Like most people who went to see The LEGO Movie, I walked out of the theater shocked at how far the movie surpassed my expectations. I think most people would have been okay with a quick, disposable romp full of toy blocks. Instead Phil Lord and Christopher Miller delivered a twistedly brilliant, mind bending burst of awesomeness that will be talked about for the rest of 2014 and beyond. It's hard to think about everything that this film got right and not immediately think of half a dozen other movies that could benefit from similar good decisions. Anyone familiar with the current state of bottom line oriented studio mentality will have such optimistic hopes dashed rather quickly.
To talk about the lessons that can be learned from this movie, I will of course have to talk about the plot of the movie. So BEWARE OF SPOILERS AHEAD! Seriously, if you haven't seen The LEGO Movie, stop reading this, step away from your computer and get your ass to a theater pronto.
5A. The Lesson:
Cameos Are Best When Used Sparingly.
One of the first things that's noticeable about The LEGO Movie,even from its advertisements, is that it's got a lot of Lego versions of pre-existing characters rounding out the cast. The reason this works is because most of these characters are quickly there and gone again. The movie's plot doesn't linger on its famous guest stars past the point of making a good joke and moving on.
A great example of this is the appearance of the Star Wars characters. They show up, a few quick jokes are made, they take off, one more joke is made and then they're done being in the movie. Superman and Green Lantern show up on screen a few different times, but only long enough to do the running joke of "Superman is annoyed by Green Lantern's fanboy behavior" and then they're slipping off camera again.
This is something that could improve a lot of movies. I haven't seen the new version of Robocop yet, but I'm pretty sure it could benefit from a quick glimpse of Johnny Number 5 from Short Circuit without turning him into a central character.
5B. The Misunderstanding:
Reference All the Things!
The misuse of cameos is something that studios have been doing for awhile, and will likely continue to do. The LEGO Movie doing it so well will likely be misread as a need to do even more of it. The genre where cameos are most often mangled is superhero movies. Fox has been especially irritating with shoe-horning waaay too many characters into their X-Men movies. There's a brief TV clip in X-Men 2 showing an interview with a normal looking guy named Hank McCoy, which becomes a bit puzzling when Kelsey Grammer shows up all blue and furry in the third movie. Each of the first three movies had a different actor in the role of Kitty Pryde, even though she's only an important and memorable character in the third film.
The trend seems likely to continue into the foreseeable future. X-Men: Days of Future Past has crammed in so many mutants that Anna Paquin's one scene as Rogue is rumored to have been cut from the movie. A character as important as Rogue should not be in only one scene of an X-Men movie to begin with, and if that scene is being cut to make more room for other mutants to be on screen that doesn't bode well for the characters who remain in the movie being properly developed. Meanwhile, Amazing Spider-Man 2 is looking to have at least three villains introduced (Electro, The Rhino and The Green Goblin), with another two or three rumored to be popping up or hinted at in some way (The Vulture, Doc Ock and Venom).
The only guys who seem to know how to handle cameos in superhero movies are Marvel Studios,who have a good track record for not overdoing things. Some criticism was leveled at Iron Man 2 for spending a little too much of its screen time setting things up for The Avengers, but Marvel learned from that and have toned things down since. Having seemingly missed that memo, Warner Bros. are potentially turning the sequel to Man of Steel into "Justice League: The Prequel" with the number of characters rumored to be popping up (in addition to those already confirmed for the movie). Any concerns that too many ingredients are being added to the recipe can be countered with "Look how many characters we had in that Lego thing" while completely ignoring that of all the licensed characters on screen, only one of them played an integral role in the plot. Speaking of whom...
4A. The Lesson:
Batman Doesn't Always Have to Be so Serious.
The reason that Batman works so well as a supporting character isn't because he's so cool, it's because he's so funny. His coolness is used as a source of humor along with his dark, brooding, loner attitude. This style of Batman is so fun to see because for most of the past decade he's primarily been available in the gloomy and gritty persona displayed in Christopher Nolan's films. While I love that trilogy, I've been ready for a different kind of Batman for a while now, and The LEGO Movie gave it to me. It's the most fun I've had watching Batman since being late in the game on discovering how fun Batman The Brave and The Bold was...shortly before its untimely demise.
The Lego version of this character proves that there's an audience willing to embrace a lighthearted version of the Dark Knight. That audience for has been around for quite awhile. For all the hate spewed towards the Joel Schumacher movies, they still made fuckloads of money and have their defenders. This decade feels like a good time for some new exploration of Batman and who he can be on the silver screen.
4B. The Misunderstanding:
More Batman Is Always a Good Thing!
Unfortunately, the thing that Warner Bros. are likely to take away from this movie is that audiences want more of Batman no matter how they get him. As soon as Man of Steel ended up being a hit, but not as big of a hit as was hoped WB decided to fix things by going with their Perennial Plan B of "More Batman, because people love Batman". The announcement of Ben Affleck taking over the role indicates the potential for taking the character in a new direction, but he's being brought into a Superman story that's already influenced by the "serious business" atmosphere of the Nolan movies.
As cool as it'd be to see Affleck bring a different kind of vibe to the Caped Crusader, it'd be a lot cooler to see WB focusing on some of the other superheroes that they have access to instead. They've got a whole universe of heroes to choose from, yet every other comic movie they do is focused on ol' Bats. At some point, overexposure is likely to bite them in the ass. If the Man of Steel sequel disappoints them as much as the first one is believed to have, what solution will they come up with if they think Batman has failed?