• Sun. Apr 14th, 2024

Movie Curiosities

The online diary of an aspiring movie nerd

The Lego Movie kicked ass. That’s a settled and established statement of fact at this point. It should never have worked, and yet against all odds, filmmakers delivered a funny and endlessly creative romp that beautifully dovetailed the Lego toys with heartfelt themes about creativity and conformity. Not since Disneyland has such a brazenly and nakedly commercial enterprise inspired such childlike joy that only the most jaded and black-hearted codger would call foul and refuse to suspend disbelief.

Many have tried to replicate the same critical and box office success (The Emoji Movie, anyone?), but none succeeded. And I’m including the other Lego movies themselves in that assessment. Sure, The Lego Batman Movie was pretty good, but nowhere near as good as the movie that spawned it. Then The Lego Ninjago Movie happened, and nobody cared.

Then again, maybe there’s a perceived lack of inertia because of how long it takes to produce these movies. Can you believe the first Lego Movie was five freaking years ago?

With all of that in mind, I was skeptical about The Lego Movie 2. Especially since Phil Lord and Chris Miller — while staying on as writers and exec- producers — would be yielding the director’s chair to Mike Mitchell of Trolls, admittedly the movie that’s probably come closest to replicating the first Lego Movie’s success. But with so many years of baggage and so many failed attempts at tapping the same well, could the sequel possibly be any good?

Well… yeah. I mean, it’s not perfect, but it’s definitely good.

The sequel starts more or less right where the first movie left off, as Finn (the boy whose imagination fueled the events of the previous film, now played by Jadon Sand) is forced to share his toys with his younger sister (Bianca, played by Brooklynn Prince). Thus the newly-rescued city of Bricksburg is menaced by the Duplo creations of a preschool girl. As the prologue unfolds, we learn that these Duplo creatures are invading aliens from the Sis-Tar system who promptly cannibalize anything bright and colorful.

Five years later, the city has collapsed into Apocalypseburg, a brown and gritty edgelord dystopia — imagine a Mad Max film written as a Frank Miller parody and you’d be getting close. Everyone is laughably serious about their brooding, made even more funny in contrast against the relentlessly chipper Emmett (Chris Pratt once again). Meanwhile, the invading Sis-Tar forces attack with glittery lasers, weaponized stickers, bright pink hearts that smile before they blow up, sugary brain-melting synth-pop songs, and so on.

(Side note: What we’ve got here is bright and colorful imagery, twisted into sinister weapons. I kept expecting Batman [once again a major player voiced by Will Arnett] to comment on this — it’s the Joker’s whole schtick!)

Obviously, this is a representation of the conflict between the big brother and the little sister, but there’s a lot more going on here. For one thing, the brother’s side is represented by the kind of tough and gritty, totally humorless, egocentric and uber-masculine machismo bullshit that could only seem grown-up to a hormonal preteen boy with no idea of what being a grown-up is really like. Then we have the sister’s side, aggressively bright and childlike, loaded with bright colors and glitter in a way that’s hopelessly naive and stereotypically “girly”.

Both are misguided and juvenile in their own way, and the whole movie is about learning to find a balance between the two. In turn, this means that the older brother and his younger sister have to learn how to play together — no easy lesson, as anyone who’s ever been that age can attest.

Moreover, it bears constant reminding that the previous film only had one primary world-builder while this movie has two. Throughout the entire running time, we’re watching the main characters flip-flop back and forth between the settings and sensibilities of these two siblings. Sure, it wreaks havoc with a few development arcs, but it’s unpredictable in a way that heightens the stakes and keeps us guessing as to what’s really going on.

The first movie succeeded in large part because it told two different stories — one about the Lego toys and one about the humans controlling them — while also exploring so many sincere and heartfelt themes, bringing them all together into a perfectly cohesive whole with a single major twist. I honestly didn’t think the filmmakers could do that a second time, but they did it. Even knowing what I did going in, the filmmakers crammed in some devilishly clever misdirections, with setups and payoffs that were masterfully crafted.

Of course it helps that the movie is funny as hell. As before, the movie is loaded with too many sight gags and voiceover cameos to count. The jokes fly by so quickly that any duds are here and gone in a flash. The filmmakers even found a way (finally!) to make a joke about stepping barefoot onto Lego bricks left on the floor.

Then we have the characters. Liam Neeson didn’t come back, though his character from the previous film is obligingly given a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo. President Business is quite pointedly absent through pretty much all of the movie, though Will Ferrell recorded enough voice-over lines to be a kind of offscreen presence. I won’t even bother listing all the cameo players here, except to say that a great many of them are returning guests from the previous film and I got a kick out of hearing Jason Momoa reprise Aquaman.

As for the prominent returning players; I’m happy to report that Alison Brie, Charlie Day, Will Arnett, and Nick Offerman are all in peak comedic form. Chris Pratt seems to be having an especially great time, playing two characters that openly parody his “The Office” tenure and his post-“Office” Hollywood career. Elizabeth Banks very nicely gets to expand the character of Wyldstyle, with acknowledgment given to her awkward status as the hero who does all the work while Emmett is given all the credit.

On the Sis-Tar side, Tiffany Haddish turns in a delightful performance as the shapeshifting Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi, and Stephanie Beatriz is none too shabby as the loyal General Mayhem. We’ve also got Richard Ayoade, always a welcome comedic presence, here playing the dour major domo to the queen.

So, the movie is funny and colorful, superbly acted, moving and creative and gut-punching in a way that made the previous film so successful. So are there any nitpicks? You better believe it!

First off, there’s Maya Rudolph. I don’t dare say too much about her for fear of spoilers, but suffice to say that I was disappointed with her performance here. I don’t know if it was the script, her brief running time, or her lack of worthy screen partners, but Rudolph is so clearly putting in a ton of effort for something that isn’t landing quite so well as it should.

Likewise, while Tiffany Haddish is a fantastic performer and she’s doing her best to sell the musical numbers, the fact remains that all of these songs are terribly mediocre. The filmmakers are obviously trying to recapture the magic of “Everything is AWESOME!!!” and it’s simply not happening. The song and the catchphrase have overstayed their welcome, and none of the new songs are anywhere near as effective. (One song is literally called “The Song That Will Get Stuck Inside Your Head”, for fuck’s sake.)

Plus, they brought back The Lonely Island for the end credits song, and I’ve given up all hope of ever liking a song by The Lonely Island. They’re just not for me. I’m much more fond of Tegan and Sara, who (so far as I can tell) had nothing to do with the soundtrack for this movie. The filmmakers were so desperate to recapture that Oscar-nominated lightning in a bottle that they brought back The Lonely Island, but not Tegan and Sara?! The mind reels.

Batman’s development arc was better in theory than in execution. There’s a time travel element that probably could’ve been cut. The plot occasionally gets so convoluted that one character has to literally pull a deus ex machina out of his pocket — not once, but twice! — to make sure everything is explained and resolved within the brief runtime. But these are just minor nitpicks.

By far the bigger problem here is that this movie was always destined to fall short of the prequel. I know that’s a common (some might say universal) problem with sequels, but it’s especially prominent for a franchise that’s made creativity such a central cornerstone. No matter how great this movie is, it never could’ve been as surprising, successful, or innovative as the brilliant film that took the world by storm with a title and premise so transparently stupid as The Lego Movie.

Then again, I did start this review by speculating on the remote possibility of this second movie being anywhere near as good as the first after so many years, so there’s that.

Overall, I had a blast with The Lego Movie 2. It’s funny, creative, moving, intelligent, well-acted, beautifully animated, and the plot twists are wickedly clever. Basically, everything great about the first movie is still great here. Assuming you can stomach another two hours of “Everything is AWESOME!!!” after five years of listening to it.

Definitely give this one a try.

By Curiosity Inc.

I hold a B.S. in Bioinformatics, the only one from Pacific University's Class of '09. I was the stage-hand-in-chief of my high school drama department and I'm a bass drummer for the Last Regiment of Syncopated Drummers. I dabble in video games and I'm still pretty good at DDR. My primary hobby is going online for upcoming movie news. I am a movie buff, a movie nerd, whatever you want to call it. Comic books are another hobby, but I'm not talking about Superman or Spider-Man or those books that number in the triple-digits. I'm talking about Watchmen, Preacher, Sandman, etc. Self-contained, dramatic, intellectual stories that couldn't be accomplished in any other medium. I'm a proud son of Oregon, born and raised here. I've been just about everywhere in North and Central America and I love it right here.

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