. I was somewhat surprised and confused in late 2013 to discover that a “Lego Movie” was imminent. This was because there were, already, more than a few Lego Movies already – at first I thought this was perhaps a belated big screen release of Clutch Powers
Cue nostalgia-wallow: when I was young, Lego was sturdily educational. For parents of a certain age, Lego retains both a nostalgic patina but also an air of worthy educational value. It is now a matter of academic record that Lego has become more violent since then, but a subtler change is the enmeshment of Lego with pop culture from The Big Bang Theory to Frozen. It is a rather sad commentary on the reality of the promise of liberation from the hegemony of corporate mass culture, often made in the early years of the mass popularity of the internet, that Lego Ideas (Lego’s platform for user-generated ideas) is dominated by proposed sets based on the self same mass culture.
Lego’s status as an educational toy is perhaps somewhat overstated ( it is sometimes claimed it cannot compare to Meccano for teaching proto-engineering skills) and, while it gets some bad press, not nearly as much as you would expect for a company of its size and reach. For instance, Lego became the world’s largest tyre manufacturer a few years back.
I laughed like a drain at the cinema watching the Lego Movie. I laughed more than my children. I didn’t laugh quite so much the next few times, though oddly enough it seemed to grow on my children fairly considerably. It is clear that much contemporary children’s entertainment is slanted subtly to parents as much as children. This is a fine line which Toy Story, for instance, treads very well. Whereas the likes of Madagascar and Ice Age are, to my taste, a little too slanted towards adult-friendly winks. Of course, as with so many things with children’s culture, this says more about me than about them
I have somewhat mixed feelings about the imminent Lego Batman Movie, with Will Arnett voicing Batman and a fairly starry cast (Ralph Fiennes, Zach Galafinakis, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson) . I feel rather sorry for the voice actors displaced, such as the wonderful Troy Baker, the voice of the straight-to-video Lego Batman. Baker, and the rest of the Lego movie voice cast, do a wonderful job in bringing the various personalities to life.
Anyway, onto LEGO DC Comics Superheroes: Justice League – Gotham City Breakout, the rather cumbersomely titled latest installment of Lego movies set in the world of DC Superheroes. Lego’s superhero movies have, so far, been a satisfying blend of action and wit, and a particular strength is the characterisation of the heroes. Batman is a serious, grim obsessive, entertainingly contrasted with the rather childlike antics of the other superheroes.Of course, Lego Batman in his own way is a rather childlike figure; the serious, intense child with a sense of mission.
Over the course of the movies, the characters have developed, with Cyborg evolving from a rather anonymous superhero to a rather star-struck figure anxious to impress the legendary superheroes around him (especially Batman) Superman is a perpetually naive alien who is baffled by high-fives.
Gotham City Breakout starts with a surprise party for Batman (which he naturally is not surprised by) marking his Bat-anniversary. Robin, Batgirl and Nightwing insist on his taking a vacation, a word which Batman has trouble even pronouncing. Batman’s reluctance to leave Gotham – “crime doesn’t take a holiday” – is finally broken down by Superman’s staying on as a kind of locum, with Robin left behind to advise. Superman entirely underrates Gotham’s “non-powered” criminals and sees Robin as purely a child to be babysat rather than a source of advice. When the Joker, with the help of a spoon, breaks out of Arkham Asylum, Superman’s hubris has near-disastrous results. Meanwhile, Batman (along with Batgirl and Nightwing) find what was meant to be a nostalgic trip to a former mentor become a subterranean adventure.
Gotham City Breakout is an enjoyable film that had held my children’s attention repeatedly.I found it ever so slightly too knowing – although “knowingness” and self-reflexivity about the superhero universe has been a feature of the Lego superhero movies from the start, in this installment these features are played up a little too strongly for my liking. But just a little. In a way, this feels like a recapitulation of previous tropes and themes. In the Lego superhero movies so far, we have seen the usually solitary Batman embrace team work and indeed team leadership. Here we have the same theme replayed, except with Superman shown as learning to regret his hubris. There is also a nice theme in the subterranean plot about bravery and courage.
Overall Gotham City Breakout is a solid film in the Lego superhero series, which is certainly entertaining – but has a slight sense of treading water, perhaps until the big screen version comes along.