Batman faces his greatest challenge yet: VACATION! The caped crusader reluctantly agrees to let Batgirl and Nightwing take him on a long overdue vacation from crimefighting, while Superman and the Justice League watch over Gotham City. Neither operation goes as planned when Batman's vacation is cut short by dangers from his past and invaders from the center of the earth, and Superman and the other Leaguers quickly realize just how much Batman usually has his hands full with the villains of Gotham.
This is probably the tenth Lego-related video I've ever seen, and the third one I've ever reviewed (not including the excellent documentary, all-too cutely titled 'A LEGO Brickumentary'). I'm pretty sure I've had my fill. By now, I've become weary of the predictable plots, broadly characterized superheroes, and campy dialogue. These movies want it both ways: attracting very young kids with all the slapstick and hysteria, yet maintaining faithful fans of the comics with all the in-jokes and references only known to an older generation. The balance isn't pulled off well-enough to make the results little more than forgettable entertainment.
Such happens to be the case with the latest release, titled 'LEGO DC Comic Superheroes: Justice League Gotham City Breakout.' (I haven't seen a title this convoluted since "All-Star Comics Presents Super Squad Featuring the Justice Society of America" was pasted on the cover of All-Star Comics #58 back in 1976.) It's a slightly better than average kid's movie with some good moments for comic book geeks, some just okay moments for regular adults.
The plot seems unnecessarily complex, particularly since a big slice of the story takes place not in Gotham City, but in an underground civilization which is incongruous for the urban-dwelling Batman character. We begin with the heroes ready for action, as Batman and Robin (not Dick Grayson, who would become Nightwing) thwart the Penguin, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn from yet another criminal act. The fiendish fiends are quickly sent to Arkham Asylum, Gotham's answer to Alcatraz. Meanwhile, the anniversary of Batman's debut is celebrated by a few of the Justice League members (Superman, Cyborg, Wonder Woman) and a few Teen Titan members (Starfire, Changeling/Beast Boy, and Nightwing), as well as other members of the Batman Family including Robin and Batgirl. As part of the celebration, Batman goes "on vacation" to see his old martial arts trainer Madam Mantis, who happened to be the teacher for both Bruce Wayne and Slade Wilson (who would eventually become, Deathstroke: The Terminator) back when they were young and took to cosplay. Meanwhile Sperman agrees to babysit Gotham City during his absence.
Batman, accompanied by Batgirl and Robin, arrive at their desitination, and immediately get into trouble when the Bat-trio are captured by The Trogowogs, an otherwise peaceful underground civilization controlled by Bane and Deathstroke. The villains are desperate to learn about 'the forbidden move," a martial arts trick which will shatter enemies into their constituent LEGO peices while keeping them alive, which is more or less a PG-rated version of The Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique revealed in 'Kill Bill Vol. 2.' It seems only Madam Mantis and Batman know the secret, and the villains use a special jewel to extract the knowledge from their brains.
Meanwhile...in Gotham City...Superman comes face-to-face with the Joker, who somehow tricks the Man of Steel into releasing more members of Batman's Rogue Gallery from imprisonment. For some reason, Superman is unable to keep these troublemakers in check and so recruits the help of Cyborg and Wonder Woman. And so begins two different conflicts in two different worlds, with enough "Biff!" "Bam!" and "Snuh!" action to keep things moving. In the end, and in coincidental accordance with the Comics Code Authority (circa 1954), good triumphs over evil and the criminals are punished for their misdeeds.
The voices in this movie are enthusiastic, distinguishable and retain their own personal characteristics, but the dialogue forces the actors to go over the top. During his most serious moments, Batman lapses into Zapp Branigan (from 'Futurama') territory but without the irony, while Cyborg still sounds a bit too stereotypically "ethnic" among his white-bread co-stars. Women either sound like Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman (from 'Batman Returns') or a high pitched Valley Girl. There was one particular moment where Starfire fawns over Robin and she sounds exactly like Sally talking rapturously over her Sweet Babboo Linus (from "Peanuts") when it comes to pitch and vocal inflections. As a result, many of the jokes, one-liners, and puns fall flat under all the exaggeration, but are spit out at such a rapid pace that viewers are given little time to groan.
Characterization is also somewhat puzzling, with Superman being turned into a complete buffoon and Cyborg being transformed into a side-kick wannabe. I imagine that they had to reduce the Man of Steel somehow, someway so that disposing of non-powered villains like Scarecrow and Joker wouldn't be so obvious. Still, this isn't the Superman who we all recognize; then again, with all the baffling comic continuity changes and ambiguous Snyder films, maybe nobody knows. Batgirl and Robin are more competent, and certainly less grim than their Bat-mentor. Their interaction attempts to lighten the mood of Batman's own adventure, as they exchange a few tongue-in-cheek quips revealing their self-awareness of superhero cliches and schtick. All of this might have been funnier if they weren't so random.
Speaking of random, the introduction of Madam Mantis and the revised origin of Deathstroke seems out of place and ridiculous. Not only is she poorly characterized as the cliche sinsei who spouts off words of wisdom and smacks others with her cane, but she is drawn to look like some generic cross between Granny Goodness (from Jack Kirby's "The New Gods") and Bea Arthur. Other than introduce us to the 'forbidden move" I saw little purpose in her appearance. Even worse, was the forced connection between her and Deathstroke, who is revealed to have been one of her students. Fans of the original "Terminator" (Deathstroke debuted in the comics four years before Arnold Schwarzenegger became associated with the name in film) will be sorely disappointed to see this character and his background so diminished and trivialized.
Then there are the Trogowogs themselves, who are an apparent cross between Frankenstein's monster and green Oompa Loompas. They speak English, wear minimal clothing, carry spears and seem to be as primitive as stereptyped natives can be (although one of them jokes about not getting cell phone reception before entering a dark cave). One pair of un-named buddies do a Terence and Phillip imitation which may be unintentional, or a tribute to the 'South Park' characters, complete with "Canadian" accents and speech patterns. The appearance of this tribe is so out of place with Mr. Gotham City that I simply couldn't buy into their story (even in the context of comic book fantasy for kids).
There were things I did like about the movie. A line of dialogue from Batman noting that most superheroes "are a highly emotional, sentimental lot" right before he is greeted by a non-surprise birthday party made me chuckle. I also smiled at the subtle references to my childhood favorite but now unwatchable 'Super Friends" cartoon, including a recognizable sound effect and a short variation of their theme song. I was stunned and then pleased by the reappearance of "the Batusi" which isn't quite as funny when 'The Simpsons' made a joke of it (with Adam West, no less) years ago, but it was still a nice touch. But my favorite moments occur at the movie's beginning, where LEGO pieces fly from space and come together to introduce our heroes with a recreation of famous comic book covers, including Superman's "Action Comics #1," Batman's "Detective Comics #27," and Wonder Woman's "Sensation Comics #1." However, these moments come far and few in between, and aren't quite enough to make me give this movie a more favorable rating. I guess I'll have to wait for the Justice League's next exciting adventure to see if a repeat trip is worth it...
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats:
'Justice League: Gotham City Breakout' comes on a 14 gigabyte platter housed in a Blu-ray slipcase which also holds the DVD version. An insert for the digital download is enclosed, with an advertisement for the Scooby Doo merchandise printed on the opposite page. A second insert for discount entry to the LEGOland theme parks is also provided.
The Blu-ray case is enclosed in an oversized box to accommodate the "Limited Edition Exclusive" minifgure, which is individually wrapped in illustrated plastic packaging. (Previously, these toys would be housed in a plastic window glued to the cardboard box, which would make them more susceptible to theft, I imagine.)
The 1080p/AVC MPEG-2 TS encoded video had no flaws or defects that I could uncover despite critical viewing. Presented in 1.78:1 high definition, 'Gotham City Breakout' is every bit as good as any animated LEGO movie I've ever seen featuring the World's Greatest Superheroes. In fact, the biggest appeal about watching any given LEGO movie is marvelling at the picture itself, which is bright, colorful and immensely pleasing to the eye. Even with the "New 52" costume designs, reds, yellows, and blues come to life There is not a hint of teal and orange dominating the images, nor is there any excessive color desaturation which is usually associated with being "gritty."
Naturally, the designs are simpler and less detailed than your average Pixar flick, but there were moments where I forgot I was watching computer generated images, as opposed to seeing real LEGO models. The textures on clothing (see Robin's cape, with it's interweaving threads at the edges), the relfections on metallic objects (the bullets on Deathstroke's bandolier), and the moving shadows add up to a visual experience which can withstand videophile scrutiny.
While the audio isn't exceptional, it is certainly pretty darn good for a kid's movie. The voices, sound effects and music are all mixed perfectly whether heard in plain stereo, or in surround. The DTS-HD Master Audio track doesn't sound that much different from its Dolby Digital counterpart, although I would like to think that the higher DTS bit-rates provide a richer sound. (Maybe I should buy new Paradigms and bill them to my editor). The Dolby Digital tracks also include several foreign languages including French and Spanish (Castillian and Latin).
Deep bass reproduction is most prominent during scenes where all sorts of Bat-vehicles are employed, particularly during moments where Robin is riding around the Batcycle, where the roar of engines and the thud of tires is felt as well as heard.
I did notice that surround activity was not as prominent as previous DC Comics adventures. There is some directionallity with movement, mostly with vehicles and other hardware which zoom onscreen depending on where the next action set-piece is due to take place. However, I was surprised that the movie didn't try to bombard the viewer with five channel activity at every given moment. Some of the sound effects are subtle, but notable like the plastic pattering of figures running around. Even with chaos happening everywhere, with the shattering of thousands of plastic pieces resulting from collateral damage between heroes and villains, voices come in crystal clear whether through the center channel in surround mode, or through both channels in stereo.
The Blu-ray presentation is surprisingly chintzy and cheap when it comes to any extras having to do with the main feature. However, the inclusion of a limited edition Lego minifigure of Nightwing (who is at least spotlighted in the movie) is probably all LEGO fans and collectors would ever want with (which is why the supplements earn an admittedly arbitrary "2" rating and not a zero). Those who are more cinematically minded will certainly be disappointed by what's offered. In fact, I'm resistant to calling a couple of trailers as bonus features, when all they are is commercials for the next release, but here they are...
Trailer for 'LEGO Scooby Doo: Haunted Hollywood' (HD 1:56) This is a sort of witty, mostly corny preview of your favorite (absolutely not mine) ghostbusters and monster-breakers of the early 1970's.
Trailer for 'Nexo Nights' (HD 1:04) This appears to be an original genre created by LEGO in the tradition of Ninjago, Cheema and Bionicles.
Despite all my DC fanboy whining about a movie clearly made for kids, there was sufficient amusement value in this Justice League LEGO adventure to muster a pass. I must also admit that the saturation of superhero movies and the overabundance of everything Batman (this coming from a former comic book addict!) probably make me less inclined to eat up every piece of merchandise Warner Bros shamelessly cranks out. Therefore, my criticisms here may be a knee-jerk reaction to the onslaught of product.
On the other hand, this is the fifth LEGO DC Superhero movie cranked out in the last three years and I don't see that much improvement when it comes to the writing and directing. I hope there comes a day when the quality rises closer to the level of Bruce Timm's animated work, or matches the the degree of wit found in the 'Batman: Brave and the Bold' series. In the meantime, I can only recommend that viewers give this one a rent before adding it to their Blu-ray collection.