Last night I went to see The LEGO Batman Movie. Yes, it was the day after the opening day (what can I say, I'm a busy guy), and yes it was in a theater full of children, but it's a family movie, and I wanted to experience it with it's target audience. Besides, I'm effectively a 12 year old, just ask my wife. I went in with pretty high expectations, The LEGO Movie was pretty awesome, and Batman was my favorite character from that, so the bar was high. I'm happy to say it did not disappoint, I loved it.
It has everything, action, laughs, heart-felt moments, excellent dialog, top-notch performances, more action, more laughs and so many subtle (and not so subtle) references and easter eggs that it will take another couple viewings just to take it all in. The writing is fantastic, and it has...*gasp* ...a story! And it's not just yet another bad guy threatens Gotham, batman saves the day sort of tired narrative (it is, of course, a subplot) but at it's core it's a film about family, being alone, and being afraid of loss. Real, genuine, emotional content from a bunch of polygons rendered to look like a bunch of toys. That's not a trivial accomplishment. CG features are a dime a dozen these days, but few are really capable of evoking an emotional response beyond a couple chuckles. The film starts out heavy on action, then slows down pretty abruptly. If I have a minor complaint it's with the pacing, when it slows down, it slams on the brakes. Judging by the fidgeting in the theater, the kids felt the same.
The talent gathered to bring this to the screen is so good it's hard to grasp. I didn't read much before viewing, and I only knew a few key cast members. But during the credits I was thrilled to see so many A-list names. That's the power of the DC and LEGO brands, and the faith in the filmmakers to do this properly. This is a spoiler-free review, and those names were a surprise to me, so I'll let you be surprised too. I am also proud to know several people involved in this production, and I tip my hat to all you crazy talented artists and technicians. And before you ask, no, I didn't work on the movie. I did do some animation for some of the promotional tie-ins, but I had nothing to do with the feature.
One of the things I love most about this film, and The LEGO Movie, and from the preview The Ninjago Movie, is the care the filmmakers take to ground the film in classic brick filming. Subtle things like adding barbs to hands during fast moves to simulate motion blur, swapping out tubing for arms when they need to stretch or squash, staying true to building techniques that we have to use in the real world. Of course, in CG you can break any rule you'd like, but they "keep it real" for the most part. Of course, for better animation they play fast and loose with things like shoulder attachments, hips and general limitations of the Minifig design. And of course, Batman's cowl has a full range of emotions and flexibility that simply would be impossible in actual bricks. But there's a story to tell and I understand why they did it. The simple inability to make a figure shrug has frustrated me in the past, why purposefully hamstring yourself? I feel the filmmakers struck a good balance in what's possible and what's practical.
But like I said, this is a story about family, and it's a welcome departure from the gritty, depressing Batman content of late. Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed Nolan's trilogy, but you have to admit, they're a bit...dark. And I don't want to ever see anything as campy and stupid as Shumachers' Batman and Robin ever again, but a little levity and self awareness would be appreciated. And don't get me started on Batman v Superman, I stand by my original 9 word review: "A plodding, uninteresting mopefest intermittently interrupted by catastrophe porn". I found this film not only faithful to the history of Batman, but downright reveling in it. It's self-awareness was evident, and makes for some great laughs and sweet nostalgia. The themes of the film make for some insightful moments, and genuine character arcs, all with a group of characters and an environment we are all so familiar with they feel like relatives and places we have visited. Yet this film feels fresh, earnest and willing to please. And please it does, I give it 5 out of 5 Nerdlys.