Film Review: The Lego Batman Movie

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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.

Directed by: Chris McKay

Country: US

Year: 2017

Running Time: 104 mins

Certificate: U for Tom Cruise, thinking that references to other things are a substitute for jokes, and almost microwaving a Lobster for 20 minutes.

27 Responses

  1. Batman says:

    I bet you’re fun at parties.

  2. Confuddled in Chicago says:

    There’s a lot of words in here for something that doesn’t say much. Big ones, too. Very impressive. I can tell you don’t like ads, or materialism. What I don’t know is if the effing movie is good or not. Talk more about that next time.

    • Ed Whitfield says:

      Why don’t I talk about the things I think are important, like the culture of production and reception, and you can talk about what’s important to you? That’s the deal. If you want to read a review that ignores all the stuff that informs the movie, then plenty are available. But try not to be suspicious of argument and analysis, it makes you look like a cretin. If you read the review and don’t know whether I deemed it “good or not”, then it’s a not a movie review site you need, it’s English language lessons. I hope the words in this reply weren’t too long for you. Best of luck completing your first thought.

      • Robin says:

        I think you know what he meant. The review reeks of some outside influence or a personal bias. Did you have a bad week? Pretty much every film is an excuse to sell you something. The TV advertises the movie, which advertises other movies in the trailers before it starts, and so on. If you’re going to spend the entire review spinning your wheels about the capitalist pigs at Time Warner and the concept of the movie existing instead of the dialogue or voicework, at least offer a few words for people who don’t have the same perspective. Like, “…But if you can get over that, I laughed a few times.”

  3. Lucifer says:

    The movie was parody of the entire Batman franchise. You are blind.

    • Ed Whitfield says:

      A parody that simultaneously pushed the brand, back catalogue and related products. Are you sure you don’t need your eyes tested?

  4. Critics are people too! says:

    How embarrassing is it that an error in your grammar is the part of your self-masturbatory opinion that shows up on Rotten Tomatoes?

    But please, by all means tell me I’m a grammar nazi. No one else who reads this pretentious drivel would hold you to a higher standard, so why should you?

    • Ed Whitfield says:

      Pretentious, presumbably, because it talks about something other than whether Batman watching romantic dramas is funny or not. What a weird world you live in, where the only legitimate discussion about a film is on the studio’s terms. Now THAT’S embarrassing. Perhaps you should fuck off and read Empire magazine or something? I don’t know.

      As for holding me to a higher standard, I don’t think you’re going to be the one to do it. You really shouldn’t take an argument you don’t agree with personally. It’s not a threat to your identity or intellect you know. Though that insecurity does come across a bit. Anyway, I won’t keep you, I’m sure you’ve got a Lego set to build.

      • Critics are people too! says:

        I’m glad you fixed your grammar error!

        Speaking of a “threat to your identity or intellect”, I seem to have struck a nerve, for which I apologize. I was simply talking about your opinion and argument in the context of a grammar error, but seeing you resort to sad little crutches like ad hominems made me realize how personally you took my little comment.

        So, again, I apologize for hurting your rather fragile feelings, and would like to say your arguments are not at all incredibly trite, pretentious, or masturbatory. In fact, your opinions exemplify an anti-establishment fervor that by no means is usually reserved for contrarians, attention-whores, goths, and edgy twelve year-old boys.

        I just hope that one day you can forgive me and not take arguments that don’t agree with you personally.

        • Ed Whitfield says:

          I’m afraid you’re going to have to do a little better than “I know you are but what am I?”. Though I note Pee Wee’s Big Adventure must be a favourite of yours, perhaps because it’s about a manchild playing with toys.

          So you repeat this nonsense about the review being trite, pretentious, etc – but beyond it being taken to heart, again because you presumably enjoyed the movie on the terms marketed, I’m not reading a coherent counterargument. Saying I’m a contrarian, seeking attention, all that shit; that’s not an argument, it’s a set of comment cliches. Tell me why I’m wrong. It’s not enough to caricature a view you disagree with as contrarian, make a better argument. And while you’re at it, explain, if it’s insincere, why I’ve given hundreds of positive reviews to movies that were generally well received. That’ll be a tough one for you, but I’m sure you’ll have a non-answer for that too. Oh, and have the balls to own your comments by providing your real name and e-mail address, not hiding behind anonymity. Not the way of the troll, I know, but give it a go.

  5. Speaking as an ejaculator married to an incubator with two cherubs, a description doubly apt since we did IVF, the movie was fun, and irreverent. Going into a corporate made, and titled, film you know they are trying to sell a product, and not just the movie. That’s OK. It’s OK to like LEGO, and BATMAN, and action comedy films. With BATMAN, that character jumped the shark generations ago, and has been whipped back to reality, examined, used as an allegory, and a mirror for society.
    Riddle me this. Had the story continued after Bats locked up his friends and ventured back out as a loner hero, (Spoiler warnings are for cretins) and not fallen back into ‘I was doing it because I loved you and wanted to protect you’, but an Ayn Rand I am the man in the arena and screw everyone else mentality, would that have made you respect it more?
    Or if he had simply embraced the broken loner aspect and not found happiness in friends and family, is that a better film?
    Personally I enjoyed the Trump allegory where not one man can save the world, but it does takes a village with compassion. Ya, it’s been done, but apparently not enough for some people, 63 million or so.

    • Ed Whitfield says:

      In answer to your riddle, I think that would have made it more interesting and possibly genuinely subversive for a children’s/family film. As for it being irreverent, well – only in a have-your-cake-and-eat-it kind of way. I mean, it’s all very well to mock the suits that shape these movies; their cookie cutter design; but if you then follow that template precisely it shows your version of satire is to acknowledge something without criticising it, which is the idiot’s version. The audience are flattered that the things they recognise have been pointed out to them, so they feel clever, but what the filmmakers have actually done is just give you the same thing again, packaged slightly differently.

      • I’m all for subversive, loved Happy Feet because of it, but it needs to be pointed at something worthwhile. The first LEGO movie used it to great effect, not just being self-mocking and showing how LEGO had become much different from its original intention of fostering creativity, but the political and societal aspect of not blindly following your leaders but questioning them and their overreach. That was missing from this film, but following BATMAN to be more of a loner and not include those that are helping him, what message does that send?
        The film wasn’t mocking the sentimentality of its message, but to some extend the hero worship in our society, which I agree it would have been a better film and more interesting if it had embraced that instead of using it as a set-up for something else. If it turned out that BATMAN needed that societal positive feedback more than anything including family and close friends, and the group broke away from him and went on their own, instead of forgiving him. Eh, I’m thinking out loud now, with my keyboard, but the film is still enjoyable and still sends a positive message, while selling its product, and I’m OK with that.

        • Ed Whitfield says:

          Why should the movie send a message? Why it is necessary for children’s entertainment to be didactic? That’s a question and a half. I’d argue it’s for the parents’ benefit, as they’re the gatekeepers/ticketbuyers, and they don’t want little Ig and Ook fed anything unwholesome. That’s hyprocrisy, obviously, and an example of how studios have, at best, an imaginary conception of the audience (which arguably then becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy). It also ignores the truth that older children will always appreciate something subversive, but then the primary concern of the people who made this thing was to promote the brand’s values. We can have an argument about whether it’s absurd that Lego has brand values (I think it is) but still.

          • Robin says:

            Every movie has a message or a moral. Not just children’s films. It’s not to be didactic, but to have a point. Otherwise all movies would be nihilistic. Can you think of a stronger arc for the Batman character that hasn’t been done, or a better plot?

  6. Jones says:

    Did you even see the movie?

  7. Mark says:

    Couldn’t agree more. I took my son to matinee screening. The theater was filled with 5-10 year olds and their parents. The movie opens with action, action and more action. Loud music and quick cuts. Not a very kid friendly movie. It was basically along Lego commercial. Any dialogue or narrative is intended to distract from the fact that you are watching a toy commercial. At the end of it all my five year old looked unhappy and said “dad it was loud and fast, I didn’t understand it”. But, he did make it clear he liked the toys he saw.

    • Eric says:

      I took my 8 year old (who is on the autism spectrum) with a school outing, they opened the theater early for the school at reduced prices, with kids from 5 – 10 there as well. They all loved it, especially the opening.

  8. BossLevel8 says:

    Oh good! We were worried that we wouldn’t have ridiculous enough material for an episode of this movie. You pulled through for us once again! 🙂

    BTW… “Submi”??

    • Ed Whitfield says:

      Nevermind your witless videos. I need to you to make an urgent correction. I watched what you imagine to be a take down of my Lego Movie review (which was the funniest thing about it) and you’ve attributed what I wrote to Robbie Collin in the Telegraph. This, I should I tell you, was a hundred thousand times more insulting than anything you said about my critique of a feature length toy commercial. I don’t mind you missing my points by a country mile, (occupational hazard) or the irony that witless fanboys think I’m the object of derision, but for fuck’s sake don’t give my credit to a man who made his name on a paper, The News of the World, that hacks dead kid’s grieving parents with puns made for bus advertising. That’s just unkind. It’s like me attributing your love of the Fifth Element to Chris Tucker’s performance. Cruel and libellous.

      Anyway, keep up the bad work and thanks for introducing me to another unfunny geek site that I can quote when I need an example of how fanboy culture’s killing movies. The print version of you is why I started writing about film in the first place. From time to time I need a reminder.

      Have fun with the Lego Batman Review. I hope someone watches it. I mean, someone other than you.

      • BossLevel8 says:

        We saw our mistake and decided to leave it in cause we thought it pretty funny and might get this reaction. Glad to see you’re a good sport young lad.

        • Ed Whitfield says:

          Please provide your address so I can send you my therapy bill and an invoice for $10,000 for reproducing the text of my review without permission. Also, let me know whose name I should put on it, Boss or Level8.

  9. Tim Earnshaw says:

    There are something like eighteen negative reviews for this over at RT, so Ed – you’re not alone. I haven’t checked to see if the other reviewers got fanboys piling into the comments to put them right while highlighting their personal demerits, but probably.

    Me, I don’t have to watch the movie – not even to form an opinion about it – because neither Lego nor Batman have been fun for decades, and don’t seem interesting enough in combination for me to change my mind. That’s not because I’m a party-pooper or miserabilist Scrooge, it’s because I grew up. And because I think of Lego as a toy, and Batman as a comic, and neither as a compelling subject for a movie.

    • Ed Whitfield says:

      I didn’t imagine I was alone, not least because the pattern with this kind of movie is always the same. If it’s generally well liked, that is to say, received without criticism, and someone takes a different view, then you first have the pouring in of aggrieved fans who liked the film and read your review of it as an attack on their taste and intelligence, then there’s the cliches – “you’d already decided to hate it before you saw it”, “you didn’t see it”, “you’ve affected not to like it for attention”, or variations thereon, and finally, the people who agree with you, having searched the Internet, up to that point fruitlessly, looking for someone, anyone, who hasn’t blindly bought into the hype and has just looked at the thing on its own merits (or lack thereof).

      Why does it happen? Two reasons. 1) Hollywood’s worked very hard to infantilise its audience over the last 40 years, to the extent that a toy commercial masquerading as a movie doesn’t strike today’s kids or manchildren as strange or undesirable in any way. 2) These movies are frontloaded, both in terms of release and marketing, not built up like the old ones were on the basis of critical reception and reputation. Consequently, the majority of people going to see a film on opening weekend, have had their expectations managed via publicity, with the slower witted imagining they know what it is and what the filmmakers have done, before they’ve seen it. My radical suggestion is to wait until afterwards. It changes everything.

      • Tim Earnshaw says:

        “Hollywood’s worked very hard to infantilise its audience over the last 40 years, to the extent that a toy commercial masquerading as a movie doesn’t strike today’s kids or manchildren as strange or undesirable in any way,”

        This really says it all. Nearly. But your suggestion to “wait until you see it” is lost on anyone who simply doesn’t want to sit through a two-hour toy commercial, or any entertainment based on a superhero comic, any more than they’d want to play with Lego or “read” a Batman comic.

        It’s blatant, in-yer-face marketing, is all. I don’t see any “masquerading” going on – there’s nothing sly or sneaky about it. It’s “The Lego Batman Movie”. You’re either on that particular bus, having a fine old time with your balloons and popcorn, or you’re not.