Lego Batman: A Dark Knight Parody

Lego Batman: A Dark Knight Parody

It’s been quite the turbulent time for Gotham’s finest on the big screen. Batman peak will be seen as the critical and financial success of The Dark Knight. Its sequel divided the new followers from an appreciative core audience. Then came the announcement Ben Affleck would fill the cape and cowl following the wrapping up of Christopher Nolan’s universe. The world groaned.

Movies Reflective joined the calls of dismay (The Dark Knight Relapses) and made its apologies (Batman v Superman: There is a Winner). Batfleck turned out to be a success. His anticipated solo film, directed by the man that made Argo an Oscar winner, promises to balance the dark side of the Bat with the commercial demands of the DC Extended Universe.

So where does that leave The Lego Batman Movie? Surely, it’s just an example of Warner Bros. lending one of their largest properties to a non-threat in order to make money? But with this approach must come a series of prerequisites. If this is the case, director Chris McKay and his eight writers either didn’t read the memo or stretched what was acceptable.

The Lego Batman Movie is a parody disguised as a standard children’s animation film.

It’s is so self-aware, it manages to deconstruct Batman at every level. Nothing is off limits. From Hans Zimmer’s tense action score from The Dark Knight Rises; Bruce Wayne’s backstory; Batman’s real world history; and the typical rules used in a superhero movie.

It pokes fun at all the failings of previous films. Too many villains over saturating the script: usually three bad guys will induce this effect. Lego Batman aims not for double figures, but triple. Bruce Wayne forever moping about and driven to dark places because he saw his parents killed. Lego Batman turns it into a comedy sketch.

Heath Ledger’s Joker summarising the unique relationship his character shared with The Caped Crusader (“I think you and I are destined to do this forever.”) becomes the drive for The Lego Batman Movie. Joker wants Batman to realise they are connected, that they need one another.

It’s great fun for the kids, Lego brick explosions everywhere, but the speed of the one liners indicate they have been written for the experienced Batman fan. And the embrace of the past, including the sixties TV version, goes beyond nostalgia or even paying homage.

If it weren’t for the child-friendly humour and tone, you could compare this to Team America: World Police. It knows what it is imitating so decides to have a good laugh with it.

In many ways, this means Will Arnett isn’t playing Bruce Wayne/Batman, because this isn’t really that character. It’s a shame for Joel Schumacher that the Lego Movie concept didn’t exist in 1997 when he gave the world Batman & Robin. It was his intention then to produce a Batman big screen outing for kids. He failed to impress children and adults alike, killing the franchise in the process.

The Lego Batman Movie shows how it can be done. When it’s clear from the off that all seriousness should be left in the cinema foyer, it doesn’t matter how colourful Gotham City is or how outlandish the story becomes. People can just sit back and enjoy.

With that freedom to do what they want with the property, Lego Batman manages to get a few more satirical scenes in under the radar. There’s a clear dig at Suicide Squad when Batman says getting bad guys to fight bad guys is stupid. And then, with a nod to that movie – and several other superhero flicks – the doomsday weapon of being invaded by another realm enters the fray.

It’s not here to comply with the structure of grown-up superhero films, it’s to point out how preposterous the notion is.

Even the happy ending is tongue-in-cheek. With it, The Dark Knight becomes a light comedy genius. Whether the DC Extended Universe is a success or not (and it hangs in the balance), Warner Bros. can always fall back on a Lego version of events and bring a bit of laughter, and a lot of revenue, into the boardroom.

Lego Batman isn’t the hero you deserve, but it’s the one you need right now.

Is DC committing Suicide?

Is DC committing Suicide?

Suicide Squad befell the same fate as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It started strong at the box office before second week drop-offs compounded negative reviews. In an age where everyone is a critic and the professional critics are ignored, it appears the dissenting voices are the loudest. With further doubts raised about the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), is the Warner Bros. led property starting to implode?

Before the cameras even started to roll on Batman v Superman, DC and Warner Bros. had their work cut out. They faced the unenviable task of chasing down rivals Marvel. The Avengers led superhero cinematic universe is a magnet for two things: cash and compliments.

Both of these can be attributed to the accessibility of the Marvel movies. From the opening feature in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Iron Man, they have made no attempt to hide the comic book roots from which they grew. They have been easy going action films, driven by simplicity.

The peak was arguably The Avengers (or Avengers Assemble). It would have been easy to crowd the film with too many main players but Joss Whedon pulled it off using a blend of humour and a clear plot.

This love has allowed Marvel fanboys to escape the negative points within the MCU. Those that were quick to pounce on Suicide Squad are not so quick to discuss Iron Man 2.

Therein lies a fundamental problem: DC haven’t been afforded the time to find their footing or been allowed to develop their own style. They are judged harshly for not being Marvel, but equally derided if any element of the DCEU mimics the MCU.

Historically, DC films have carried a darker tone (we’ll ignore Catwoman) or more recently with Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy, been grounded in something closer to reality.

Man of Steel and Batman v Superman approached the arrival of superheroes in a more realistic manner than Marvel ever will. When given the chance to explore these themes in Captain America: Civil War, Marvel shied away. Unfortunately for DC, being a superhero flick in a time the market is over saturated, means they aren’t judged on their own merits but compared to the market leader.

And this is where DC seem to be turning the gun on themselves.

A dark tone can be well received, Nolan’s trilogy was hardly a mainstream cartoon like The Avengers, so DC were right to start their movies with a more serious undertone. The problem is, dark for dark’s sake is draining on viewers. Without substance it has a depleting effect rather than become tone setting.

That objectively observed lack of substance isn’t down to DC characters having an inability to explore larger themes, it’s because parent company Warner Bros. are being swayed to the Marvel mainstream.

This leaves them in no man’s land.

DC wants the popular Marvel share while retaining a more meaningful scope. It can’t do both and the cracks are beginning to show.

Suicide Squad was another film that some critics went after in a big way. Most of those observations were unfounded or unfair. It wasn’t a muddled mess nor depressing. It was a simple action flick that ran from start to finish without a hiccup. There were enough laughs, decent action scenes and enough character introduction to allow DC to now use the villains ad hoc.

But average isn’t DC’s aim and Suicide Squad took a big step to selling out.

It was a further step away from a gothic palette and real world influences on fantasy elements. Those things were still there, but delivered with less certainty. Unless it comes across forceful and confident, DC’s vision will be swallowed up by internet trolls and critics that are judging DC based on a rival’s blueprint.

Warner Bros. will point to critics often getting it wrong. Transformers has always reviewed poorly and taken home massive returns. Same with Pirates of the Caribbean. But these films are cash cows that don’t care about artistic acclaim. DC on film should be about satisfying the comic book fans and pioneering new visions for the big screen.

Long after the current superhero phase, Tim Burton’s Batman entries will still stand out as a turning point and The Dark Knight will forever be the benchmark. If DC decides to forgo long standing values to chase down Marvel for their share of cinema revenue, it will fail on all accounts.

Unless it stops worrying about box office returns and market share compared to Marvel, it will march toward a self-induced, slow creative death, in which it may never find resurrection.

White Knight of Gotham

White Knight of Gotham

It’s still superhero season. Marvel continues to flood the cinemas whilst slowly expanding their cinematic universe to the small-screen. DC have been playing catch-up in the big flicks but have slowly churned out TV shows. The Flash joined Arrow, both bearing resemblance to Smallville. Now the most popular hero from the DC stable gets his own show. Well, kind of. Gotham hits our television sets portraying the city before the Dark Knight emerges.

Not for the first time we see the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents on film. This is the show’s starting point. So we know that we’ll see no Batman for a long time, just a younger Master Bruce coming to terms with the killings. Perhaps it is this repetition that makes the scene so underwhelming. Compared to previous versions there is no desperation in the murderer, no panic in the Waynes, and we know they’ll be no swift rise and resolution in this format of storytelling. We get a clean and clinical, shot because they had to show it, scene.

Herein the many problems with the new show are revealed. The setting actually works quite well. The city has a dark edge to it, bordering on the Gothic New York that Gotham deserves to be. However, it is wasted with the way it’s used. Many lines of dialogue and set-up are lifted fresh from a teen-TV show. In the areas where a sprinkling of Tim Burton would have made the show edgy we are given plastic and safe scenes.

It fails further when it tries to be a serious crime show. If this was the aim then it needs to be on a par with the BBC’s Sherlock. This would be the only way we could excuse the absence of Batman, the world’s greatest detective. At least Smallville teased Superman’s power and his alien origins, admittedly they teased for five years longer than they should have, but it started with promise.

If the makers see the inclusion of characters we know to become major players, like Penguin and The Riddler, as a bridge way to this, then they are failing further than feared. Not only does this destroy or rewrite well known origin stories, it also reminds us that we are supposed to be in a Batman universe. And characters that are supposed to be larger than life, vibrant, intimidating, are soulless shadows of their former (future) selves.

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The positives come by the way casting. It’s easy to buy into Ben McKenzie as a young, ambitious James Gordon, it’s a shame he’s hampered by bad screenwriting. Regardless, it’s clear he’s the show’s hero – Gotham’s White Knight. Sean Pertwee has a glint in his eye, which lends belief to the idea he’s the sort of Alfred that could facilitate the broken boyhood Bruce’s rise to Batman. John Doman plays crime boss Carmine Falcone to such perfection that his character alone could be the main antagonist of the show for seasons to come, without the need for half-formed super-villains.

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Over time the show may find its stride. It needs to find a darker edge, better dialogue, deeper crimes with better police procedural elements. We also need to watch Bruce Wayne slowly transform. Gotham can only work if it plays to its strengths, and that has always been the Dark Knight. Unless this has just been a massive long game from Warner Bros., the parent company and producers behind the upcoming Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. They took a lot of abuse for hiring Ben Affleck as Batman. After a season of Gotham without a sighting of our hero, we’ll be accepting “Batfleck” with open arms.

Batfleck

Batman’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it has right now.