Thursday, February 9, 2017

I saw the Dark Knight Legoized (sigh)...

I’ve nothing against Lego: that is, the actual building-block sets, where kids (who no longer have the gumption to assemble Aurora/Lindberg/Revell cars, planes, boats, let alone character dioramas) can utilize their creative skills to accomplish feasible and satisfying tasks. 

I do, however, object to my favorite characters being represented in generic, Play School manners. Hey, those sorts of representations are fine for the tots, but I never saw the appeal for adolescents, and it appears that teens dig these super-deformed munchkins more than any other age group. 

That means the figures are manufactured for millennials who should otherwise be watching big-or-small-screen DC and Marvel adaptations, but due to their timidity, need watered down versions. This is precisely why we get stuff like “The Lego Movie”, a "Toy Story"/"Wreck-It Ralph" wannabe to which these precious hearts flocked in Winter '14 instead of “RoboCop”. 

With "The Lego Movie" kicking butt at the box office, it would only reason to do a sequel, but this time it was decided to tackle a superhero (along with a few others of his caliber). After all, Batman costarred in “The Lego Movie”, which makes him a prime candidate for his own full-blown essay, right? While we’re at it, why not squeeze Robin in there and sprinkle the entire scene with smart-ass disdain? 

Well, such are the traits of director Chris "Robot Chicken" McKay's animated spin-off, "The Batman Lego Movie", written in part by Seth Grahame-Smith, of "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" fame. (BTW: The Lego superhero concept made its way to a direct-to-disc format several years back, but we're now asked to pretend that such never happened, and for the sake of this review, I'll oblige the request. Whoops! So sorry...)

On the surface, the here-and-now/big-screen "Lego Batman" appears a hardy spoof of the Caped Crusader's vigilant past and present, commencing with the Adam West version (and only fleetingly referencing the movie-serial phase, which is probably just as well, in this wealth of insults). The West incarnation does exude a lighter tone than other versions. However, as much as this film labels "Batman '66" as "weird" (therefore, not in touch with today's so-called "sensible" views), West's Bruce Wayne was never shy about slugging it out with thugs and of course, held a clear, moral compass: not so weird in my book. The West approach, evidently, is a big no-no in today's see-it-from-all-sides, teen culture, which the "Lego Batman" represents with maddening delight. (Also, keep in mind, if lightness-of-heart is what DC/WB believes Batman requires, then why the hell wasn't the excellent “Return of the Caped Crusaders” given a substantial, theatrical release?)

Much to our disadvantage, our Lego Batman (voiced by Will Arnett, doing a sort of cross between Christian Bale and Michael Keaton) isn't characterized as being square-to-the-point-of-being-cool or as a dark, tormented avenger, but rather as a misguided goofball, who when not tackling high-flying “crime”, leaps around his shiny cave, pluckin' his electric guitar. Hell, wet-behind-the-ears Robin is just as bad, depicted as an annoying, sniveling snit. (Make him predominately yellow and you have your basic, run-of-the-mill Minion.) Additionally, poor Alfred is a go-through-the-motions bore, rehashing the don't-be-a-loner spiel (like solitude was ever an obstacle for any prior Dark Knight). And then there's Batgirl (perhaps the most baffling caricature of all), who pompously poses as Commissioner Barbara Gordon until the film's climax and throughout the story finds Batman's techniques outdated, crude and unethical. Pardon my presumption, but I thought Batgirl/Gordon, despite any governmental status she might attain, would always stand strong by her parental mentors' methodology. 

(I'd also like to interject that I've seen Batman icons spoofed and quasi-altered in many fan films over the years, some of which can still be viewed on YouTube. Such examples are fun-loving, tongue-in-cheek tributes, rather like the new "Powerless" series, where the filmmakers respect the characters contained and the spoofing results in silly, celebratory nudges. There's a fine line between laughing along with characters and laughing at them; it only takes a slight tipping of the scales to achieve either degree, but when it happens, it's easy to see. Remember when the once dignified Space Ghost became a dumb-ass talk-show host?)

As it stands, "Lego Batman" enters its pretentious passages by swinging us back to yet another attempted Joker takeover and during this tedious stretch, presents hero and foe as indivisible, all of which is somehow Batman’s implied fault, since his world perspective is so skewed. Really? The very essence of this concept should insult any comic-book aficionado, particularly those who've embraced the Caped Crusader’s woeful past. I mean, what the hell’s Batman to do after all he's been through: play patty cake with Gotham's scum in hopes of keeping its citizens safe? 

As the film progresses, we begin to realize that Batman's foibles are really his disguised political failings, and according to this take, it's imperative to fault him for that. Politics (when expressed in a two-fisted way) and all villainous deeds are one and the same. Hey, it all comes out in the wash, kids. Pick a side, as long as it's the bad, and if the good somehow rises to the occasion, twist the variables so that good looks bad. Wow! Upliftin', ain't it?

To add insult to injury, there's a scene where Wayne greets his fan base with marked conceit, for no other reason than just to do it. Sure, he'll grant one an autograph, but dismiss one just as fast. Also, amazingly enough, Batman is made to look foolish whenever he successfully implements his sterling skills. Alas, the other Justice League members are handled in the same lame vein and yes, that includes Superman. (Get a load of the film's gut-wrenching JL anniversary-party sequence at the Fortress of Solitude, if you need proof.)

Throughout it all, we're reminded that teamwork is paramount, but only as long as no participant shines too far beyond the pack to accomplish any given task. Our heroes can excel, but they must also take a step back and talk things through as to how they'll "fight" the "bad" guys, and therefore the film's oh-so-clever banter rises the point of absurdity, not to mention insolence. The enormous harm that can be inflicted by the Joker; Harley Quinn; King Kong (don't ask)...Two-Face (voiced by the man who played him first, Billy Dee Williams) never resonates. Every character has a special point of view and the privilege to act as he/she pleases. There's no real evil in the world or at least nothing so bad that a wee chat or minor, action spree can't fix. Please... Now, none of this is actually verbalized in "Lego Batman", but it's still there, succinctly seeping from out the irritating seams.

"Lego Batman'"s self-ridicule is so stark, in fact, that it often feels masochistic. Whether it's referencing "Batman '66" or "Batman v Superman", the filmmakers handle each with the same holier-than-thou derision. After a time, the film smacks of propaganda, like those current crop of movies about decent folks who are made to look corrupt, even though they're not, financed by one indignant side or the other in hopes of blemishing some proven, iconic creed. In the same regard, the film reeks of mainstream-slanted news reports, which advocate bigotry toward clowns (and I ain't talkin' the Joker, Pennywise or Pogo type, either) and vilify such traditions as Halloween and Christmas as the pinnacle in pious ignominy. 

If the filmmakers despise the DC characters this much (though it's hard to believe that such talented, tested individuals would), why bother to make the damn film? Perhaps it's for no reason other than to appease the many anxious nit-wits out there who crave any chance to hero bash. (Just look at the baffling reviews of praise for this dreck, and you'll see what I mean.) The same practice occurs in schools these days (and on all academic levels, I might add), so why not in theaters? If we're going to smear George Washington, John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan via rewritten history, why not do the same to one of most popular, by-the-book fictional champions of all time? Why should one aspire to be all one can be, when one can be Batman, who's in the wrong by doing right until he realizes that being wrong is right? Gee friggin' whiz!!!

I've feared that a Batman movie of this horrendous sort might surface someday. Maybe it's just as well it came in the form of clunky, computerized animation, but considering how much money the first, big-screen Lego movie collected, I suspect that this Dark Knight variant will gain even more, enchanting even more spineless, overgrown babies, who've been inspired by even more narrow-minded, wrist-wringing adults.  

The marketing on this one declares "It's good to be Batman", but as a lifelong fan, it was anything but good to sit through this deviation. Sure, some might say "Lego Batman" is little more than a throwaway, kiddie flick, with its heart set in innocent, play-set ideology, but I say it's blasphemous, no matter what dirty lens one views it through.

1 comment:

  1. So, Chris McKay is set to direct a Nightwing (Robin/Dick Grayson) movie. I've nothing against McKay's directorial style: not in the least. However, it's the story that has to work here. If the style and vibe aren't in the right tune, then why the hell bother?

    "Lego Batman" under-performed at the box office, but not so much so to squash its impact. It could still be used as a blueprint for other DC/WB productions. That troubles me. If a Nightwing movie rolls in the damn anti-Batman direction, I, for one, will be happy.