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Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Filmland - 8 Heroes Who Deserve the LEGO Treatment

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So, it’s now safe to assume that the LEGO Batman movie is a bona fide smash hit.  The animated spin-off to 2014’s breakout LEGO Movie has taken the world by storm with its brilliant, bighting, and irreverent parody of the brooding dark knight detective.  Coupled with a superb voice work from the rest of the cast and a script that gives us a shockingly fresh take on Batman by emphasizing the Bat Family as his strongest component, LEGO Batman has woken the world up to a whole new kind of superhero blockbuster.  

Given that Marvel is still the only name in the game producing quality superhero content I welcome our new world of animated, LEGO, superheroes, especially for beleaguered DC Comics who have yet to make a good live action superhero film during the 2010s.  Given that success and the innumerable mishandled or unattemptable superhero properties clogging up the pop cultural drain, I’ve come up with my list of 8 superhero franchises that deserve the LEGO treatment. 

To say the 2011 Green Lantern movie was disappointing is to put it incredibly lightly.  DC’s first attempt at forming a superhero universe was so bad we all just obliterated it from memory and with good reason.  However, I think the taint of Green Lantern (2011) is finally starting to fade away.  Ryan Reynolds finally achieved a superhero smash of his own with 2016’s Deadpool, Viola Davis’ Amanda Waller was allowed to actually shine in comparison to Angela Bassett’s neutered version of the character, and Green Lantern even enjoyed a brief but popular CGI series.  As such, I feel this is the perfect property for a do-over in the realms of LEGO.

A lot of that also has to do with the limitless potential of both the GL universe and the Lantern ring itself.  The LEGO Movie thrived by exploring the concept of LEGO as a limitless medium for free-flowing imagination, an idea that would be a perfect fit for the Green Lantern ring’s capabilities.  

It’d be a chance to make a Green Lantern movie that’s actually ABOUT imagination and creativity instead of just a ring-mounted laser gun, as is all too often the case.  Add in the ludicrously ridiculous nature of a lot of the Green Lantern mythos and DC’s space stories overall and LEGO would be the perfect medium to explore an all too expensive corner of the DCU. 

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now- the Shazam movie is not happening.  DC and the Rock can talk it up as much as they want, it’s not happening, if it were we would’ve seen actual movement by now.  What we’re probably going to get is a Dwayne Johnson fronted Black Adam movie, assuming the DCEU doesn’t implode before then, which is fine.  

Black Adam is a much better fit for the DCEU’s grim, gritty, XTREME fetishism.  Shazam has always been about bright colors, cartoonish earnestness, unrestrained whimsy, and super creative scenarios- the perfect combination for a LEGO adaptation. 

This has always been in the back of my mind about Shazam, the fact that his universe is built on such a defiantly silly foundation that any attempt to adapt it to live action would be incredibly flawed.  I mean, Shazam’s archenemy is a little worm creature that wears a radio around its neck so it can be heard, his whole mythos is a hodgepodge of classical myth and Judeo-Christian mythology, he has a team of lieutenants who fight evil with him only because they’re also named Billy Batson.  

You could not pull that off in live action, but as a cartoon that’s already fine drawing attention to its own unreality, you’d be golden.  Throw in the fact that Shazam is still the most kid-friendly superhero pitch, a superhero whose secret identity is a little kid himself, and this would be a real winner. 

Now Aquaman’s movie is going to happen, but at the same time, The Batman is still probably going to get made, so I don’t see a live action parallel series as exclusionary to a LEGO adaptation.  Additionally, there’s more than enough versatility to the character of Aquaman for both a Jason Momoa version and whatever a LEGO Aquaman movie might end up looking like.  

I mean, Aquaman has been around since the ‘40s, and there was a legitimate time when his comics were full of outlandish, surreal, adventure weirdness that were easily the equal of Shazam or Batman at the time, so it’s not as if he lacks for stuff to play around with.  Also, Batman: The Brave and the Bold’s take on Aquaman as a bombastic, classical hero and oblivious crime fighting dad would fit perfectly into the high pace, clear stakes world of family animation.

The big reason I think Aquaman would be a good fit for LEGO is the LEGO brand’s self-awareness.  That was one of the big, subversive key ideas of 2014’s LEGO Movie that the film was very consciously aware of the innate absurdity of making a movie about LEGO, much the same way LEGO Batman is aware of Batman’s own grungy, angry history.  

With Aquaman, I think it’d be worthwhile to have a take on the character that’s actually aware of Aquaman’s status as the dopiest big name hero around.  I mean, certainly- I love Aquaman as do most comic book geeks but let’s not pretend he’s anyone’s favorite superhero.  Modern pop culture has made of Aquaman a punch line, and I think it’d be worthwhile to do a version of the character that’s more aware of that fact than one like Momoa who’s painfully unwilling to accept it. 

I actually remember there were plans for a Teen Titans movie or possibly a live action show on TNT, but those seem to have stalled out, much like the proposed Legion of Superheroes movie WB talked up after Guardians of the Galaxy went nuclear.  

Honestly that all seems like a net good actually, the Teen Titans have always felt better suited to animation like the 2003 series, the popular Young Justice show, and the ferociously smart and funny Teen Titans Go.  When you take into account how funny and endearing Robin was in LEGO Batman, I have to think giving him a spin-off movie with a popular animated super team would be a strong move. 

As to the team make-up and such, that’d actually be the most versatile part of a Teen Titans movie.  While I’m partial to the classic, George Perez make-up of the group (Cyborg, Beast Boy, Starfire, Raven, Robin,) I actually think the original Teen Titans foursome would be the best approach, when the team was literally a confederation of popular superhero sidekicks.  

This is another thing like Aquaman where having self-awareness about one’s own ridiculousness would benefit the film.  Making a movie about a team of second bananas and sidekicks teaming up to prove they could make it on their own would definitely fit into the LEGO Movie’s unique brand of mythos. 

This choice honestly feels like the most obvious yet most difficult option from the DC stable.  Plastic Man could honestly be a major DC hit if anyone at the company were willing to push him more vigorously as a multi-media franchise instead of allowing him to slip back into obscurity after the 2011 reboot.  

He’s a zany, madcap shape changing superhero with a penchant for irreverent comedy and goofy slapstick, pretty much the perfect fit for the LEGO-verse.  Cartoon Network actually briefly considered a Plastic Man series and, combined with his supporting role on Batman: The Brave and the Bold, it all forms a pretty solid rough draft of how to make an animated romp with this character.

However, and this is a big one, the nature of Plastic Man’s powers would be a big hindrance on doing a LEGO version of this character.  As his name suggests, Plas has the power to stretch and contort his body, like Mr. Fantastic.  That’s a cool power, but it’d be really difficult to square with the rigid visual nature of LEGO that’s become key to the LEGO-verse aesthetic.  

There are ways around it, there’ve been stretchy characters in LEGO video games for instance that could provide a workaround, but it’d still look very stiff and awkward.  Still, if there was some enterprising CGI artist/director with the gumption to try and work around that little niggle, I think this could be a big one. 

Let’s be real with each other, there’s no way anyone is trusting ANOTHER live-action Fantastic Four movie anytime soon.  Even if Marvel gets the license back from Fox, the brand’s so tainted at this point, and the MCU’s already so full there’d be no way to bring it back.  So just dropping the live action angle altogether and making an animated film would probably be the best move.  

I’m actually not even sure Marvel would have to work with Fox to make an animated Fantastic Four movie, though they’d definitely need to work something out with WB to become part of the LEGO-verse.  However, given that LEGO is probably about to become a universe building brand all its own on the level of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, getting in with them early is likely to be a good call.

Like a lot of entries on this list, the Fantastic Four is a franchise that has always had more than one foot in the waters of cartoons rather than live action.  They’ve had a whole bunch of animated series, early iterations of which served as the baseline inspiration for a ton of the Hannah-Barbera superhero universe.  

The idea that these characters were never meant to exist in live action goes right down to the artwork and the very goofy visual designs for Human Torch, the Thing, and Invisible Woman.  There’s honestly not a huge leap to be made from Jack Kirby’s blocky, angular designs and the realm of LEGO bricks and plastic.  What’s more, the FF’s corner of the Marvel cosmic universe is crawling with sci-fi weirdness that would fit much easier into an animated adaptation. 

This entry’s sort of half way between Aquaman and the Fantastic Four.  Yes, there is currently a live action Hulk played by Mark Ruffalo, but Marvel can’t actually make a solo Hulk movie.  That’s because the license to make a solo Hulk film is still held by Universal Pictures so unless they agree to make one with Marvel, it’s not happening.  

Given this and the innumerable variations, Hulk has gone through over the years, giving him an animated flick might be the best approach for the brand.  Hulk’s mythos is full up with fellow gamma beings that could make for a great smash ‘em up movie in the vein of Marvel’s recent animated series Hulk & the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.  Seriously, if Marvel wanted a way to intro the likes of Red Hulk, A-Bomb, or Devil Dinosaur to the world at large, this is it.

Speaking of Marvel’s recent diversity push, a LEGO film would also be a great way to start broadening awareness of Amadeus Cho’s Totally Awesome Hulk.  This is a recent concept that’s popped up as part of a Marvel push for more diverse heroes, the idea that the current Hulk is an Asian-American kid named Amadeus who fights monsters with his sister.  

Cho is probably just there to tread water till Mark Ruffalo decides he’s done with the Hulk and Marvel needs to replace him with an actor that has buy-in to the Asiatic box office, but getting him out into the world through a LEGO flick would still be a good first start. 

Let’s be clear about one thing- much like Shazam there will not be a Ninja Turtles 3.  2014’s Ninja Turtles was absolute trash, but it made just enough cash to eek out a sequel, a sequel that, while it had better elements, was not the hit its producers were clearly hoping it’d be.  

If you like the new Turtles films good for you but don’t hold our breath for a third movie because all signs point to no on that front- there’s a reason Paramount keeps dragging Michael Bay back for more Transformers films.   Given that and the fact that the new show has cemented the fact the Turtles totally work in an animated context I feel like dropping them into the LEGO-verse would be a great way to revitalize the brand’s movie capabilities. 

This idea might’ve had more buy-in before WB announced their plans for a LEGO Ninjago movie but I still feel like there’s room for the Turtles in the LEGO-verse.  A lot of that has to do with aesthetics, simply put the Turtles’ during their peak creative years were designed to be toys.  If you look at the best designs in this franchise, it really does come down to the unique, neon-coated, over detailed yet extremely charming and unique designs from the 1986 action figure line.  

Adapting those elements from action figure to LEGO would be an easy way to dig deep into this brand’s most unique elements.  Combine that with how much the LEGO landscape would afford greater distinction to the Turtle’s character archetypes and a chance to have a proper Foot Clan/Krang team-up and I think this could be a real winner. 

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