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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Lego Batman Trailer Round-Up

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Edited by Robert Beach

One of the peculiar twists of fate in the modern era of superhero media is that despite DC Comics many, many terrible adaptations in the 2010s, their animated adaptations are incredible.  Seriously, Teen Titans Go is the sharpest superhero satire ever; Young Justice was a milestone hit; Batman: The Brave and the Bold was incredible, and the Green Lantern CGI show almost redeemed the franchise. Now, they’re making a new Adam West animated adventure. 

The real gem in DC’s animated crown, however, has to be Lego Batman, voiced by Will Arnett and ushered into our collective hearts through 2014’s breakout hit The Lego Movie. Arnett is honestly the best Batman of the 2010s, a brutal scathing takedown of the overly macho psycho-thug Batman that dominated the character’s identity from 2008 to about 2013. Now, Lego Batman is getting his movie, and it looks amazing.  

I’m going to breaking down all three of the trailers for The Lego Batman movie here, starting with the surreal (but incredibly funny) pair of opening teasers. These were released over the same week and proved wildly popular. It’s easy to see why.  Lego Batman was the breakout star of The Lego Movie for a damn good reason: it’s a hilarious performance drawn out of taking potshots at an easy target, and these first two teasers double down on that hard. The opening beat boxing and monologue from Batman are totally on point with this parody of the character, playing well off the “Untitled Self Portrait” music gag from The Lego Movie. 

I dig the hip-hop affect Batman has going on here as it makes a good deal of sense for this version of the character. Despite all the hero-specific gags, this Batman parody is a well-worn comedy stock character: the egotist. It’s the same basic character set-up as Zapp Branigan from Futurama or Daffy Duck in a lot of Looney Tunes adaptations, so coupling that with the insane self-aggrandizing in hip hop is an excellent choice. It shines through perfectly in the use of Wiz Khalifa’s ‘Black and Yellow’ as the trailer track, well chosen. 

Something impressive about these first teasers is that they put the footage of the Lego Justice League front and center. The Lego JLA spawned out of the Lego Batman video games that originated this franchise, but I don’t think anybody expected to see them in The Lego Batman movie.  

It’s actually refreshing, just confirming right off the front trailer that “the entire DC big-name stable will be in this.”It's better than the way most superhero flicks slip in cameos and easter eggs. Aside from the standard Justice League line-up, the hero who sticks out here is Green Arrow, created as a Batman stand-in character, fingers crossed that come up in the movie given its self-awareness. 

Most of the first teaser is dedicated to the Batcave, and I can see why. The Lego Batcave is easily one of the coolest cinematic locations ever created. By far, this Batcave is the best vision of Batman’s secret headquarters. Honestly, the cave puts all the live-action movies to shame and must have taken WB thousands of hours to build; it’s incredible. 

The first trailer is, ultimately, a joke, a set-up to a punch line of expectation, framing Batman and the trailer as a serious build up to the pay-off of Batman waiting for his microwave. It’s a good gag and highlights the film’s comedic cornerstone of stripping away the aloof mythos of Batman that’s crusted over him. That was to be expected from a film that makes Bats the main hero, rather than the comedic supporting role. You need to break down his comedic detachment for the audience to engage with him as the hero. Doing that through banality is a good call. 

The second teaser gets us a lot closer to the film’s actual focus while cleverly moving the setting from the Batcave to Wayne Manor. That’s a sly little metaphor for the film’s overall question about "can Batman be happy? That question is itself a more simplistic way of asking if Batman can be human. Wayne Manor is also beautifully rendered, every bit the equal of the Batcave. Thus, the opening shot of the expansive mansion is truly breathtaking. 

This is one of the most meta moments of the whole slew of trailers with Alfred openly referencing Batman’s cinematic history in a way that makes me wonder how much self-awareness the characters will have. I mean, technically speaking, this is a spin-off of The Lego Movie, but it does mean Batman and his fellow Lego Heroes remember the events of that film and might make reference to it?  So far I’d say no, but that would be a pretty great twist to have Emmet or Wildfyre cameo somewhere in the proceedings. 

This is also the only trailer so far where we get a good look at the cavalcade of villains assembled for the film. It’s a brief shot of Bats fighting a whole murderers' row of bad guys that include Bane, Riddler, Catwoman, Killer Croc, Clayface, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn, Two-Face, Scarecrow, Mr. Freeze, and the Penguin. Some folks might be put off by that many bad guys, but personally, I think it’s a good sign.  

The thing about Batman’s villains is that while they’re interesting, they’re often more interesting than Batman himself. Too much focus on them threatens to swallow up any given story about the hero. Boosting up the numbers like this means we’re getting plenty of bad guy action without the risk of any one of them overpowering the narrative and taking away from our hero. 

The main trailer doubles down on Alfred as Bruce’s parental figure and drives him to try and mature as a person, which I like. Alfred has always been cast as Batman’s foster father, but it’s rare that he lives up to that role regarding actually parenting Batman. Seeing it come up here is a good twist and highlights Bruce’s state of (ahem) arrested development. The big revelation of this trailer is, however, that Robin will be core to the film’s narrative and thesis. 

From the outset, the stated question of this film was “can Batman be happy,” but I don’t think anyone expected that question to be filtered through the presence of Dick Grayson, the first Robin. That is, incidentally, Dick Grayson as our Robin for the film as Dick is the only Robin that Bruce adopted from a major event. It makes sense; Dick Grayson is still the Robin the world is most familiar with, even if this will be his fourth cinematic appearance in the character’s entire history. 

Robin being key to the emotional core of the film is a risky move and not just because it’ll alienate the audience of Batman fans that hate him; those guys were getting alienated anyway. Even as someone who likes Robin, I have to admit that he’s a difficult character to handle.  

Even the best Batman adaptations have struggled to find something for Robin to do in the proceedings. To make the idea that his presence keeps Batman human is a tried and true Bat mythos tradition. Even Grant Morrison, author of the best Batman comics run of the decade, framed Robin as the ray of light and humanity that kept Batman sane in the earliest days of his mission and helped form the family unit that has so long been the core of Bat’s identity. 

As for the rest of the trailer, it’s a pretty fun gag real with a few standout cameos. The two biggest ones being the Joker and Barbara Gordon. I honestly feel like we’ve hit a saturation point on the Joker lately as we’ve had three visions of the character over the course of 1 year. Maybe, that’ll wear off by the time this movie comes out.  

What’s more, Lego Batman has built up the good will for me to trust them on the Joker being more than just “the worst person we can imagine and also a clown” like so many terrible adaptations tend to be. It’s a little strange seeing Barbara Gordon and Joker both in this. What a number this summer did on both characters with Suicide Squad and The Killing Joke. Hopefully, Lego Batman will redeem them. 

Overall, The Lego Batman movie is putting out all the right signals in these three trailers. Mostly it’s just great how funny they all are. It's hilarious because the humor is informed by actual insight into the characters. Even if the Batmania of the turn of the decade has died down, the character is still steeped in a lot of toxic obsessions as 2016 has thoroughly proved through his three major film outings. 

Making movies based around stripping the layers of disaffected maturity and unaware psychosis from Batman while trying to find the human being underneath it all is a pretty relevant goal. It's all the more impressive if it can be funny while doing it. Like I said, I trust DC animation given all their good work, and this does look funny. What I like best is that it’s a Batman movie framing Batman as the mask and Bruce Wayne as the man beneath. 

Lego Batman is scheduled for release February 10, 2017

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