Scalding Hot Takes: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
With 2012’s 21 Jump Street and 2014’s The Lego Movie the filmmaking team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller had two massive stealth advantages: low expectations and the element of surprise. Nobody expected a late-in-the-game feature film adaptation of the half-forgotten 1980s undercover-in-high-school cop show 21 Jump Street to be much of anything, let alone a gleeful deconstruction of the buddy cop genre that wowed critics and audiences alike and spawned an even better, even better received sequel directed by Lord-Miller and cowritten by the brilliant Rodney Rothman, who also co-wrote Spider-Verse: Into the Spider-Verse and is an extraordinary talent in his own right.
Audiences and critics were similarly unenthused about the prospect of a high-concept, blindingly shiny animated film about the popular children’s building toy Legos. Yet The Lego Movie wasn’t just a critical and commercial success. It was closer to a goddamn pop culture phenomenon, a wildly influential blockbuster that brought Legos to the big screen in the biggest and best possible way. In the process Lord-Miller helped create an endlessly promising cinematic universe that includes spin-offs like The Lego Batman Movie, The Lego Ninjago Movie and the TV show Unitkitty.
Lord and Miller, who bounced back nicely from that whole Solo thing with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and now The Lego Movie 2, which they wrote and produced but did not direct, have fame and fortune. They’ve got one of the hottest, most consistent names and brands in pop culture.
What they do not have, anymore, however, are the element of surprise and novelty. We know them by this point. We know their aesthetic. We know their relentlessly post-modern, meta-textual sensibility. We know about the sneaky heart underneath all the cleverness. Our expectations for their work have been adjusted accordingly. We expect their movies to be hilarious and smart, snappily paced and unexpectedly moving in a fairly predictable sort of way. We don’t just expect quality and invention from these guys, we expect greatness.
We expect less from sequels as a rule. By definition they’re not as fresh, not as new, not as novel. The Lego Movie 2, by definition, cannot surprise us the way it predecessors did. But it can entertain us and it does.
It’s poetically apt that a movie franchise based on children’s toys you can take apart and reassemble any way you like would serve as a surprisingly sleek, effective exercise in satirical deconstruction. The Lego Movie 2 doubles down on the meta-textual aspects of the original. This is a movie that is continuously winking at the audience, deconstructing itself and its place in the pop culture pantheon.
This meta-textual element begins with the happy people of Bricksburg facing an assault of aliens who take the form of Duplos of adorable animals, stars and other uber-cute kiddie fodder beloved by toddlers and babies. These space invaders are so adorable you just want to pinch their digital cheeks yet they behave with the rampant, unapologetic destructiveness of the aliens in Mars Attacks.
The sequel’s plague of deadly cuteness takes the concept of the rampaging Stay Puft Marshmallow Man to its surreal extreme. In this shiningly bleak world, when the apocalypse arrives to take us all it’s as cute as a puppy, communicates in a high-pitched squeal and looks and sounds a whole lot like friends from your childhood.
The aliens, like the rest of us consumers/moviegoers, are attracted to shiny, blinding cuteness and catchy pop songs so, like the superhero genre, the Lego people take a sharp turn towards the gritty, revisionist and grim. We go from the goofy fun of a Lego world where everything is awesome to a grim, dark, apocalyptic world like Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Mad Max: Fury Road or Ready Player One.
The Lego Movie 2’s resemblance to Ready Player One just made me hate Steven Spielberg’s abomination even more, and I did not think that was possible. This suggests what Spielberg’s dreadful adaptation of Ernest Cline’s novel might have looked and felt like if it possessed genuine wit and understood and appreciated the pop culture icons at its disposal, and wasn’t exclusively concerned in jerking off fanboys in the most pandering, cynical possible way.
In this dark realm even Unikitty, a character combining the adorableness of a unicorn, a kitty and Alison Brie has been transformed into a powerful beast of pure, undiluted rage.
General Mayhem of the Duplo army touches down in Apocalypseberg, which in its its pre-apocalyptic state was known as Bricksburg to inform the populace that Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), a space deity with a perpetually shifting, morphing appearance, wants to marry Batman (Will Arnett).
To that end, the Duplos invaders kidnap Batman, Unikitty, Metalbeard, a pirate voiced by Nick Offerman, Lucy/Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and Benny, a 1980s-style spaceman voiced by Charlie Day to prepare for the forced nuptials. Emmett, meanwhile, joins forces with a dashing, mysterious figure named Rex Dangerverse, who looks and talks suspiciously like him.
When the then-universally beloved Christopher Pratt lent not only his voice but his man-child persona and seemingly pure spirit to the role of Emmett in The Lego Movie he had not yet catapulted to superstardom. Guardians of the Galaxy was still a few months away and Pratt would not become the boyishly handsome yet strangely uninspiring face of the wildly unnecessary Jurassic World until the following year.
When he made The Lego Movie Pratt was pretty much just the goofy dude from Parks & Recreation that everybody liked. Indeed, there’s a whole lot more of Parks & Recreation’s Andy Dwyer in Emmett than Star Lord or the dino-wrangler he played in Jurassic World.
Having Pratt voice a second character affords him a nice opportunity to engage in self-parody, to comment slyly on his unlikely movie superstardom. If nothing else, having command of a ship full of heavily armed, highly evolved, extremely intelligent dinosaurs (a whole team of clever girls, as it were) finally gives us the assault rifle-wielding prehistoric monsters the sadists behind the Jurassic Park and World movies have cruelly denied us.
The character Rex Dangervest gets less charming as the film proceeds, particularly following a third-act reveal that exposes him as a dreary stock character: the cool dude who sweeps in to save the day before being unmasked as a creep.
The Lego Movie 2 gets the tiny little details right. It’s so plugged into the cultural zeitgeist that at times it feels like an inside joke the whole world shares. For example, there’s really only one thing me and my fellow smart-asses want out of Jason Momoa as Lego Aquaman here: for him to reprise his semi-ironic catch-phrase of “My man!” from Justice League. What is pretty much the first, only thing Aquaman says here? That’s right, it’s “My man!”
The Lego Movie 2 is never more joyous, energetic or deconstructionist than during its intermittent musical numbers. Tiffany Haddish, who you might remember from every movie made over the past two years sings “Not Evil”, a wonderful ditty about how non-evil she is that makes her seem incredibly, incontrovertibly evil. A clamorous ditty entitled “Catchy Song”, meanwhile, more than lives up to a chorus insisting, accurately, “This song is gonna get stuck in your head.”
Most delightfully of all, The Lego Movie 2 brings back the simpatico comic geniuses in Lonely Island to rap about the glory of end credits over the end credits with such characteristic wit and irreverence that it’ll have home-viewers fast-forwarding past the end of the movie.
The Lego Movie 2 groans a bit towards the end. Live-action sequences in a Lego Movie are no longer a surprise and the non-animated segments of Part 2 have a sharply different tone than the rest of the film and are paced much more sluggishly.
The world of the Lego movies is a world of infinite possibilities and bottomless potential. But by the end of The Lego Movie 2, it begins to feel a like this particularly busy section of the pop culture universe is starting to show a little wear. It’s not exhausted, or even tired by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s not quite as fresh as it once was.
Lord-Miller’s Felix the Cat-level bag of tricks still work, and work spectacularly well here even though we’ve seen them all before. I laughed like a madman from start to finish although if you were to tell me that Lord-Miller are secretly big Ayn Rand acolytes and that their movies are filled with Objectivists messages I’d probably believe you.
Like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the second wildly entertaining Lego movie is exhausting and overwhelming in the best possible sense. It’s so dense comedically and thematically that you can watch it over and over and over and over again, on a compulsive loop, as children around the world will undoubtedly do the moment it hits home video, and get something new and wonderful out of the experience every time.
I could further pick apart Lego’s cinematic universe but I’d rather appreciate it for what it is: a goddamn marvel of our modern world, an eminently re-watchable delight for children and parents alike.
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