'The LEGO Batman Movie' is everything you'd expect from our pop culture world. Sadly, so too is 'Fifty Shades Darker.'
How dedicated are “The LEGO Batman Movie” writers to all things related to the Dark Knight?
Tiny Spoiler Alert: They include a reference to shark repellent spray Adam West used in the 1966 caper “Batman: The Movie.”
Take a bow, gang.
And keep on bowing, since the five! screenwriters behind “LEGO Batman” crammed so many jokes into their film it’ll take a half dozen viewings to catch them all.
Exhausting? Sure, but it’s a giddy ride for young and old all the same.
Our LEGO Batman (a spot-on Will Arnett) can’t be stopped. Joker (Zach Galifianakis) and his goons never come close to ending the Caped Crusader’s reign. All that crime fighting is a lonely pursuit, though. So when a potential ward enters Batman’s life (Michael Cera as Robin) and a possible love interest (Rosario Dawson’s Barbara Gordon), our hero puts his Bat shields up.
Can Batman shed his solo ways? Will the Joker’s latest scheme finally put him down for good? Will the film find every single mockable element about the superhero we’ve loved for decades?
Another spoiler. The answer to the last question is a gold-plated yes.
You get the sense the filmmakers assumed Hillary Clinton would be president by now. Her signature slogan “It takes a village” is name checked more than once. Also, Bat Girl makes a brief fuss about being a “girl.”
The progressive snark more or less ends there, thanks goodness.
FAST FACT: “LEGO Batman Movie” director Chris McKay admits that HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey” made the list of supervillains in the movie but didn’t survive the final cut.
Besides, those references zoom past you in the crush of gags. You can’t focus on just one because you’ll miss a half dozen more in the process.
It’s often very, very funny, even if you can’t explain them all to your kids. That doesn’t mean they’re naughty. The movie relies heavily on the Bat mythos built into pop culture. Those youngsters haven’t had time to absorb it all. Yet.
The budding “LEGO” movie franchise features those tell-tale bricks, which deliver a canvas unlike any other animated movie. The Arkham Asylum sequences alone prove irresistible to behold. They also prevent the action sequences from truly popping.
They make conveying any real, relatable super hero action downright silly. And there’s a ton of screen time wasted on these superhero moments. Remember “The Incredibles?” That Pixar delight told a sweet, human story that even non super powered folks could connect with. It also dazzled us with its action.
That doesn’t happen here.
The story’s more nuanced themes help slow things down. We need to catch our breath anyway.
Batman doesn’t “do” relationships. Yes, he’s instantly drawn to Barbara Gordon. He still won’t let her into his life without a fight. The same goes for Alfred, given great range by Ralph Fiennes.
This Batman would rather do another 1,000 crunches before revealing his feelings to anyone. And audiences would watch every crunch if it meant hearing Arnett crack wise as the Dark Knight a few more times.
HiT or Miss: “The LEGO Batman Movie” is a fine animated comedy doubling as a primer for your kids’ budding Bat addiction.
“FIFTY SHADES DARKER”
Mock “Fifty Shades of Grey” all you want. It still had a purpose beyond introducing S&M gear to the masses.
Young Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) is forced to grow up after falling for a man her parents warned her about.
With “Fifty Shades Darker” that concept gets the heave-ho. We’re stuck in Bland Romance Theater. It’s a place where the rules of relationships don’t always apply. Nor do simple psychological truths.
Christian Grey is suddenly another “Bachelor” contestant, hoping to win the heart of his true love. And when the movie trots out some hoary plot devices to gin up our interest we long for that show’s guilty pleasures.
Or anything you can watch without rolling your eyes.
Dakota Johnson’s Anastasia has finally washed that Grey right out of her hair. Only Christian (Jamie Dornan) comes back, begging for a second chance.
“I can change,” he tells her, as if that line hasn’t been proven untrue throughout dating history.
“I’d like to renegotiate the terms,” she tells him. Who wouldn’t swoon over that line?
Anastasia gives him that second chance. And, before long, they’re having movie sex. You know, the kind we used to see in the ’80s when Mickey Rourke ruled the sheets.
But … has Christian truly changed? Or is he still the emotionally scarred dominant readers inexplicably fell for through E.L. James’ book series?
There’s an interesting story to be minded there. Only “Darker” cares far more about Wish Fulfillment Sequences than compelling drama. Look, Anastasia just got $24K dropped into her bank account! Watch her peruse a closet full of amazing gowns for the masquerade ball!
See her beau take care of her awful, grabby boss!
Meanwhile, audiences immune to those parlor tricks wonder why they’re watching this in the first place. Some tension does arrive in the form of a mystery ex-lover and Kim Basinger. The Oscar winner appears in a role that’s as brief as it is embarrassing.
It’s still better than a plot device introduced late in the film that’s meant to make us care even more about the couple in question. If you don’t laugh at its resolution you’re made of some pretty stern stuff.
The shame of it all is that Johnson and Dornan click big time in this franchise. And it’s not just between the sheets. They have palpable chemistry, the kind that matters most with screen romances. If only they were given something to do when they aren’t getting nekkid.
HiT or Miss: Everything that made the first “Gray” interesting is gone from “Fifty Shades Darker.” And they haven’t figured out anything worthwhile to replace it in this sorry sequel.