The Lego Movie 2 falls short of snapping together
Five years ago, The Lego Movie was my second favorite film of the year. Beyond being a self-aware deconstruction of the “Chosen One” trope, it also has the best twist since The Sixth Sense in the sense that it recontextualizes the entire film before your very eyes. It explains the hyperactive nature of the storytelling, the non-sequiturs, and the overall approach to the film’s “reality” when we find out that Emmet (Chris Pratt) and company are characters that are alive because of the imagination of a child.
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part picks up in realtime, five years after the first movie. The city from the previous film is now a “grim and gritty” Mad Max style post-apocalypse. The characters have faced wave after wave of invasion from the “Systar System” and have given up on rebuilding. Wyldstyle/Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) practices brooding and being hardcore. Everyone from Batman (Will Arnett) to Benny the Spaceman (Charlie Day) bemoans the cheerfulness of Emmet for not changing with the times. Emmet is also having visions of “our-mom-a-geddon” with a bunch of images he doesn’t understand. When General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) arrives to bring the most important Master Builders through the “stairgate” (out of the basement), Emmet is left behind. Trying to follow on his own, he is rescued by Rex Dangervest (also Chris Pratt), who is essentially a mashup of Chris Pratt’s characters from Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World. Emmet tries to learn how to be more hardcore and self-reliant at the urging of the spaceship-flying dinosaur-owning “cool guy.”
The first movie was told entirely from the perspective of a son (Jadon Sand) trying to connect with his father (Will Ferrell) through their mutual love of Lego bricks. This film’s story picks up from the Back to the Future-style joke cliffhanger and is working through the relationship between the son, Finn, and his sister Bianca (Brooklyn Prince). Because it doesn’t have the big reveal that the first film has, the hints and foreshadowing the film drops are obvious. If Finn and Bianca can’t learn to play together, or at least share their massive, upper middle class horde of plastic bricks, their mom (Maya Rudolph) will put them all away in storage, thus bringing about the “our-mom-a-geddon” of Emmet’s nightmare.
In the Lego world, Lucy and company meet Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi (Tiffany Hadish) a shapeshifter who is “totally not evil.” She gives them makeovers and reveals that they’ve been invited to the surprise wedding of the Queen and Batman. We learn that this is Bianca’s plan to unite her and her brother’s interest in Lego, while Emmet and Rex try to stop the wedding and bring everyone back to the basement.
All of this is clever and fun enough to sustain the story, though the film is much slower and covers less ground than the first film. Just by the nature of the story, the environments are not as varied, since it almost entirely takes place in the drab post-apocalypse or the colorful, clean-lined environments of Bianca’s designs. Both are interesting in their own way, but they lack the huge amount of visual details packed into the settings traversed in the first film. Combine this with less jokes, less interesting pop culture Lego cameos, and less surprises, and The Second Part simply feels less inspired than its predecessor.
There are some other problems, too. While the original film is nearly perfect, it does feature another hapless male hero who overshadows a more competent female character who actually deserves the prestige given to the male character. The sequel tries to be a corrective to this, but it falls far short of where it should. Writers Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Mike Mitchell was the third director on the project) address this head on in an early scene where Emmet is left behind because General Mayhem takes Lucy instead of Emmet. Sure, there are certainly more prominent female characters in that half of the film. And while we are supposedly watching a storyline patterned after Bianca’s playing, it still feels like a male take on how girls play rather than actually getting some of her actual perspective on things. Men either need to write better female characters (Eighth Grade) or bring more female voices into the creative process. While glitter, sparkles, cute things, stickers, and makeovers are all stereotypes of girls’ interests, they aren’t the inherent problem. All we know of Bianca is that she wants to play with her brother because she looks up to him and thinks he’s cool. We don’t get much in the way of why she likes the things she likes (there’s a lot of space-themed stuff around the room and I wish we got more insight into that).
At one point, Bianca says she acted the way she did, with overpowered “weapons” and unbeatable devices that break the “rules” of the Lego world because she was trying to do things in a way that she felt like her brother would actually hear her. Instead, it takes mom making good on her threat for him to take a step back and understand. Sure, maybe that is realistic, but it isn’t a very cinematic or emotional resolution to the story, and still tilt’s things in the brother’s favor.
This is also echoed in the Emmet/Rex storyline. Emmet, having been told that he needs to toughen up by Lucy, decides to imitate Rex, who is more confident and tough than the plucky construction worker. Eventually it is revealed that Rex is a version of Emmet from the future where he fell under the dryer and no one came to rescue him. Being alone, he becomes bitter and down on friendship. Unlike Emmet, he is not a Master Builder, but can punch anything, causing it to fall apart. This ultimately leads to Emmet destroying the wedding and causing the “our-mom-a-geddon.” You’d think that Emmet would learn the valuable lesson that being tough and overly masculine isn’t actually the way to get people to like you, that being true and confident about your own nature, even if you are a kind sweet guy is the right approach. Wrong. It is Lucy that needs to learn that she shouldn’t try to make Emmet something he’s not. So then Emmet just drops the macho thing and goes back to being himself. As commentary on Pratt’s career it works well, but it just feels wrong as a character arc for our main characters.
This review has become quite negative, if only because those aspects of the film take more to unpack than the simple joys of velociraptors making snide comments in a series of barks with subtitles. One aspect of the film that brought me untold amounts of joy was Pratt’s voice performance as Rex being a not-at-all-veiled Kurt Russell impression. Overall, I enjoyed the film a lot, even if my expectations based on the thoughtful (with one serious blindspot), charming, and endlessly rewatchable first film far outpaced what The Second Part ultimately delivers.
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part opens in Philly theaters today.