Tagged: Will Arnett

Box Office Democracy: The Lego Batman Movie

I wonder if there’s a pop culture franchise I wouldn’t be excited to see turned in to a Lego production at this point.  The Lego Batman Movie could have so easily been an uninspired cash-in to take advantage of how profitable Batman is as a character and the good will we all still feel from The Lego Movie but instead we have a movie chock full of funny jokes, intriguing themes, and most importantly a monumental amount of effort.  This is such a strong children’s movie that I saw it in a packed house on a Saturday night with basically no children, and it was the most boisterous crowd I’ve been a part of in recent memory.  Lego Batman is a triumph, a shining beacon, that every other DC movie should be trying to reach the same level of competence or at least figuring out how to fake it to the studio executives.  Perhaps Ben Affleck is not actually trying to get out if his obligation to play Batman not because of creative differences but because he’s worried about being overshadowed by Will Arnett.

There’s nothing to the plot of The Lego Batman Movie that you haven’t seen elsewhere— it’s just kind of unique to see these elements in a superhero story and, perhaps more importantly, in a movie about a hero so associated with hypermasculinity.  This is a story about Batman needing to connect with people, to construct a family out of the people in his life to replace the one he lost.  Interestingly, instead of making this a source of external conflict, it’s only a source of internal conflict; almost every important supporting character is falling over themselves to become an essential part of Batman’s life, from the obvious examples of Alfred and Robin to the quasi-adversarial Barbara Gordon who might not approve of Batman’s methods but wants to be close to him, and even the Joker wants to destroy all of Gotham City but more than that he wants Batman to acknowledge that he’s important in his life.  The actual plot elements are a little thin, many elements of the evil plot seem designed to shoehorn in as many other licensed characters as possible, and while those are some fun cameos it doesn’t make for a complex story.

One thing that kind of bugged me about The Lego Batman Movie is that it doesn’t play with the idea of being toys the way The Lego Movie did.  It’s clearly supposed to be the same world and all the weapons make “pew pew” sounds like a child is making them, but it never pulls back to the “real world” layer to see Will Farrell’s kid.  I’m not sure what it would have been— the obvious answer seems to be about the death of a parent and that may have been a little dark, perhaps giving this story a chance to reflect a slightly more real situation would have helped it land a little harder.  As it is we get a great movie, but one that fails to land with quite the same impact as The Lego Movie.  Not that “slightly worse than The Lego Movie” is a particularly stern critique; I just wanted a bit more depth.

Will Arnett is an absolute treasure as Batman.  I’m not entirely sure how strong any of the material he was given was in an objective sense because it feels like he could reenact the end of Old Yeller in that voice and it would get huge laughs.  I would watch a live action Batman movie starring Arnett and I would promise to ignore the fact that he would never be in the kind of shape you expect to see The Caped Crusader in.  Rosario Dawson is a pleasant surprise as Barbara Gordon making a deep character at what could have been a thankless role.  Michael Cera is great at awestruck and overly affectionate, I wonder if we couldn’t have seen a little more range from him as that bit can wear a little thin.  It’s so thrilling to hear Billy Dee Williams voice Two Face that you can easily overlook that the part has fewer than five lines.

It is so refreshing to get a DC Comics movie that isn’t taking itself so seriously.  The Lego Batman Movie is fun before it’s anything else.  It isn’t obsessed with continuity (although it does reference in some way almost every other on-screen depiction of Batman to date), or with having a dark tone, or with proving the comics are for grown-ups.  This is a movie that just wants to be fun— and that’s so refreshing after two Superman movies that seemed fixated on generating the biggest body counts.  I need some childlike wonder in my superhero movies; I can get gritty nihilism from the real world.

Box Office Democracy: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”

It’s worth noting that I loved all three of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles released in the early 90s even though there is no way those movies hold up.  I looked at clips on YouTube this week and could barely stomach a few minutes.  This reboot of the franchise is objectively better than those movies.  I don’t know that people will look back on it fondly in 24 years but there’s a level of commitment in production design and casting that goes above and beyond what we got with cash-in kids movies two decades ago.  While this new revival of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is probably the perfect thing for the audience of pre-teen and pre-pre-teen boys it wasn’t particularly enjoyable for me.

The design of the Ninja Turtles is a revelation this time around.  Rather than being the lazy palette swaps they were for decades all four turtles have unique looks this time around.  They’re different in size, they wear different gear, and they even have different mask designs.  This does so much to communicate character that was ignored for so long I didn’t even consider it as an option.  I feel strange lavishing praise on this movie for something any competent costume designer could have done in 1990 with no problem at all (people have been wearing clothes in movies for decades) but they just didn’t try before.

The increased emphasis on production design is wasted a little on a movie that generally looks unpleasant.  I’ve been telling people that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles looks like a movie I wouldn’t want to touch and that’s not just because there are reptile monsters as principle cast members.  Everything, even human-only scenes, looks so slick and shiny that it comes across as slimy.  It permeates the entire film and made me uncomfortable in the theater.  I might be an edge case but everyone I’ve shared this idea with has instantly understood what I was talking about.  I’m sure executive producer Michael Bay had very little direct hand in the visual look of this film but it sure felt like someone was trying, and failing, to imitate his signature style and it spilled in to something worse.

It feels terrible to say this but I’m not sure that I will ever really believe Megan Fox when she’s playing a smart character.  I don’t believe she’s smart in her day-to-day life and she isn’t a good enough actress to convince me her characters are.  Her April O’Neil is a more essential part of this story than past Turtles stories and this results in her having to carry an incredible narrative load and she doesn’t seem capable of enduring that kind of strain.  She never seems clever enough to deduce the things she does and the emotion she plays most often is a combination scared and confused that doesn’t serve the story.  Will Arnett is wasted as the vaguely pervy cameraman.  He’s the second most important human character almost by default and while he does great work with what he’s given it isn’t nearly enough and I found myself focusing on him when he was on screen waiting for moments that never came.  This is probably not a problem 12 year-olds will have.

Ultimately this movie is trying to appeal to two audiences: young people now who could become hooked on the franchise for life and people who were hooked on a previous incarnation of the franchise and are consuming the new product for nostalgia.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles does a great job of appealing to the former audience but offers little for the latter half to really enjoy once they’ve gotten over the idea that Megan Fox is nice to look at.  The hype was good enough to bring enough of that older crowd in for a big opening weekend but they’re going to have to really hook that younger demographic to make this a winning franchise long term.  While this movie is certainly competently produced enough to do it I wish it had been able to do a little more for the six year-old inside of me.

Photo by AndarsKI