The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part

Cast: (voiced by) Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish, Stephanie Beatriz, Charlie Day, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Maya Rudolph

Director: Mike Mitchell

Writers: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller


In all the years I’ve been going to the cinema, watching The LEGO Movie in 2014 is still one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. It’s not just that the film was so irresistibly funny, stupendously animated and surprisingly clever and moving, but also because I went in that day entirely convinced that I was going to detest every second of it. The very idea of it stunk to me of cheap corporate marketing tactics and I thought all I was going to get out of it was a 2-hour commercial. What I was totally unprepared for was what an astounding commercial it would turn out to be. It favoured a delightfully anarchic comedic style, it showcased dozens upon dozens of inventive and colourful sets and characters and it had a smart story to tell about the push-pull between going by the rules and individual creativity, all of which were given even greater weight with the revelation that this whole universe was born from the imagination of an eight-year-old boy. The inevitable obstacle facing this sequel is that it’s never going to astound me in the same way its predecessor did. Short of a complete reinvention of its whole ethos from the ground up, the humour is now going to feel familiar, the premise won’t be as fresh and, no matter what this sequel offers, its going to be encumbered by the burden of expectation.

Five years after the first film’s release, the second chapter cleverly realises that its original audience of young kids have now grown up to become pre-teens and so the film resolves to grow up with them. Picking up from the last film’s ending where Bricksburg is visited by Duplo invaders, the city has grown into a gritty, dystopian wasteland like something out of the Mad Max films that only adults and big kids are allowed to watch. Lucy (or Wyldstyle, as she prefers) feels right at hope in this desolate landscape, dressed up as a post-apocalyptic warrior and brooding all day long whilst contemplating their hopeless future and loss of humanity. One character who hasn’t lost a shred of his humanity though is Emmet, who continues to cheerfully go about his day humming the tune to ‘Everything is Awesome’ in an environment that’s anything but. Lucy presses onto him that Bricksburg (or Apocalypseburg as its now called) has grown too harsh and inhospitable for Emmet to survive with his upbeat disposition and one of the central conflicts of this film is whether he ought to (or even can) become tough and mean enough to be that kind of ‘hero’. Either way, Emmet must spring to action when the Duplos return once again and abduct Lucy, Batman, Benny the Astronaut, Metalbeard, and Unikitty, taking them back to their home in the dreaded SyStar System.

Given that those who have seen the first film already know about the real-world twist, there’s little point in dancing around the fact that the same device returns and is even more prominent this time around. The little boy Finn (Jadon Sand) is now five years older and his interests have moved on from the childish antics of the first film to the more gritty, angsty wasteland of Aposalypseburg. The SyStar System, meanwhile, is the bright, sparkly realm of Bianca (Brooklynn Prince), the little sister who wants nothing more than to play with her big brother. While he has a clear, controlled idea of what he wants his world to be, she favours more of an anything and everything approach, going with her whims and doing whatever it is that seems the most fun (sound familiar?). Thus it is soon made clear to us that the cosmic scale of Emmet’s quest to cross the galaxy and save his friends is in fact being driven by a spat between two siblings who can’t get along. Hanging over them throughout is threat of our-mom-ageddon, which will erupt should their conflict grow too out of hand. What’s smart about this revival of a previous device is how it expands on the conflict that shaped the first film rather than merely repeating it, even if the device is so pronounced this time around that it borders on distracting.

Back in the world of the imagination, Lucy and her captive friends are brought before Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi, a shape-shifting amalgamation of bricks and “the least evil queen in history” (words that describe her include unduplicitous, unmalicious and unconniving). She embodies the limitless and overwhelming energy of Bianca’s world and she entices the captured party (apart from Lucy) with promises of happiness and fulfilment. Her domain appears to be an idyllic one where nothing bad ever happens, much in the vein of the picturesque and musical world that Bricksburg used to be (complete with another irrepressibly catchy song appropriately titled ‘This Song’s Gonna Get Stuck Inside Your Head’). Meanwhile Emmet is doggedly on his way to rescue Lucy and co. and helping him is Rex Dangervest, a Chris Pratt-ish character who embodies the Kurt Russell sci-fi hero persona that Pratt has grown into in the five years since the first movie. He is a space cowboy who travels the galaxy on his spaceship searching for lost, ancient artefacts, training raptors and sporting chiselled, buff features where he once had baby fat (Rex Dangervest is even the exact kind of name that Andy Dwyer would invent for this kind of character). Realising that Rex is precisely the kind of guy Emmet feels like he needs to become in order to satisfy Lucy, he determines to follow his example and learn all he can from the badass hero.

Like many kids films this tells a story about growing up, but it offers a slightly different spin on the idea. Emmet’s arc in this film revolves around the idea that he needs to grow up in order to be a hero and the kind of man Lucy would want as a boyfriend. The film thus pairs him with Rex who is the personification of many of the tropes we associate with modern-day action movie heroes. Rex is less of a character than he is an archetype of the masculine ideal; one who is tough, confident (or maybe arrogant is the word), impulsive, aggressive and emotionally repressed. If he isn’t showing off his awesome lifestyle and heroic accomplishments, he’s brooding about his tragic backstory and how anybody who gets close to him is doomed to get hurt. While Emmet’s talents lie in hope and creation, Rex’s talents are all about power and destruction. This dynamic helps to inform the story taking place in the real world where Finn, a boy who has doubtless consumed much of the media celebrating such ultra masculine superheroes as those that Chris Pratt has portrayed, is playing with his LEGO more along the lines of what he now considers to be more grown-up and cooler, whereas his sister wants to play in a more light-hearted and carefree manner (along with the hearts, smiley faces and glitter that he now finds contemptible). The story is thus not so much about growing into maturity as it is about refuting a certain misguided idea of maturity that a lot of kids experience.

The film is also more self-aware than its predecessor, which is sometimes a good thing and sometimes bad. One example is when they rightly call the first film out for featuring Lucy as a strong female character who did all the work only for the hapless male to get the credit (a trope that is as common in movies today as it is tired), but if there was an attempt on this film’s part to give her more agency then it was never really brought to fruition. The self-awareness is ever present in the comedy as well, ranging from the portrayal of Rex Dangerfield as the epitome of all that is Chris Pratt to the knowing references and asides that only the adults will understand. Sometimes it gets a laugh and sometimes it feels like the movie is trying too hard to be cleverer than the already clever material delivered by the previous film’s directors Lord and Miller demands. Or maybe that has more to do with the challenges of making a comedy sequel when the audience is already in on the joke. In any case there is plenty to enjoy in The LEGO Movie 2. It has many worthwhile ideas on its mind, it boasts fantastic visuals with a greater wealth of detail than ever before, and it is consistently entertaining from beginning to end.

★★★★

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The Disaster Artist

Cast: James Franco, Dave Franco, Seth Rogen, Alison Brie, Ari Graynor, Josh Hutcherson, Jacki Weaver

Director: James Franco

Writers: Scott Neustadter, Michael H. Weber


The Room is one of those movies that really has to be seen to be believed. It is a movie that fundamentally does not work on any conceivable level, and yet it is so remarkably unique, mesmerising and endlessly rewatchable. It is one of the great cinematic paradoxes; The Room is a terrible film, but it is also great cinema. If you asked the greatest director in the world to make the worst movie of all time, they couldn’t get any closer to making this film than Gus Van Sant could get to making Psycho. Genius (or maybe ‘anti-genius’ in this case) is something that cannot be replicated, it can only be imitated. There is something there behind the shots and between the edits that cannot be faked, a sense of effort and sincerity that only comes across when the artist truly believes in what they are making. With The Disaster Artist, James Franco takes us behind the scenes to show us what was really going on beneath it all.

The movie follows Greg Sestero (Dave Franco), the author of the book the movie is based on, as a young actor in San Francisco. At one of his acting classes he meets Tommy Wiseau (James Franco), a strange-looking man with a weird accent who inspires Greg with his fearlessness. As soon as the two become friends, Tommy suggests that they move to Los Angeles to try and make it big. There Greg signs up with renowned talent agent Iris Burton (Sharon Stone) while Tommy gets turned down by everyone he approaches. Later he grows jealous of Greg as he enters a relationship with Amber (Alison Brie) and becomes more disheartened with every rejection. As Greg’s auditions start drying up, he reaches out to Tommy, who then decides to write, direct, produce, and star in his own movie. Thus he writes The Room, a drama in the vein of Tennessee Williams, and offers Greg a prominent part. Together they set about making this movie with the help of Sandy Schklair (Seth Rogen), the script supervisor, and Raphael Smadja (Paul Sceer), the cinematographer. As the chaotic production proceeds and unravels, only Tommy seems blind to the horrendous quality of the movie they’re making.

The obvious comparison here is Tim Burton’s Ed Wood, a movie that celebrates the director who made another movie often proclaimed as ‘the worst ever made’. And ‘celebrate’ really is the right word because what made Ed Wood a great movie was the way it admired Wood’s passion, sincerity and optimism, even as it understood that the movie he was making was rubbish. That same feeling of admiration is present in The Disaster Artist. There’s a scene where Tommy and Greg stand on the sight of James Dean’s fatal car crash and are inspired to follow his example and show the world what they can do, no matter the obstacles. That scene is there because the movie doesn’t want us to laugh at these two for making a crap movie, it wants us to identify with them and root for them to make the movie that, for better or worse, would make them both stars. Tommy may be the Disaster Artist, but he is also a dreamer and it is clear from watching this movie just how much James Franco admires that dream.

Tommy Wiseau with his unidentifiable accent, ambiguous age, and vampiric demeanour is very much an enigma to those who’ve seen him and his movie, and one of Franco’s successes is finding the human being within that enigma. He still allows us to laugh at Wiseau’s strangeness because, to put it simply, he is a very strange person. He insists that he’s from New Orleans despite not sounding like anything from planet Earth, he appears to be infinitely wealthy but cannot seem to explain where the money comes from, and he claims to be the same age as the twenty-something Greg even though, well, look at him! He’s also at the very least sexually ambiguous and the nature of his feelings towards Greg are never made very clear but are enough to raise some red flags with those around them (what with the way he keeps calling him ‘babyface’ and all). There’s also a monstrous side to Wiseau that comes out in his attempt to be the next Kubrick or Hitchcock which Franco showcases in one particularly revealing scene where Tommy mistreats his co-star Julliette Danielle (Ari Graynor). Yet, beneath all of that, Franco is able to find a vulnerable, insecure side to Tommy, someone who wants nothing more than to be admired and celebrated. It is a wonderful performance.

There is tragedy to The Disaster Artist, but from that tragedy comes laughter. The movie Wiseau made may not have been received the way he’d hoped and he may not be the enigmatic, inspired auteur he wanted to be, but through all the heartbreak and humiliation he made a movie that has brought endless joy to millions of people all over the world. To see just how much of a cult following The Room has gathered, look no further than the number of celebrities who join Franco in his celebration. This includes the likes of Kristen Bell, J.J. Abrams, Keegan-Michael Key, Adam Scott, and Kevin Smith, who all appear in the opening montage to discuss The Room and the impact it’s had, and also Bryan Cranston, Judd Apatow, Melanie Griffith, Hannibal Buress, and Bob Odenkirk, who all make cameos. It’s a movie which reminds us that there is inspiration to be found not only in the greatest successes but also in the greatest failures, and The Room might very well be the greatest failure in the history of cinema.

★★★★