Building Brand Loyality
The Lego Batman Movie just might be the one to show us the limits of corporate synergy and superhero movies. It feels like a resounding full stop.
It’s hard to imagine there will ever be a more cynical film made by a studio with a licensing deal; a movie designed to sell a toy product while simultaneously trying to make brand ambassadors of the parents and kids in attendance. The breeders are reminded of old Warners’ properties like Gremlins, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings; the kids are introduced and reintroduced to them. One can imagine millions of tiny playmates looking to recreate the minifigured cast of this flick. The ads that precede it tell the tadpoles that the Lego story packs are already available.
If you’re the incubator or ejaculator brave enough to tell their cherubs that they won’t be recreating the film at home because you object to the strong-arming and conspicuous manipulation of families in a film ostensibly about the importance of family, and not standing alone, then you have my respect. And don’t bother telling little Myrtle or Hans that you were particularly aggrieved at brand values being integrated into the narrative, like the importance of building and assembly, both metaphorically and literally, because they won’t know what you’re talking about. If they knew they were being programmed a whole business model would collapse. Are you going to be the one to kill the movies? Are you ready to bare that burden? I hope you’ve got some great books on the shelf.
But what of the methodology employed to facilitate all this branded brainwashing? What of the story? Well, here we find Chris McKay’s film dangerously trying to have it both ways. On one hand, to appeal to savvy adults thought to be conscious of film conventions and corporate reality, the movie pokes fun at superhero film tropes. Look, it says, I’m self-aware, I’m sending myself up as the latest in a seemingly neverending attempt at making new money from old rope.
But McKay also wants to convey the impression that the film has heart. So it’s about Batman/Bruce Wayne understanding his id and embracing others, having pushed them away for so long. It flatters the audience with one hand while imposing on them all the mawkish guff that’s bedeviled Hollywood product for years; messages so safe and so familiar that they’ve become thought terminating clichés. Friends are what matter, family is everything. The family that stays together, plays together. No room for smug postmodernism there.
When a film makes genre conventions naked in this way, it’s inviting young fans to see the inherent silliness in such movies. And that, arguably, is a tacit acknowledgement that we’ve reached peak superhero. Once you reach saturation point every story’s been told, every complication tried. All that’s left then, is to spoof and acknowledge it’s all about ancillary tie-ins, at which point it’s surely over. Fear the Lego Star Wars movie.