Directed By: Mike Mitchell
Release Date: February 8, 2019
Starring: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish, Stephanie Beatriz
Let me get this out of the way: 2014's The LEGO Movie had no right being as good as it was. What could've easily been – and seemed to be – nothing more than a hollow, two-hour advertisement for everyone's favorite building blocks turned out to be a surprisingly entertaining film, one with wit for days and an abundance of heart tucked away underneath its colorful veneer. Though it was followed in 2017 by two spin-offs, The LEGO Batman Movie (which I loved) and The LEGO Ninjago Movie (which I skipped), it's taken five years for the film to get a proper follow-up in The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part.
Picking up where the first film left off, the citizens of Bricksburg witness the arrival of Duplo aliens that set to work destroying the city before the film skips ahead five years. Time hasn’t been kind to Bricksburg, which has been reduced to a wasteland rebranded as Apocalypseburg, where characters like Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) and Batman (Will Arnett) have adapted and fit in to a post-apocalyptic lifestyle where violence and pessimistic brooding has become part of the day-to-day culture. As for Emmet (Chris Pratt), however, everything is still awesome, the upbeat hero carrying around the belief that things can only get better if everyone – ahem – works together, though he's haunted by premonitions of a mysterious, world-ending event called Our-Mom-Ageddon.
In time, a visitor arrives in Apocalypseburg named General Sweet Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz), sent on behalf of Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) of the far-flung Systar System, who intends to marry Batman, with Mayhem kidnapping him, Lucy, Benny (Charlie Day), Unikitty (Alison Brie), and MetalBeard (Nick Offerman). As the group is taken to the Queen, Emmet – left behind and rudderless for not feeling tough enough to stop anything from happening – sets off in pursuit of his friends, teaming up with the space-faring adventurer Rex Dangervest (also voiced by Chris Pratt) along the way, only to discover new truths about himself and what Our-Mom-Ageddon truly is.
Of course, the real world introduced at the end of the first film ties heavily into the events of this sequel, with the relationship between Finn (Jadon Sand) and his younger sister Bianca (Brooklynn Prince) forming the backbone of the conflict the LEGO characters experience. The sequel has a lot to say about the brother/sister dynamic, both in how age and gender differences create a dividing line between the two, and explores themes of growing up, which is something that makes the film resonate even if it treads some familiar ground already explored by the first film.
Unfortunately, that familiarity leaks too heavily into the film as a whole to the point that it simply feels like more of the same rather than something new and fresh, which sucks a lot of the wind out of the film's sails. The film admittedly tries to mix things up by including a handful of musical numbers, for instance, and the tonal clashing of Finn's and Bianca's worlds of imagination provides for a number of clever moments and jokes, but there's a constant, nagging sense that the film is held back by the very ties that bind it to its predecessor.
Characters like Benny and MetalBeard feel like they're here simply because they were in the first film without serving a real purpose this time around, and even Batman's growth and self-discovery from The LEGO Batman Movie is done away with in order to reset him back to how he was in the first film, something that's lampshaded by a throwaway exchange that's admittedly self-aware but ultimately unfortunate. Emmet and Lucy, our two major players, get the most development in the sequel, but even that feels like a cyclical experience; the lessons they learn and the progression they undergo leaves them in a place that isn’t a radical shift from where we left them back in 2014, which only serves to make the whole thing feel a bit redundant.
Even further, whereas the first film's humor felt finely tuned and sharp as a razor, this time out it feels less refined and woefully blunt. That's not to say there aren't many genuine laughs here, because there are, whether it's in the meta humor, the various cameos, or how childish the Duplo toys are (something that consistently kept me laughing throughout). But there's just something off here, particularly in the film's middle act, that leads to some jokes getting beaten into the ground to the point of exhaustion, such as those revolving around the velociraptors that make up Rex's crew or a banana character who is constantly attempting to avoid slipping on his own peel.
All this is to say that The LEGO Movie 2 often tends to feel like a sequel running on the fumes of good will still left by its predecessor, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, though that leads to a sensation that everyone involved reached a point in production where they said, “That’s good enough,” rather than pushing hard to prove themselves like they did in 2014. Despite that, as I said before, there's still a lot to enjoy here. The performances are still entertaining, more jokes land than not, it's a visual treat, and it still packs enough heart and charm to get by, something that the "Everything's Not Awesome" song proved for me near the end of the film. No matter how you slice it, though, it's an underwhelming follow-up to a superior first film that exceeded all sorts of expectations simply because it's just more of the same.
If that’s all you want out of it, it likely won't disappoint, as it hasn’t run out of palpable charm just yet, but if you expected a subversive sequel that could clear the high bar set in 2014, this really isn't it. I certainly enjoyed it, but I had higher hopes for it, which meant I left the theater sorely underwhelmed in a way I didn't expect. That good will it rides high on can only take it so far, and if this franchise hopes to continue on, something needs to change moving forward, even if it means leaving many of these characters behind, lest it devolves into the very sort of box-ticking cash-in everyone expected the first film to be five years ago.
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