THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE
(2017, Chris McKay)
(4.5 out of 5 stars)
(2017, Dean Israelite)
(3 out of 5 stars)
I can still remember my big box of toys. It was almost as big as I was. It was full of Disney action figures and Happy Meal toys from McDonalds. I bought almost every single toy from the Golden Arches that I was surprised I wasn't fatter as a kid - I even owned the entire 101 Dalmatians collection. But my most prized possession was my tub of LEGO. This box of multi-coloured, infinite possibilities were the building blocks to my imagined worlds.
A world where my Hercules figure lived happily ever after with Meg and Pegasus inside a Parthenon-inspired LEGO house. Or a big LEGO city left in ruins after an invasion of the giant Furbies. Or a boxing ring made out of LEGO used to host the weekly UFC-style fight between Mickey Mouse and the Power Rangers. I even had a slow-mo replay section like in Tekken 3 showing the knock-out move which I took very seriously.
It was my own universe where I poured my domestic desires over building the ever-afters of my favourite princesses and heroes. It was where I role-played defending an entire city in danger and where I aired my frustrations and boyish aggression by play-fighting Disney characters. All put together inside one giant universe (sound familiar?)
I walked out of LEGO Batman and Power Rangers with the same kind of delight that six-year-old me would have experienced after roaming the contours of the imaginative dimension. That place where anything is possible. That no situation too ridiculous or nonsensical. In LEGO Batman, it's the joy of seeing Voldemort fight alongside the Joker or the clap-hand emoji moment of Elizabeth Banks, who plays the villain in Power Rangers, eating a Krispy Kreme donut in slow-motion while Beyonce plays in the background. Ok, maybe the latter is for twenty-four-year-old me.
Both movies just get it. They understand their identity and audience so well that not a moment felt out of place or was perfunctory. This is the most assured Batman movie since The Dark Knight because it understands the plight of its protagonists and villains. It is so on-brand that you know the kind of movie it is even before the first shot is projected on screen: a voiceover of Batman joking about the colour black over a black screen.
It's a Power Rangers movie so assured it felt comfortable with its intended audience enough to make its product placement so shamelessly in-your-face. It helps that the characters are people that you end up caring for. The teenagers feel like teenagers with teenager problems. Its diversity should be commended as well but Power Rangers have always been good with that.
While someone more cynical may look at these movies and dismiss it as capitalism tainting the art form of cinema, I actually had a good time with it, and judging from audience and critic's reactions in the screenings I was in, everyone else were on board too. It's corporatisation through creativity, which I'm not going to complain about. These are two movies that are blatantly selling something through delight rather than persuasion. It activates that childlike, boundless imagination waiting inside us ready to be thrilled with kick-ass action sequences, characters with heart and a world drenched in colour and beautiful animation / visual effects.
Both are quotable and meme-able to the point they are a marketer's dream come true while being simultaneously the moviegoer's dream come true. It's a win-win situation. You made something delightful, you want to sell me something, I feel good about buying it. Capitalism isn't that bad after all. I walked out of LEGO BATMAN with an intense desire to buy a LEGO set and I walked out of POWER RANGERS with an intense desire to wolf down a 12-pack of Krispy Kreme.
Well...more than usual.