The Lego Batman Movie: Review & Discussion

With the success and unexpectedly smart meta-writing of The Lego Movie, as well as my passion for all things Batman, I have been awaiting the release of The Lego Batman Movie for quite some time. And I am glad to say that it did not disappoint. Keep in mind the most important part to me of any movie is always the writing. I will touch a bit on art style here, but what makes this movie truly shine is not just how good it looks–which, to be fair, it looks amazing–but what the movie used its time to say.

The movie begins before the images actually appear onscreen. Will Arnett, voice of Batman, opens with “All important movies start with black.” True to the meta-writing style of The Lego Movie, Lego Batman is completely aware that he is in a movie and this is his opening. As a character, Lego Batman is self-important, self-righteous, self-serious, angsty, arrogant, and “dark”. From his clothes to his self-perceived attitude, Lego Batman believes he is God’s gift to mankind– the coolest, smartest man in the known universe, and he deserves exactly all of the hype that the citizens of Gotham bestow upon him.

Lego Batman is a parody of every “serious” Batman written in the past fifty years, beginning with Tim Burton’s Batman movies, Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns,” and more recently Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy. In fact, The Lego Batman Movie takes special time and attention to single out Nolan’s movies for criticism beginning in the title sequence. Utilizing the steely-grey Warner Bros. logo and clouded background that opened The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, Will Arnett grunts his approval in his carefully crafted “pretentious, gravelly, edge-lord” voice that is also derivative of the Nolan movies and the absurd voice Christian Bale made famous during his tenure as Batman and Ben Affleck seems to have continued in Batman vs. Superman 

Halfway through the movie, Alfred remarks that Batman has been going through a strange phase as of late–though he does take time to mention all the previous “phases” Batman has gone through over the years as movie posters and the title screen for Batman: The Animated Series scrolls by in the background. “And then there was the 60s,” Alfred mentioned, during which the movie cuts to a clip of Adam West’s 1960s live-action Batman show.

Though The Lego Batman Movie is soundly a Lego Movie, from art style to the utilzation of villains from other properties Lego has the rights to, The Lego Batman Movie is most concerned with being a Batman movie. By referencing all the previous film incarnations of Batman, The Lego Batman Movie makes a very clear statement that this movie is a direct inheritor of the Batman franchise’s legacy. Though these many invocations are used for critique, this movie avoids a common pitfall with satire in that instead of simply critiquing the ridiculousness of the “ultra-self-serious, ‘I work alone’ Batman,” the movie offers up an alternative interpretation of Batman that it argues is a more fulfilling and ultimately more heroic Batman than the Batman we’ve seen grow increasingly dark and violent over the past 50 years.

The first sequence of the movie would seem to support Lego Batman’s ideas that he has an active and fulfilling life–it is flashy, busy, and everything is about him. Every villain and his brother has teamed up to plant a bomb under Gotham City. Batman reveals himself to the villains and starts a self-made mix on his iPod in order to beat them up to it. The song that plays features Patrick Stump (lead singer of Fall Out Boy, for those of you unaware) doing a SPOT ON Batman impersonation. The lyrics include Batman praising himself incessantly–for everything from “never missing leg day” to “being the coolest”. Once it is just Batman and the Joker left standing, Joker reveals the whole plan was an elaborate ploy to convince Batman to have to choose–between finally capturing him, his “arch nemesis” of 78 years, or saving Gotham. Joker was not, however, expecting Batman to say that he, “Doesn’t do [relation]ships,” or “wouldn’t say Joker is his number one villain,” that he’s “fighting a few different bad guys right now,” and that he, “like[s] to fight around.” With Batman’s final assertion, “You mean nothing to me,” Joker flies away on the verge of tears, utterly heartbroken, and suddenly I entered this weird alternate reality where Joker has more humanity and heart to him than Batman.

Batman goes on to disarm the bomb, save the day (or eternal night in Gotham’s case), and bathe in the fanfare Gotham’s citizens supply him. After shooting some Batman merch into a crowd of orphans where Dick Grayson makes his first appearance, Batman returns to the Batcave. The fanfare is gone, not even background music plays as Batman greets the Bat-computer with “I’m home.” His exclamation echoes off the cavern walls. Batman heats up his lobster dinner in a microwave in Wayne Manor and eats by himself. He stares at the Wayne portrait gallery hanging on another expansive wall of a suspiciously empty room, and ends up in an equally large home theater, surrounded by empty seats, watching romantic comedies and laughing at the protagonist’s professions of love and companionship. Looking around he realizes, somewhat pathetically, he’s the only one there to laugh. In the trailers, much of this sequence was featured punctuated by “One is the Loneliest Number”–which is fine for a trailer, but this sequence is perhaps made more poignant by the complete and utter silence of the movie. The loneliness and emptiness that pervades every scene where Batman is home succinctly argues the whole case The Lego Batman Movie makes regarding a necessary change Batman as a character needs to take: Batman needs a supporting cast. Movies like The Dark Knight, in elevating Batman to a symbol, have completely robbed Batman of his humanity–including his need, as a human being, as Bruce Wayne, to connect with others. When Bale’s or Affleck’s Batman inevitably goes home at the end of a long night fighting crime by himself, Alfred has gone to bed, and the only thing waiting for him is a cold dinner. That is not glorious. That is not cool. It’s just fucking sad.

In deciding to treat Batman as a human being, and not just a “symbol,” the movie attempts to offer a reason for Batman’s active refusal to accept new people into his life. “You’re afraid of being part of a family again,” Alfred says to Batman. Though he denies it, this fear of losing those who want to be close to him becomes the hurtle Batman must overcome to save Gotham from a jilted Joker. Not only that, but Batman must come to terms with the fact that, in attempting to push people who care about him away, he has acted far less than heroic.

Overall, the writing of this movie was punchy, but also perceptive. This is probably the only Batman interpretation I’ve ever seen that has had the guts and understanding to label Dick Grayson Bruce’s son, not “ward,” and to label Alfred “surrogate father.” Those are the roles that these characters play in Bruce’s life, regardless of whatever their official titles are. Instead of just satirizing a character that, with all of the crappy, self-serious writing surrounding it has every reason to be satirized, they simultaneously poke fun as well as offer a solution to the problems of characterization that the Batman movies have suffered recently. Not just that, but the animation itself was flawless, the movie despite everything was still kid-friendly, and this is probably one of very few movies I will insist on buying in DVD/Blu-ray when it comes out.

GO SEE THIS MOVIE.

Resident Evil: Aka How to Make a Bad Movie Good

Hey nerders,  Zach here.  I just got out of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter and I’ve been thinking about why I so thoroughly enjoyed what is not, in any “objective” sense, a good film.

Resident Evil, as a film series, exists in this weird pseudo-genre of film we collectively call “B-Movies.” Now what defines a B-movie is not the content itself, but the quality of the content.  B-Movies tend to be low-budget, they tend to have bad special effects, the scripts always need at least three to four more drafts before they make any sense, and they’re almost always really intriguing on a conceptual level, but consistently fall short of their ambitions.

Case in point: Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.  Now, this is the sixth movie in this franchise, and all five movies before this one are simultaneously critical to understanding what is going on yet at the same time entirely superfluous. Does a previous film explain why a zombie virus has created a mutant dragon? Probably.  Does the presence of mutant dragons at any point in time become relevant in this movie?  Not really. Nonetheless, there are several mutant dragons in this movie.  There are also mutant dogs, clones with superpowers, clones without superpowers, clones who are maybe not clones, at least one cyborg, a Catholic religious fanatic, and… whatever this thing was.

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My gut says “Super Zombie” but my heart says “Poorly Though Out”

Characters are introduced and given character arcs that end in exactly one scene, and promptly forgotten about or killed. In fact, I’m positive our heroes arrive at the Umbrella Co. hideout with one less person than they left with and it is never addressed. The fact I can’t even remember speaks enough for itself. The twists are obvious, the drama is DRAMATIC, and the pacing appears to speed up every time someone says the phrase “T-Virus.”  All the component parts of this film fail, with the exception of a handful of action set-pieces that succeed entirely based on the insanity of what goes on and how little since it actually makes.  At no point do you even understand what the stakes are except apparently humanity?  But there’s like enough people underground to repopulate Earth?  But they’re bad so we’re just gonna kill everyone?

None of it matters.  Not a lick of it, and yet. AND YET.  I enjoyed the hell out of it. I thought it was a blast.  I’d go so far as to recommend it.  Why am I so forgiving of a film that exists so Mila Jovovich can do kung-fu flips in tight leather and just beat the ever loving shit out of Jorah Mormont when I cannot stand Suicide Squad, which is much better made and (dare I say) written?

Tone.

Tone is the answer. For as high concept as Resident Evil: The Final Chapter is, the movie lacks any pretensions at being more than the sum of its parts.  It’s honestly refreshing.  A film like Suicide Squad wants to demand a certain respect from their audience.  Everything about its presentation begs me to take seriously this group of colorful assholes beating up CGI monsters while constantly telling me how “bad” they are.

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Not Pictured: Fun.  Also Not Pictured: Color

Resident Evil though?  Resident Evil could care less if I “respect” it. I don’t mean to say that the film somehow disrespects or devalues the audience’s opinion; I just think that the film does not demand my praise.  It cultivates an environment that invites the audience to watch not because the action is good, or because we care about the characters, but simply to enjoy the next nonsensical set-piece they came up with. Entertainment for entertainment’s sake.

Suicide Squad on the other hand, takes itself so dreadfully serious. Deadshot, the man who dresses in a gimp-outfit and shoots people, has a DAUGHTER.  And Harley Quinn is Joker’s QUEEN. She BELONGS to him. (That particular mess is a WHOLE OTHER issue).  We, the audience, are not invited to enjoy–we are commanded to respect these well-shot, ultimately boring action sequences and equally boring characters. In contrast, Resident Evil tries to earn that investment (however cheaply) by throwing false jump scares–so many that we’re actively waiting to see which improbable death-trap actually manages to kill someone.  Is Alice gonna make it through the weird mutant Predator fight?

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WHAT EVEN ARE YOU!?!?!

Yeah probably, but what kind of death scene will we get for her friend? What kind of creative ploy will she use to somehow kill it? How will she devise another strategy when it doesn’t die the first time? Or the second time?  Tonally the film is totally neutral on whether or not we should care for any reason other than those other dudes are like, super crazy and clearly evil.  More than that it’s because the longer our heroes last the more awesome stunts we get to see.

But let’s get more specific.  I’m gonna talk about two scenes, equally poorly done, about mistrust.  In Resident Evil we are hastily introduced to a group of survivors in the bombed out shell of Raccoon city.  Their names are not important.  One of them is a gear head, one of them is the leader, one of them is the sensible one, and then there’s this guy:

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Huh.  Weird he never uses the sword.

I’m gonna call him Jim. Jim is distrustful of Alice.  He is distrustful because this is the apocalypse and that is what you do.  We further establish that he has a problem with Leader, because as the distrustful one he must challenge authority when it comes to trusting strangers.  He eventually trusts Alice because that is how these character arcs end.  It barely qualifies as a character arc.  The “sequence” in which Alice earns his trust involves her ziplining down a horde of zombies, while the ground is on fire, outrunning said zombies, killing exactly 3 human beings, and then somehow leading the zombie horde away even though we haven’t seen the horde in several minutes.

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I think this is from that scene, it gets pretty exploisiony so it’s kind of a blur

Now for Suicide Squad.  Rick Flagg is the army sergeant in charge of the Squad that is bent on Suicide, because his woman (therefore property) has been possessed by an as-yet unnamed Evil Spirit.  He is distrustful of Deadshot because he is a man who kills people for money; Deadshot is also a coward because he kills from a distance. Yet, because he uses different guns and shoots people at a slightly closer range, by his logic he is not a coward.  Deadshot proves himself by jumping on top of a car and shooting a bunch of CGI monsters, outside of cover, even though we’ve established the accuracy of the CGI squad, and killing a bunch of them in what I imagine was supposed to be his “badass” moment.

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“Tell me I’m overcompensating ONE MORE TIME!”

Now between the two, Suicide Squad is almost certainly more coherent.  But this “conflict” between two manly men is equally as artificial and stupid as the Resident Evil one, Suicide Squad just expects me to take it seriously– as serious as if this were a legitimate conflict between two men who were not part of a group including a giant alligator man a woman with a sword who steals souls.  Resident Evil establishes the barest frame of a character to use for the purposes of setting up a spectacular action sequence.  The audience is not expected to take the events anywhere near as serious as the characters, and this is reflected in the tone of the scenes, namely in how incredibly short they are.

That is what Resident Evil gets that Suicide Squad doesn’t.  You can’t ask me to take seriously a man with boomerangs drinking beer with an international assassin and a talking alligator with the kind of severity I would a scene from the Godfather.  While it is important for films to be internally consistent, a good director must ask the audience for exactly the right kind of investment.  Wes Anderson asks for exactly the right amount, David Ayer asked for far too much. Tone matters.

Also just look at this outfit:

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Just because you’ve kick-started the Apocalypse doesn’t mean you can’t look FINE doing it

That is the outfit of someone who KNOWS he’s a B-Movie villain.  You don’t design an outfit like this if you’re going for anything other than camp.