The Lego Movie was one of 2014’s biggest surprises. Sure, I didn’t expect much from Guardians of the Galaxy (I was wrong), and I thought Interstellar was going to be Christopher Nolan’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (I was again wrong), but I could have never guessed that a crass commercialized product centered around the mainstay of most childhoods would somehow produce one of the smartest and most fun comedic animated adventures I’d seen in many a year – even frankly outdoing Pixar at their own game to a degree. While the Jump Street movies are great fun, it was The Lego Movie that really cemented Chris Miller and Phil Lord as purveyors of expertly crafted popcorn thrills.
It even ended on a brilliant little hook, with “The Man Upstairs” gifting his Lego collection to his son Finn, who now also has to share them with his sister Fiona. And the sudden appearance of “Duplo aliens” gave me a fondly remembered mirthless chuckle. A sequel seemed like a sure-fire proposition. Would that it were so simple.
The wonderfully titled The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part literally picks right back up from that moment, with Emmet (Chris Pratt) and Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) fending off an attack from these invaders who cause immense amounts of destruction to their fair city. They’re eventually able to repel them, but as Finn has to continually share these toys with Fiona, more and more alien attacks continue to promulgate – even causing the Justice League to be sent off into space to their home world, only to never return. Fast-forward to Five Years Later (Long live the Legion!), and the cast is living in a Mad Max-style hellscape, under the watchful defense of Batman (Will Arnett) and Lucy; who now stares in the distance and monologues quite dramatically in her best Max Rockatansky take. All the while, Emmet just wants to live a normal life, even building a new home for he and Lucy. But no, in comes another alien attack, this time in the form of General Sweet Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) who then scoops up a number of leading cast members to take back to her queen (Tiffany Haddish).
And that leaves Emmet, all alone, on a mission to get his friends back. And maybe stop these attacks once and for all.
At it’s core, this sequel is chartered by a very good idea: kids having to share toys with their siblings and how that impacts the “imaginary narrative” that would be otherwise built in isolation. And there’s all kind of cute little jokes like the Systar System, and how Fiona’s imagination molds the character’s personalities and appearances when they wind up in settings that she has created. It’s a concept worthy of something out of Toy Story, and when it’s all tied up in a bow by the film’s end, that comparison really comes to the fore along with the fact that it’s built around a nicely touching message about the benefit of sharing and how much fun you can have if you play together. A missive tailor-made for your kids.
But unlike its prequel, The Lego Movie 2 is also a bit strained, missing a lot of the humorous verve that drove the original feature as a must-see family film that parents wouldn’t want to sleep through. Lord and Miller did not elect to come back to direct, but they did write the script for this one, but honestly when I discovered that fact I was shocked. So much of this film is a slog to get through, and rather than the uproarious moments that I’m used to from scripts that they develop, the laughs were all too few and far between. Events, sadly, take a turn for the especially sluggish when our heroes arrive at the home planet of Queen Watevra Wanabi and we’re forced to endure a dead on arrival wedding subplot and one too many song and dance numbers. For every moment of the film that I found myself admiring, it felt like an oasis within the somewhat arduous task of treking through flat jokes and increasingly grating storytelling. I never truly hated what I was watching, it’s all too expertly made for that, but I started to understand why these things are so easy to tune out until the next point of interest arrives.
It’s not all an exercise in tedium. There’s an amazing recurring cameo that I refuse to spoil, and Pratt gets to do double-duty in this one, playing a new character called Rex Dangervest. The conceit here is that he’s basically an amalgamation of all the action heroes that Pratt has played (and even has been rumored to play) while also doing a pretty good Kurt Russell impersonation. He’s pretty grand and adds a nice spark of excitement even when all the other standouts from the previous outing are basically neutered. If you’re looking for much Metalbeard, Unikitty, or Benny the Spaceman, you’ll probably come away let down. Which was my final takeaway really; this Second Part is actively pretty brilliant when you’re describing it in the macro-view, and its final 20-30 minutes are truly very good with a delicious character turn and a tender close-out. Lord and Miller definitely had a skeleton to work with, but the connective tissue is just far too wobbly.
This time around, everything is just okay.