The LEGO Movie was such a pleasant and mostly unexpected
surprise, and now we've had a direct spin-off, featuring everyone's favorite
plastic Caped Crusader, to it and an unrelated installment featuring ninjas. For
the most part, the surprise is gone, because we pretty much know what to expect
from a movie in this franchise by now: pristine computer animation that
replicates the look and feel of the popular building-block toys, some clever
action, a near-constant assault of random humor, and a story that ultimately
tugs at the heartstrings.
All of those touchstones are present in The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (an
amusingly redundant title), and with its dedication to that innocently anarchic
spirit, the film works. It simply doesn't work as well as it did the first time.
The film may lack a sense of genuine surprise, but it almost makes up for that
deficit with a very different sense of imagination. If the first film was your
typical fantasy adventure, bolstered and subverted by a wide array of locations
and wacky characters and satirical jabs at consumerist culture, then the sequel
is a rollicking science-fiction adventure, bolstered but not quite subverted by
fewer and more generic locales, a couple of new characters who are fine but make
us miss the old ones, and a real-world story that's even more affecting than the
one in the original. It's fun and quite funny, but it never rises to the level
of the transcendently silly free-for-all that was the first film.
The story begins immediately at the end of the original, with the metropolis of
Bricksburg overrun by child-friendly aliens from another world. Our dopily
intrepid hero Emmet (voice of Chris Pratt) tries to make peace with the
visitors, but it's all for naught.
Five years later, Bricksburg has become Apocalypseburg—a wasteland of decimated
buildings and a sprawling desert. All of the characters have adapted to their
new surroundings. Lucy (voice of Elizabeth Banks), formerly known as Wyldstyle,
has taken to brooding soliloquizing. Having completed his stand-alone adventure,
Batman (voice of Will Arnett) has become a warlord-like leader in a cavernous
fortress. Unikitty (voice of Alison Brie) can now transform into Ultrakatty, a
larger, flame-colored, and more feral version of herself. Only Emmet has
remained the same, always looking on the bright side of post-apocalyptic life.
General Mayhem (voice of Stephanie Beatriz), an emissary for the aliens, arrives
to invite—by force—a select few to the upcoming nuptials of her leader Queen
Watevra Wa'Nabi (voice of Tiffany Haddish), a shape- shifting collection of bricks
whose protests of not being evil seem like a red flag. The general takes Lucy,
Batman, Unikitty, the pirate MetalBeard (voice Nick Offerman), and spaceman
Benny (voice of Charlie Day) with her to the queen.
Emmet, trying to prove that he can be the tough-hero type, sets off to rescue
his pals. Along the way, the vaguely familiar Rex Dangervest (also voiced by
Pratt), whose résumé includes archeology and velociraptor training (as well as,
in an affable jab at the vocal actor, uncovering chiseled features previously
hidden under "baby fat"), offers to help the hapless but good-natured hero.
There is, unexpectedly, a lot going on in terms of the plot, which switches
between Emmet, along with his new best friend/alter ego, as they plan to rescue
Emmet's friends from the queen and Lucy, who's forced to confront the reality
that her real heroism has been overlooked by a mostly incompetent man who was
called "the Special," despite having no obviously special skills. She has her
own plan to save her friends (who are, sadly, reduced to background players
after their initial introductions—save for Batman, who's tricked into marriage
using reverse psychology) from the queen's song-and-dance numbers and
mind-control by way of hypnotizing pop music (The sequel tries to outdo the
earworm of a song from its predecessor, with a ditty that repeats "This song's
gonna get stuck in your head," and it kind of does).
The jokes, naturally, are constant and range from pop-culture references (They
aren't all based around kids recognizing their favorite fictional characters,
either, since the entire world of the apocalypse is inspired by a film series of
maximum madness), to meta-humor about those references (The figurines think
their salvation could come from a different lineup of superheroes, but the
company won't return their calls), to general silliness, and to the confusing
nature of time travel. Something, though, is slightly off in the balance between
the story and the jokes in Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's screenplay (The
duo, who also wrote and directed the original, pass the directorial baton to
Mike Mitchell). Around the second act, when the sci-fi premise and locations
seem to have run out of imaginative energy, the story takes over, and the gags
feel like a secondary concern.
Taking this tale seriously might seem antithetical to the spirit of this series,
but admittedly, it does pay off in the end. Those who recall the first film will
know that the aliens are the playthings of a little sister in the real world,
and the sequel's third-act live-action scenes, which detail the longing for
inclusion beneath a sibling rivalry, are especially touching. As for the
play-world, Rex's true identity reveals something quite potent about the cliché
of the macho action hero, who seems to be saving others but is only working to
serve himself and his poisonous psychological needs.
The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part is a fine follow-up, although it's not quite
as invested in the absurdist spirit of its superior original.