Remember way back when the original The Lego Movie was announced? People were skeptical! Phil Lord and Chris Miller did had some goodwill built up between Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street, but, mostly, people just assumed there’s no possible way a movie about LEGOs could be good.
Looking back, The Lego Movie just may have been a miracle – the perfect storm of everything and everyone coming together at the right time to make something glorious. I adore that movie. Now, it kind of feels like something that just can’t be recreated. And, yes, they’ve sure tried to recreate the magic (and The Lego Batman Movie is, at least, in the same ballpark) but it’s just not quite the same.
Here’s the best way I can sum up The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (directed by Mike Mitchell, assuming the directing duties from Lord and Miller): Think back to that skepticism before the first film was released. This second one kind of feels like the best case scenario of what we were all expecting back then: an overly highly sentimental movie that kids will like that features a lot of LEGO toys. Unfortunately, the magic that drove the first film just feels missing from this second installment.
Here’s an example. One of my favorite recurring jokes in the first movie was the Where are my Pants? guy. It was so ridiculous! But Emmett (Chris Pratt) thought it was just the most hilarious thing. Anyway, right from the start, the first movie hits us with a non-sequitur of a joke that made me laugh and made me think at the time, “Okay, this isn’t what I thought it was going to be.” There’s just nothing remotely like the guy missing his pants in the second movie. (Though, I did enjoy Aquaman yelling, “My man!”)
The Lego Movie ended with a pretty clever reveal: that all of the action was happening in the basement of an adult male LEGO lover (Will Ferrell) whose son was secretly playing with the toys. This is a great ending. And the movie ends with the father telling the son that his little sister, and her Duplo blocks, will get to play, too. In The Lego Movie 2, instead of a clever ending, now the whole movie is framed by what is happening in the real world house. And, for me, it just seems to take away from the magic of the whole thing. (We spend a surprising amount of time with real human beings in The Lego Movie 2.)
This sequel picks up right where the last one left off, with Emmett, Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett), and the rest facing off against the Duplo blocks. And since the Duplo blocks are, by design, both large and pretty indestructible, the Duplo force has no problem turning everything into some sort of Mad Max inspired hellscape. So right from the beginning, all of the ironically whimsical colors and background structures are gone and, instead, the characters are just hanging out in the desert. And since there’s no (LEGO) infrastructure, this limits the number of fun sight gags.
Another odd choice is the character of Rex Dangervest, also voiced by Pratt. Look, here’s the deal, your love of Rex will most likely determine your feelings on this movie as a whole since Rex is in this movie a lot. Rex is basically a 90-minute inside joke referencing Pratt’s own transformation from lovable schlub Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation (which is still how we knew Pratt best in early 2014), to the action movie star of the Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World movies. I can see why this choice would be appealing during the writing process, but an ongoing joke about an actor’s career got tired pretty quickly. This is the kind of thing that might be funny as a throwaway joke, but the basis of an entire movie seems … a lot. (There’s another, surprise, action star in this movie and that joke lasts about five seconds and the payoff is much, much better.)
The first The Lego Movie doesn’t get enough credit for its balance – and it’s balancing quite a bit! It has great characters, heart, sentiment, weird regular humor, weird LEGO humor, and a great story. Again, it’s kind of a miracle. The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part dials back the onslaught of eye candy and humor and dials up – way up! – the sentiment. To the point that, here I am watching a movie about LEGOs, and the whole thing felt a little preachy. During the first movie, I was watching a genuinely groundbreaking animated feature. This time, I was being lectured about why friendship is important.
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part isn’t a bad movie, by any means. It’s just when you compare it to the first, it’s pretty disappointing. (And this is where I considered making a dumb, cliché “everything isn’t awesome” joke to end this review, but decided against it because this movie legitimately bummed me out because I love the first film so much. Oh well, maybe next time.)
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