A PAIR OF JOKERS
Meet The Lego Batman Movie’s heroes
The weekend started off hilarious and just got better. After a landing that seemed about as traumatic as a packet of marshmallows falling on a duvet to this proud son of Wellington city, but which had the rest of the – mostly American – passengers white-knuckling the seat arms and converting quickly and noisily to religion, I was on the ground at Los Angeles International and wondering how much of a mortgage I would need to raise to get a taxi to Beverley Hills.
I’d tried to download Uber or Lyft via the LAX free wi-fi, but the download speeds were about on a par with rural New Zealand and I could have built my own car out of the discarded chewing gum and cigarette butts on the sidewalk by the time the app had installed.
Then, just as I was resigning myself to a US$100 ($142) cab fare, a man who looked more like an oversized Jeff Koons sculpture of The
Muppets’ Fozzie the Bear than he did any human being I’ve ever met came bounding up to me with a grin like a milk tanker’s front grill and a mist of marijuana vapour clinging to his ‘fro like clouds on the summit of Mt Taranaki.
‘‘Hello friend! You need a shuttle? Anywhere for $30! I am Jorge!’’ was all it took.
Two minutes later, we were hurtling down the LA Freeway in a clapped out Ford van with a couple of two-seater couches bolted in the back. There was more rust than there was actual body, but Jorge had at least found a big enough patch of surviving metal to spell out ‘‘Airport Shutle’’ – with one ‘‘t’’ – in red housepaint with a brush.
The only part of Jorge’s shuddering heap that worked perfectly was the sound system, which was pounding out a topshelf selection of ragga and dub while I sat in the back, grinning at the turns my life has taken since I decided to make myself homeless and contemplating ‘‘little-known film critic perishes in fireball’’ as an obituary headline when my forehead bounced playfully into my kneecaps and I figured we had arrived at the hotel.
The concierge at the LA Mirage came to greet me with all the enthusiasm he might have extended to an Isis truck bomber. Which, to be honest, between Jorge’s smoking, bellowing heap and my usual slept-in-a-hedge mien dialled up to 11 by the flight, the shuttle ride and the farewell tequila party in New York City the night before, was a pretty fair call.
‘‘I’m on the Warner Brothers’ press junket,’’ I said, and he visibly relaxed. His whole expression softened as he realised I was not an unkempt, motherless lunatic with a history of poor life choices behind him, just a film reviewer.
Two hours later, partly restored by a hot shower and a nap, I’m decked out in my special best jandals and cleanest T-shirt and heading into a screening of The Lego Batman Movie.
And the next morning, I’m sitting in a room with three other film-writery types – one of whom I’ve looked up to for half my life – and wondering just what I should ask the two lead actors in the second-best film about animated plastic bricks I’ve ever seen.
Will Arnett and Zach Galifianakis play – or at least give voice to – The Batman and The Joker in The Lego Batman Movie. Both have been mainstays of American TV and film comedy for years. They are old friends, frequent collaborators and pretty much exactly as you might imagine they would be to chat to.
Galifianakis comes into the room first. He’s looking a lot trimmer than his defining and break-out Hangover days. The beard is neatly groomed, the shirt is tucked in and his shoes are done up. And yet, maybe because of the roles we associate him with, Galifianakis still looks like an utter shambles. I wish I knew how he did it.
Outside, maybe 30 metres down a plush hotel corridor, we can hear Arnett’s voice alternately shrieking, growling and generally laying waste to everyone and everything around him. Whatever he is saying seems to have everyone in hysterics. And none of the usual, fawning, press-junket laughter you generally hear when a star or director cracks some lame gag. This is a real no-stop-it-pleaseor-I’ll-pee howling.
A moment later, Arnett comes into the room like a labrador on meth. You read a lot about people ‘‘bounding’’ through doors, but Arnett actually does it. He is tall, tanned, has the teeth of an Osmond and one of the most cultivated and actorish voices I’ve heard this side of Ian McKellen. Arnett is famous for that voice. He’s all over American TV flogging SUVs with it.
It’s also the voice of the title character – a washed up, bitter and alcoholic former celebrity horse – in the utterly cult and often brilliant animated series Bojack
Horseman. Even if you had never seen his work in Arrested Development, 30 Rock and a bunch of stand-out supporting roles on the big screen, then you could still pick out Arnett in a crowded bar just from hearing him order his drink. Deployed as a cameo in 2014’s
The Lego Movie, Arnett’s Batman ran away with the show. I wondered whether the success of the film – and particularly the version of Batman within it – had taken anyone by surprise. ‘‘Oh man, everything in this industry is a f...ing surprise. No-one knows what’s going to hit and what won’t. But, I gotta say, Chris McKay (animation director on The Lego Movie and director of The Lego
Batman Movie) ... we knew with him that the film was in great hands. He had a total vision for the film that was amazing. So many directors – and I’ll never mention names – don’t really know what they’re after until they see it, if then. But Chris had the whole thing in his head. And because he had that, he had the confidence to let us goof around and improvise.’’ Which makes sense. A lot of
The Lego Batman Movie – and this is one of the film’s trump cards – really does feel like Galifianakis, Arnett and Michael Cera’s Robin are in a room freestyling their relationship into an ever escalating orbit of surreality. The
Lego Batman pushes the codependency between the characters into places that only the graphic novels have gone before. But it does it with a twist of glee and mischievousness that the last couple of live-action Batman movies really could have done with.
As Galifianakis says: ‘‘I think one of the great things about these films, for an actor anyway, is that we are working at a distance from reality. So we can satirise and lampoon the source material in a way that live-action could never get away with. So you know, some of it was just Will and me walking around on a soundstage and pushing each other to see where we could get to’’.
‘‘We had a fantastic boom swinger,’’ Arnett chimes in, ‘‘he had the supplest wrists.’’ And so it goes.
Galifianakis telling us something informative and useful, in a slightly beard-muffled deadpan drawl that was always worth paying attention to and deciphering, while Arnett lurked around the edges of the conversation, lobbing in grenades of lacerating wit whenever his mate paused. In the film its Galifianakis’ Joker who gets the best lines – ‘‘oh man, I had never got to play the villain before’’.
‘‘It’s fantastic,’’ he says – while Arnett’s preening and delusional Batman finishes up as the straightman, or at least the humourless and serious one, with every other character cracking gags around him. How do you make that funny? ‘‘You totally got it. The Bat is the only one on screen who isn’t funny.
‘‘And of course that makes him the funniest thing in it. I mean, there’s this guy who’s been living in a cave with a teenage boy since 1966. Every night, he dresses up as a rodent. He has absolutely no sense of humour, or awareness of how insane he is. And no one’s going to tell him because they’re all terrified of him. You don’t need jokes to make that s... funny. All you have to do is play it straight. And loud.
‘‘Everything’s funnier when it’s loud.’’ With that, a young woman, with a PA’s rictus smile and more teeth than it appeared her neck could support, stepped in and told us our time with the pair was up. Galifianakis and Arnett thanked us effusively for what was apparently ‘‘a great time’’ and left. Galifianakis paused to take another minute to expand on an answer he had given to one of my colleague’s questions.
He wanted to make sure he had answered her properly. Arnett meanwhile was off down the hallway. A full minute after he left the room, I can still hear him on my recording. Laughing. ❚ Advanced previews of The Lego Batman Movie (PG) are taking place in select cinemas this weekend before the film opens nationwide on April 6.
The Lego Batman Movie is set three years after the events of The Lego Movie.