"...the film works-it simply doesn't work as well as it did the first time."

Everything is Slightly Above Average

(041919) Everything about 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.

Directed by:  Mike Mitchell
Written by: Screenplay by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller. From a story by Christopher Miller & Matthew Fogel
Starring the Voices Of:   Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett
Released:  020819
Length: 107 minutes
Rating:   Rated PG for mild action and rude humor

THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART  ©  2019 Warner Brothers Pictures Corporation

Review © 2019 Alternate Reality, Inc.