans – as well as a ton of content for fans of Batman too).
      Particularly in regards to the last point – it seems the more you know about The Dark Knight, the more you will be tickled.  A lot of the humour comes from poking fun at the various iterations of the Batman universe over the years: the costumes, the personalities, the colourful villains (yep - they are all real, even the more outlandish ones!), and so on. Despite being regarded by some (including myself) as being THE BEST SUPERHERO EVER (‘Batman beats everyone’ - so the mantra goes), it's undeniable that he has also had his fair share of laughable moments throughout the ages; and the constant knowing winks that the film repeatedly throws out to the fans is one of its great joys.

      And maybe that’s part of why we love the character of Batman so much. Although there have been many interpretations of the character over the years that have been wildly different (even more so if you include the 'Elseworlds' comics versions) – deep down the fundamental core remains the same. And that’s why the film works so well. Despite all the flashy action scenes and myriad of jokes flying off the screen, the filmmakers really know what the core of Batman is – and this cleverly makes up the narrative thrust of the plot as well as occupy much of the themes that run through it.

      This particular iteration of the character in The LEGO Batman Movie may be the narcissistic-loner-asshole version of Batman (amped up to a ridiculous degree) that likes to think he is nigh on invulnerable in the fray – but the core of the character is still consistent – that is: a man who has lost loved ones in tragic circumstances and has the purpose and meaning of his whole life changed drastically as a result of it. Although this iteration of Batman doesn't cover his origin story (it’s a blessing that we don't have to sit through yet another version of his parent’s murder again), we see why he is so afraid to let others get close to him or to have a family of his own – in case he loses them too.

      And the film plays wonderfully with that. In fact, the main theme of the movie embodies that sentiment wholly: although you may be afraid of losing others, trust, love and understanding how we are all connected is what gives us purpose and meaning in life. Even when it comes down Batman’s bromance with The Joker (again, something that was unexpected in this movie but actually does play a significant part in a vast number of other Batman stories); and also leading up to the film’s climax, the message is clear: we are all co-dependent with each other on some level. No-one has to go it alone. And that’s a beautiful sentiment.

      Now The LEGO Movie’s message about creativity and celebrating individuality (whilst simultaneously busting the traditional story myth that only a few ‘chosen ones’ are destined to be ‘special’), is a bit more universal to the human experience – not forgetting the meta-ness of this theme simultaneously describing and being illustrated through the use of LEGO as a toy (or “highly sophisticated interlocking brick system” – whatever…).
      It’s a bit more inspired and moving than Batman’s overall theme. That’s not to say Batman doesn't have the occasional tear jerking moments: watching The Joker’s face dropping when Batman lays it out for him (‘You mean NOTHING to me…’), as well as a moment when he helplessly watches a dear friend slip out of his grasp to certain doom. These parts move you, in spite of the childish trappings that these sorts of animated features are often associated with.

      Admittedly though, at end of the day – the ‘LEGO’ part of this Batman just adds to the overall charm of the film, and it’s not 100% integral to the movie as a whole. With a bit of re-jigging of the certain story elements, this could have been told in any kind of medium, yet The LEGO Movie could not exist without being done in LEGO. I realize that when laid out so bluntly it sounds obvious - but this just illustrates how much the plot and themes of The LEGO Movie are inseparable from the very fabric of LEGO and what it means in terms of its design and potential.
     And that’s why I think The LEGO Movie is overall a better movie. Let’s also not forget that it featured great original characters and ideas – whereas Batman has a bit of an easier time in this regard as it uses pre-existing characters and our pre-conceived notions of them (also often played against expectations to great effect).

      Still, The LEGO Batman Movie is an excellent film. I had my expectations in check before I went to see it; as it is a spin-off to The LEGO Movie (which I’ve written about HERE), I was worried it wouldn't be anywhere near as good. But it certainly delivers – doubly so if you are a fan of Batman.

27th Feb 2017

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