Everything Is Awesome: The ‘Lego Movie’ Finally Gets Batman Right [Review]
There is a new Batman movie coming out in theaters this weekend, and it's easily the best Batman movie yet. It's also a great sci-fi movie, and a great Western, and a great Matrix remake, and it's especially a great comedy.
But first and foremost, it's a Lego movie. And it's the Lego movie. It does everything you want a Lego movie to do. And that's awesome.
The Lego Movie is two things. First it's the big screen debut of a staggeringly successful 65-year-old line of Danish construction toys that form the foundation of an empire of play sets, animations, theme parks, and video games. Second, it's the latest work from directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the collaborators behind Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street, Brooklyn Nine Nine, and the cult classic cartoon series Clone High. Impressively, The Lego Movie is a perfect addition to both the Lego empire and to Lord and Miller's body of work. The Lego Group has done an astonishing job creating a brand that thrives on creativity and charm. Miller and Lord have established themselves as two of the funniest storytellers working today, and always on projects that surprise with how funny they are. (At this point we should actually expect it. Somehow it's still always a surprise.) The Lego Movie is creative, charming, and funnier than you think it will be.
The star of the movie is Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt), a Lego construction worker in a Lego town where everything is awesome thanks to the controlling oversight of President Business (Will Ferrell). Emmet is a shockingly ordinary man -- generic, even -- until an encounter with a mysterious black-clad female martial artist and her wise old black guy mentor teaches him that not only does he have the untapped power to rewrite the world around him, but he is also "the special," the only one who can save them all from the villain's nefarious plan to enforce universal conformity.
It is The Matrix. It's also storytelling at its most formulaic, and it's by knowing and embracing formulas the movie taps into the first of its several rich veins of humor. The Lego Movie is a riff on the hero's journey, but one that pokes at it and subverts it at every step. The more pages you've read of TV Tropes, the more fun you're likely to have.
Yet no opportunity for a good joke is left unexplored, from slapstick to satire. The movie made me laugh out loud both in moments of sly political commentary and in moments of gleeful absurdity. (The roll-call scene in "The Dog" was a personal highpoint.) The Lego Movie is lavishly generous with laughter.
A lot of the humor is visual, and it's the sort of movie that you'll re-watch to catch all the background details. That (almost) everything is made of Lego provides the world with not just a distinctive look (and some breathtaking vistas), but a distinctive set of physics. The Lego video games often animate their figures with an un-Lego-like elasticity. That's not the case here. These minifigs move like minifigs, with all the limitations you'd expect, even when they're involved in elaborate fast-paced fight scenes. That makes the movement in the movie as unusual as the design.
A lot of humor also comes from cameos. Lego does a lot of licensing work, and that gives this movie an unusual, Who Framed Roger Rabbit-like ability to bring together characters from different franchises. Sadly not everyone could come to the party -- this is a Warner Bros. joint, so all but one Disney-owned franchise is excluded. There are no Marvel heroes here.
Yet Warner Bros.' own DC Comics heroes are used to great effect, most notably Batman, voiced by Will Arnett as an arrogant, macho, posturing adolescent bro who wallows in his own darkness. Purists may baulk a little at such -- ahem -- non-standard presentation, but it feels spiritually true. Will Arnett is now easily my favourite movie Batman, and it's an unfamiliar experience to go see a movie with DC heroes in it and come out smiling.
(If that remark made you super-mad, this movie's version of Batman is going to make you super-mad, and you should stay away. I just did you a solid. You're welcome, super-mad guy.)
Somewhere under all the jokes, there's a moral, a message for kids of all ages. This is Lego, after all, and Lego has a sacred gospel; creativity is good. That's an idea that goes through some twists and turns as the movie tries to decide just what to do with the idea of "being special" and who gets to call themselves that, and I left the movie not entirely clear what I was meant to believe. On reflection, the film's thesis seems to be; "no one style of play should exclude any other."
But even that message is overshadowed by another. There is a song that Emmet loves, a song that everyone in the Lego world loves, which will worm itself into your brain and stay there forever. The song tells us that everything is awesome. Everything is cool when you're part of a team.
It's not a lesson you're meant to take entirely at face value. Yet after you've seen The Lego Movie, it's easy to believe that, yes, everything is awesome.
Even that Batman guy.
The Lego Movie opens February 7 in the U.S.