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The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

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Having previously worked as animation co-director on The Lego Movie (2014) with Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, Chris McKay makes his directorial debut with it's follow up: The Lego Batman Movie.  When I was a kid, Lego surmounted to nothing more than a bucket of mismatched pieces I would build in to a rocket ship, dismantle, and repeat.  Nowadays, there are building block interpretations of popular films franchises, and then video game interpretations of those.  The Lego world seems to be taking over, and reaching out in to the film world itself.  Riding the wave of the hugely successful (and hugely brilliant), The Lego Movie, a film focussing on one of it's standout characters (Batman - voiced by Will Arnett) has quickly followed (and there will be Lego Ninjago Movie later in 2017 too).  I went to see The Lego Movie for my 5th 25th Birthday and was really impressed.  Much like everyone else I assumed it was a massive marketing ploy and was pleasantly surprised by the quickfire humour and stunning animation.  Unfortunately the last 10 minutes did lean in to 'toy advert' territory a bit too much for my liking as it began to play on everyone's nostalgia for the Lego product, but that isn't to take away from a film that was a huge amount of fun.  That it's Batman incarnation ("DARKNESS! NO PARENTS!") that was to get it's very own movie seemed to make sense, and I couldn't have been more excited.  Following a stressful day moving out of our flat, a movie and an all you can eat Pizza Hut buffet was exactly what I needed.
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I've been a massive fan of Will Arnett ever since he played Gob in the brilliant Arrested Development series so I was a bit biased going in to The Lego Movie knowing he had been cast as Batman.  Thankfully, he was spot on.  Sometimes the casting of voice actors in animations can be taken too lightly.  Too often A Listers are thrown at an animation, and it feels like the only reason is the draw those names will bring (2004's Shark Tale, and now this year's Sing are some that spring to mind).  I'm not saying that Will Arnett, his Arrested Development co-star Michael Cera, and Zach Galifianakis are nobodies, but you can immediately tell each were chosen for their vocal performance rather than their CV.  Will Arnett is Batman now just as much as Keaton, Bale and West (and Kilmer and Clooney?......).  Do a quick Google of the best ever Batman, and after only one feature film where he is the central character Arnett's already creeping up many people's lists.  The best thing about this incarnation is the film's ability to laugh at itself and poke fun at those predecessors.  The DC universe films have recently been overly dark in every sense, and although jokes shouldn't be a necessity, this has made for films that haven't been a whole lot of fun to sit through.  The Lego world, and the brand of humour that comes with that make such an experience impossible.
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The jokes come thick and fast in The Lego Batman Movie, and a common criticism levelled at the film is that this can be exhausting.  It's an odd criticism, but it could benefit from a breather or two: the pace is such that I often found myself laughing over the top of the next joke.  I think it lessened the impact of about a fifth of the laughs, but that gives me an excuse (not that I needed it) for repeat viewings.  The best jokes are when the film is most aware of the world it inhabits, and it's legacy - Adam West 'Boff! Pow! Bam!' graffics, ex Batmobiles, the Batwing moon silhouette, and the Joker's foiled attempt at anarchy with the two boats in The Dark Knight.  To say this Joker incarnation eclipses Jared Letto's effort may not be saying much, but I thought it was a really clever play on the character.  One of the best villains ever, the Joker's greatest trait is that he is the antithesis of Batman, and losing either would make the other less interesting.  The Lego Batman plays on that concept by making this Joker (Galifianakis) reliant on Arnett's Batman, desperate for his (dis)approval and to admit that he hates him.  This Batman is as ambivalent towards the Joker as he is everyone else.  It's up to Michael Cera's Robin, Ralph Fiennes' Alfred, and Rosario Dawson's Commissioner Gordon to bring down those barriers.
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As is the bare minimum now, the animation in Lego Batman is sensational (if a tad dizzying at times).  The opening song wasn't a patch on Lego Movie's 'Everything is Awesome,' and the amount of Apple iPhone product placement got annoyingly distracting (I lost count of the number of selfies characters took).  If the shoe horned story around their introduction felt a tad forced, the additional characters from franchises other than the DC universe were all hilarious.  While I disliked how The Lego Movie turned in to a Lego advert in the final 10 minutes, Lego Batman went the other way and almost ignored the fact that everyone and everything was made of Lego bricks.  That isn't to say that Batman microwaving Lego lobster thermidor isn't hilarious, I was just surprised more wasn't made of that joke goldmine this time round.  As with Bond's, everyone's favourite Batman is generally the one they grew up with.  Michael Keaton's starring role in Tim Burton's efforts scared the hell out of me as a kid.  It looks like Arnett's incarnation will leave a similarly lasting impression on today's kids, if with quite a few more laughs instead.

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