The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (2019)
They come in pieces.
No, that’s not the tagline for a gory slasher flick, but the latest LEGO movie! Could it actually be that half a decade’s passed since we were introduced to ‘Everything Is Awesome,’ the ridiculously catchy pop theme from The LEGO Movie (2014)? Groundbreaking in its animation and storytelling, The LEGO Movie was a pitch-perfect mix of zany fun and surprisingly mature observations, kick-starting a new cinematic universe (‘cause hey, gotta have interconnectivity these days, right?).
The films that followed in its wake were good — The LEGO Batman Movie (2017) — and then forgettable — The LEGO Ninjago Movie (2017) — all the while attempting to stick to the formula laid out by the terribly underappreciated duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who, in recent times, have unfortunately become more infamous for getting booted off Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018), than being praised for their consistently entertaining filmography.
An inevitable blessing and curse, the commercial and critical success of The LEGO Movie meant that a ‘second part’ was in the works from the moment the original proved to be such a triumph. With Lord and Miller backing away from directing duties, taking seats in the story and producing departments, it all rested on the shoulders of an intimidated Mike Mitchell, Trolls (2016), to deliver the goods on the follow-up. The last time Lord and Miller did this, it was for the sequel to one of my favorite animated films of the last decade, their insanely whacky Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009), and sadly, despite moments of inspiration, the sequel lacked the twosome’s magical touch for zesty pacing and comic timing.
The plot of this one picks up directly where the previous left off — things have been restored to their former glory in the LEGO city of Bricksburg when a few weird Duplo aliens appear. This is courtesy of what’s happening in the ‘real’ world, with young Bianca (Brooklynn Prince) coming to play with her older brother Finn (Jadon Sand), who was the narrative architect of sorts in The LEGO Movie. After wreaking all sorts of havoc upon the city and its townsfolk, the story cuts to five years later and our plastic heroes, including Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt), Lucy/ Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and Batman (Will Arnett), have reluctantly settled into a dystopian Mad Max-type of land known as ‘Apocalypseburg.’
Emmet, ever the optimist, believes things can only get better, despite being plagued by a nightmarish vision of ‘Armamageddon,’ in which the world literally breaks apart, sucking everyone and everything into a dark void. Tensions rise with the arrival of a mysterious helmeted outsider, General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz), who, at first, invites, then blatantly kidnaps a select few, whisking them away to meet the somewhat suspicious shape-shifting Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) of the Systar System. Determined to help his pals, Emmet builds a spaceship and blasts off into the unknown, encountering edgy badass Rex Dangervest (also Chris Pratt) and his loyal crew of intelligent raptors. With things upbeat, bright and full of bouncy music in the Systar System, Emmet and Lucy soon come to realize that not all is as it seems.
The LEGO Movie 2 finds an admirable way to further the adventures of Emmet and co. — it’s great that things don’t simply repeat themselves, and the narrative, once again, provides something of a mature commentary on familial harmony by its conclusion. Without Lord and Miller in the driver’s seat (proving that they have that secret special sauce), Mitchell’s pacing tends to lag, pulling a move straight out of the more irksome aspects of Shrek 2 (2004) — the film is decked out with multiple musical numbers. They aren’t necessarily bad songs in themselves, but they do feel largely like an excuse to pad out the running time and sell soundtracks, with the brain-washing loop ‘Catchy Song’ gleefully rubbing itself in the face of parents who’ll have to endure the drive home from the cinema with their kids yelling out loud, ‘This song is gonna get stuck inside yo’ heaaaadd!’ It’s this blatant approach that kinda crosses the line from entertaining to crass selling, sort of like the criticisms that were thrown at McDonald’s Happy Meals for so many years. I will say, though, much like that fast food staple, I can’t deny that The LEGO Movie 2 doesn’t have its bang for buck value — as a light and fluffy distraction, there’s still enough here to warrant a watch.
Scenes with tennis-loving raptors and baby-voiced love-heart bombs/ stars kept me in stitches, and a shot of LEGO-ed Dorothy and pals from 1939’s The Wizard of Oz skipping along with Emmet to ‘Catchy Song’ was a pure joy. In that regard, as a film designed to make you happy and forget about your worries for a couple of hours, it’s pretty darn successful, I just can’t say there’s sequences or new characters that stick out as much here, unlike the first outing — there was that unexpected Jekyll and Hyde thing goin’ on with Bad Cop/ Good Cop voiced by, of all people, Liam Neeson, Taken (2008), the then-hilarious rip into the ultra-seriousness of Batman, and the excellent reveal as to how the whole film actually makes real-world sense when you find out it’s constructed by a kid, playing with his father’s LEGO kits.
This latter aspect, the inner logic of the narrative, kinda gets stretched and ultimately broken in this one. It’s especially a shame when you realize that the solution to keeping it all intact could’ve been remarkably simple. Essentially, filmmakers could’ve ditched the whole sci-fi/ quantum mechanics angle (sure you’ll also have to toss away the references and jokes), replacing it with the reality that these LEGO characters are manufactured toys (with multiple copies), the characters seemingly unaware of this fact. Basically, the message and motivations behind the big moments and reveals would’ve remained, as would the narrative journey, while possibly even tightening some of the more sluggish parts. But hey, sci-fi jokes rule, right?
On the voice cast, it doesn’t feel like the key players ever left the studio, and that’s a plus, knowing that there’s still a solid consistency to the characters’ portrayals. Of the new additions, I was particularly fond of a droll Noel Fielding of cult comedy TV show The Mighty Boosh (2003-07) fame, contributing to a parody of Twilight’s Edward Cullen as day spa coordinator Balthazar. Just on that day spa sequence, a quick left-field cameo by Bruce Willis in typical John ‘Die Hard’ McClane gear was an outrageous highlight. A game Tiffany Haddish, Night School (2018), sounds like she’s having a gay old time playing her Queen as cute, yet slightly sinister. In a refreshing move for a populist mainstream animated film, the assembled talents don’t feel like they’ve been chosen for sheer star power as much as being the right fit for their respective roles. I really wish more animation productions would take a bit of inspiration from this.
Look, on first viewing, I felt I got enough from The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, but ended up surprising myself by going again and still having a good laugh. It didn’t improve the experience, but it didn’t lessen it either. It’s that middle ground that the movie hovers over. As one of the characters sings, perhaps in pre-emptive anticipation of any negative reactions to the film, ‘Everything’s not awesome/ But that doesn’t mean that it’s hopeless and bleak.’ And hey, at least this wasn’t the headache-inducing dud that was The LEGO Ninjago Movie. I think I’d rather build an actual LEGO set than destroy my brain cells with that one again.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Steve Ramsie