Stars: Will Arnett, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Jenny Slate
Director: Chris McKay
Oscar History: It's cute, and it's a slim year for Animated Feature, but if they didn't go for the first one, will they really go for the sequel?
Snap Judgment Ranking: 4/5 stars
I find it amusing when people talk about movies like The Lego Movie being a commercial, as if Frozen or Despicable Me aren’t built entirely to launch a thousand toys, pillowcases, night lights, and Halloween costumes as well. The Lego Movie just took a known property, and then built the movie around it, something that has since been done by pictures such as Trolls and The Emoji Movie. Yet The Lego Movie was something else-a truly funny, successful picture with likable characters, quotable dialogue, and a solid amount of in-the-know winking, mainly mocking the concept of the “chosen one” narrative. It was genuinely the best Animated Movie of 2014, and made my Top 10 list that year, so I was curious to see how its off-shoot (there’s no indication that this is a sequel other than it features the same vocal cast, as I don’t recall hearing a single allusion to the previous movie) would succeed-could the same sort of magic come back, or would we have diminishing returns?
(Spoilers Ahead) The movie centers around Batman (Arnett), the same brooding, self-important and loner hero that has been the centerpiece of decades of cinema. The movie smartly avoids an origin story, as everyone knows the origin of Batman by heart (George-and-Martha Wayne don’t need to die ever again-we all know how they’re going to turn out…same goes for Uncle Ben), and instead dives right into the ego-centric side of Batman, intent on warding out villainy without any connection to actual humanity, and frequently baiting criminals with his actions. Think of how many of Batman’s foes are driven almost exclusively to defeat him, rather than any other motives driving them to their insane acts of violence. It’s also worth noting, and noted often in the film, that Batman doesn’t necessarily end crime, but instead is just fighting off a constant cycle of it in the crime-soaked land of Gotham City.
The movie focuses on Barbara Gordon (Dawson), the new Police Commissioner, trying to put Batman into retirement through crime-solving measures. She is joined in being annoyed by Batman by the Joker (Galifianakis), who wants Batman to admit that the Joker matters to him and that he is his arch-nemesis, that he truly hates him rather than just is fighting him off. The movie follows similar beats to past Batman movies, where he has to count on a band of heroes and eventually villains (but not before they get a really shady one-liner in against Suicide Squad) to defeat Joker, who is joined by a plethora of villains from other franchises (Sauron, King Kong, Voldemort…only Lego could get these many properties under one umbrella) and then saves the day.
The movie’s plot is pretty simple, but it is a winner due to the wonderful vocal performances, particularly Arnett & Galifianakis, both gamely skewering their comic book personas while also creating actual characters. It is also quite clever, finding ways to both hero-worship and mercilessly mock the rest of the Batman franchise. The best bit of the movie would be when Joker is listing off the villains he’s teaming with, starting with the iconic (Penguin, Catwoman, Bane), and then moving into the absurd (like Condiment King). The hilarious part of this is that every villain he actually lists is indeed a villain from some point in the DC franchise, and the only disappointing aspect here is they didn’t fit my personal favorite (ridiculous) Batman villain, Lady Penelope Peasoup, into the lineup. These pop culture asides occasionally have diminishing returns (they feel like easy, and sometimes repetitive laughs), but particularly in the movie’s first half it’s hard to argue that they aren’t funny.