Written By: Daniel Kinsley
When The LEGO Movie (2014) was announced, it was met with a good deal of deserved cynicism. Hollywood loves a good recognizable IP, and surely the machine would not be slowed by such things like the LEGO brand lacking any clear narrative. When Phil Lord and Chris Miller came onboard to write and direct the film, however, it was a signal that it might be more than a two-hour toy commercial. After all, these are the same guys who have made their career turning terrible ideas into incredible films (see also: Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs , 21 Jump Street ). When LEGO premiered, it was a massive critical and financial success managing to spawn two LEGO-universe films; The LEGO Batman Movie (2017) * and The LEGO Ninjago Movie (2017). ** The original LEGO Movie remains a flat-out masterpiece; it is weird, and hilarious, and manages to be wildly subversive while maintaining total sincerity. It sits comfortably beside the great achievements in animated filmmaking, joining the likes of the Toy Story franchise. If the original film was a strong showcase for why kids films not made by Pixar *** can also be genuine adult entertainment, then Part 2 is evidence at just how difficult that achievement really is.
The film opens just moments after the ending of the original, with the arrival of Duplo aliens. For those who have yet to see the first film, spoiler alert, if you believe in that sort of thing (Fran weeps at this tag): it is revealed that everything in the film has come from the imagination of a young boy playing with his father’s carefully constructed (and glued together) LEGO sets. By the end, the father (Will Ferrell) has relented and allowed the boy to play with the toys–with a caveat–his sister is now allowed to play, too. Predictably, the siblings do not play well together, leaving Bricksburg in a sort of apocalyptic state that resembles LEGO Fury Road. The set-piece is a good deal of fun, even though the film chooses not to mine a whole lot from it beyond the set-up. Wyldstyle AKA Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) delivers some broody narration of a world-gone-by where everyone is hardened, except for Emmet (Chris Pratt) who is still lovably unfazed by his new circumstances. The arrival of a new alien force, led by General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) leads to Lucy and the gang (save for Emmet, deemed too weak and unimportant) to be kidnapped. They are taken to the Sistar System where they meet Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) who insists that she is not evil, and wants to marry Batman (Will Arnett) in order to prevent Ar-Mamageddon.
The live-action elements were a surprise the first time around; knowing that it is in play this time around makes the conflict a bit rote and predictable. While the film does not get to be quite as surprising, Lord and Miller (who returned for scripting duties) do an admirable job of pivoting in a different direction, even if they are not quite able to capture the same lightning as before. It is not quite a full-blooded musical this time around, but there are certainly more song breaks (none of which approach the simple charm of “Everything is Awesome”). “Catchy Song” (This song’s gonna get stuck in your head) in particular feels more cynical and pandering than clever. The recurring characters are still very funny, even though many of them are given a lot less to do. While Liam Neeson (Good Cop/Bad Cop) and Morgan Freeman (Vitruvius) do not return at all, favorites like Unikitty (Alison Brie), Metalbeard (Nick Offerman), and Benny (Charlie Day) are sidelined far more than they ought to be, and even Lucy is given a far less vital arc. There are a number of hilarious cameos from Velma (of Scooby Doo), Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and a recurring gag involving a famous action star that is so good that it will not be spoiled here (see below if you really want to know). **** The best new addition, however, is Rex Dangervest (also Chris Pratt, doing his very best Kurt Russell-as-Jack Burton impression) who acts as both a way to poke fun at Pratt’s new action persona (his achievements include “Raptor Trainer”) and a comment on the way toxic masculinity is bred.
Thematically, Part 2 is very much in line with the first film, as it promotes a heartfelt message about togetherness, and creativity. Unfortunately, the message feels a bit lost in the shuffle, as the film spends far too much time in the (less-interesting) live-action world, which also leads to a third act which plays fast-and-loose with the rules of its own universe. Too often, the film goes for the easy gag, which will certainly not be any less enjoyable for the kids in the audience, but it feels like a step down from the whip-smart humor in the original film. If some of this sounds a bit harsh toward a movie made primarily for children, it is only because they set such a high bar the first time. If The Second Part fails to reach the same dizzying heights of lunacy and creativity as the first, it is a perfectly fine sequel. Ultimately, it will still be more than enough to entertain the kids in the audience, and there are certainly far worse ways to spend your time.
* One of the best onscreen representations of Batman, full stop. No shit.
** Still pretty funny, but undoubtedly looks more like a toy commercial syndrome.
*** The How To Train Your Dragon franchise would like a word.
**** SPOILER: It is LEGO Bruce Willis, voiced by the man himself. A welcome delight, especially if you thought he might have lost his sense of humor after all these years.