Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Marcia McMillan to have a look at the big weekend movies, including the slap-and-tickle-a-palooza “Fifty Shades Darker,” the Lego-tastic “The Lego Batman Movie,” the gun-jitsu of “John Wick: Chapter 2,” and the wondrous “Paterson.”
You can take the boy out of Canada but you can’t take Canada out of the boy.
When I meet with Brampton, Ont.-born Michael Cera to chat about his new project, The Lego Batman Movie, he’s having lunch, eating a Waldorf salad.
The 28-year-old began his career in Canada with a Tim Hortons summer camp commercial before decamping to the United States, finding fame with Arrested Development and a string of successful movies like Superbad and Juno, but has retained his disarming Canadian politeness.
I walk in, he jumps up, “Do you want anything? Cheese? A coffee? How are you doing?”
Declining the snacks and coffee I ask him about the two-year process of recording vocal tracks to play half of the Dynamic Duo, Batman’s ward Dick Grayson, a.k.a. Robin.
“You are only focussed on your voice,” he says on the difference between live action and animation. “That gives you a certain amount of freedom to experiment in ways that you wouldn’t normally. And there’s nobody around. All self-consciousness that exists on a set where there is all this infrastructure put in place to set the camera up and point it at you and then you have to deliver. All that pressure is not there when you’re in the studio. They just press record. They’re not even recording on tape, it’s digital. You just go and experiment and fail as many times as you want.
“As far as improvisation goes, it was very loose on this. The script is good and he jokes at work and everything … you feel encouraged and take chances.”
The Lego Batman Movie is part parody, part homage to the Batman origin story. When we meet Batman, played by Cera’s former Arrested Development co-star Will Arnett, he may have outlived his usefulness as Gotham’s main do-gooder. What does a Caped Crusader do when the city no longer needs a vigilante crime fighter? Alfred Pennyworth, the superhero’s loyal butler and legal guardian suggests, “It’s time to face your greatest fear, being part of a family again.” Enter Dick Grayson.
“There’s a great foundation there,” Cera says about Batman’s backstory. “I think the reason Batman keeps getting rehashed is because it is a great core story with this great character and the world around him. There is a lot to play off of in that.”
It sounds heavy, but this isn’t Christopher Nolan’s long dark night of the superhero soul. “The best thing I can say about the tone is that it is a little like Chuck Jones,” Cera says. “Joke. Joke. Joke. It has that kind of rhythm.”
Cera’s willingness to be irreverent with the Batman mythology isn’t a lapse of manners — he is Canadian after all — it’s because, “I’m not an overly enthusiastic Batman fan. I didn’t grow up with the comics. Comics just didn’t land with me. I was really into cartoons and Nintendo. That was where my head was at. I loved watching the Batman movies but I don’t live and breathe it for some reason.”
“The Lego Batman Movie” movie begins with a pretty good joke. Over a darkened screen Batman’s raspy voice (Will Arnett) intones, “All important movies begin with black.” Unfortunately as the film goes on it becomes clear that it wasn’t just a gag, that director Chris McKay is trying to make an important, capital I, movie.
The movie kicks off with a wild opening sequence as The Joker (Zach Galifianakis) tries to destroy Gotham City. He brings along some super villains you have heard of, like Two Face and Harley Quinn, and some you haven’t like Gentleman Ghost and Condiment King. Mayhem ensues until Batman shows up. The resulting showdown sets up a familiar theme: without the bad, the good doesn’t exist.
“I’m fine with you fighting other people,” says The Joker, “but when people ask who your favourite villain is… You say Joker.”
The Caped Crusader refuses to acknowledge any bond with his nemesis. “Batman doesn’t do ships… as in the relationships.”
Later, police commissioner James Gordon retires, putting his daughter Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) in charge. As the new commissioner she brings in a new crime clan called It Takes a Village… Not Batman. “Despite all the work he’s done for us Gotham is still the most crime ridden city on earth,” she says.
As Batman’s importance to Gotham lessens The Joker changes the dynamics of their relationship by surrendering, thereby rendering Batman completely useless. “I’m off the menu, you won’t get to fight any of this anymore!”
But what does Batman do with the city no longer needs a vigilante crime fighter? Alfred Pennyworth, the superheroes loyal butler and legal guardian suggests, “It’s time to face your greatest fear… Being part of a family again,” but will the man who says, “I don’t feel anything emotionally except rage,” be able to embrace a home life?
Infected by some disease as the live action DC films “The Lego Batman Movie” is not content to simply be what it is, a silly movie about superheroes made of toy bricks. Instead it stretches to be a feel-good movie about the importance of relationships and friendships, even between friend and foe. What should have been a straight up parody becomes something else. It does poke gentle fun at Marvel and DC’s habit of squishing far too many characters in their movies and The Joker’s “unnecessarily complicated bombs,” but the main “you mean nothing to me, no one does” storyline could have been lifted from any of Christopher Nolan’s dissections of Batman psyche. It’s more tortured Batman this time but with 100% more jokes then anything Zack Snyder could ever imagine.
There are jokes and even a song or two—although nothing as catchy as “Everything Is AWESOME!!!” by Tegan and Sara—but this is more about relationship feels than it is about belly laughs. Sure, it’s funny when Batman sings, “I’ll turn Two Face into black and blue face,” but the rest doesn’t feel irreverent enough. This is a new world, a Lego universe where anything is possible so why is Batman still clinging to the anger generated by his parent’s death? Arnett has fun with the voice, giving the character an almost Trumpian level of self-regard, which raises a giggle or two but overall this doesn’t feel like a parody of Batman as much as it does a fuzzy carbon copy.
“The Lego Batman Movie” zips along at a tremendous pace with in-your-face animation and some jokes but the overwhelming amount of CGI muffles some of the charm of the original, creating a less organic, homemade feel. The first contained loads of CGI as well but disguised it better. The result is a hybrid, an animated action movie that both parodies and pays tribute to the comics and comic movies that inspired it.