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.