The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part dutifully recaptures the heart of its predecessor, for better or worse

Warner Bros.

Warner Bros.

The phrase “surprise hit” isn’t one that holistically applies to 2014’s The Lego Movie, but there is an element of truth to that definition. While it wasn’t surprising in the slightest that a film based on the world’s most beloved toy brand would be a box office smash, audiences and critics were taken aback by the film’s heart and intelligence. The emphasis on creativity that surrounds the LEGO brand not only allowed animation wunderkinds Phil Lord and Chris Miller (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs) to run away with their imaginations visually; it let them lampoon the current state of filmmaking, particularly family films, raising valid criticisms of the genre with smart comedy that didn’t punch down or wander into predictable territory. It pre-dated Deadpool in the sort of meta-humor that would become an industry standard with a heart that this sort of humor is now sorely missing, and that heart is what made the film (and its even better spin-off, The Lego Batman Movie) so infectious.

If that sweet soul is what drew you to the first Lego Movie, you’ll be happy to find it’s still comfortably intact with The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, a direct follow-up to the original which sees Lord and Miller returning as screenwriters while handing over directing duties to Mike Mitchell (Trolls). The film is a pure sequel in that it feels completely dedicated to to upholding the tenets of its predecessor, moving the original’s themes and meta-narrative into new territory without steering too off course. That turns out to be both a blessing and curse, as the continuing elements feel as strong as ever while the attempts to bring something fresh to the plot don’t land as effectively as they could have.

Thematically, the film is guiding this little Legoverse and the humans that control it into a natural next step: with the corporate perfectionism of Will Farrell’s Dad/Lord Business vanquished by his son Finn and his favorite Lego character Emmett (Chris Pratt, Avengers: Infinity War), the new conflict focuses on the tension between Finn’s Legoworld and that of his younger sister Bianca (The Florida Project stand out Brooklyn Prince). The classic tale of brother-sister annoyance is turned here into unbridled chaos as a war brews between Finn’s teen boy angst wasteland and Bianca’s colorful world of (jokingly creepy) whimsy, allowing Lord and Miller to evolve their messages of learning to share and let yourself go creatively scale down to the sibling rivalry level.

Chris Pratt’s new character, Rex. | Warner Bros.

Chris Pratt’s new character, Rex. | Warner Bros.

On some levels, it works. It allows Pratt, who continues his fine voice work here, to poke fun at his own career as he plays not only Emmett but Rex, a more gruff version of the former character that mirrors Pratt’s own career shift from lovable buffoon to chiseled leading man. The satire in these moments work wonderfully because they really Pratt run away with taking potshots at the highs and lows of his newfound success while simultaneously pointing out flaws in the arrogance of unchecked machismo, the sort of penchant for toughness and mayhem that forgoes empathy in the process. It’s a natural progression for not only the plot but Finn’s character, who like any teenager, probably needs a reminder of their early Emmett-like optimism every once in a while. The messaging behind this plot-line, along with the visual and comedic elements it allows Lord and Miller to introduce (the best being Rex’s squad of talking Jurassic World raptors), stand out as the smartest additions to the original film’s formula. In terms of that original framework, everything fans loved about the first film is still here: great visuals that evoke the stop-motion playfulness of Lego fan films, smart gags and one-liners that will delight kids and adults alike (the adult-aimed jokes are still extremely admirable for not buying into toilet humor), and fun characters that make good use of the Lego brand’s wide swath of properties.

Where the film falters a bit is in its commitment to the wacky energy of Bianca’s world, which subsequently makes this film feel a bit more overstuffed and unfocused than the first. While the anarchy of the shifting worlds and creations served more or less as a function of the previous film’s themes, here it operates more out of feeling the need to amp up the kookiness for the hell of it rather than serve the story. While that those provide some great moments of visual splendor, it distracts the script too often and leaves story lines and arcs hanging in the wind waiting to be picked up later. The result is a sometimes confusing plot that might have some kids scratching their heads. This is not to mention the glittery shades of pink and purple that dominate Bianca’s universe play into some surprisingly antiquated ideas about gender roles, with the boy vs. girl mentality of the film feeling more conventional the more chaotic the film gets. While the machismo of Finn’s grungy world is often the butt of jokes, keying you into the script not buying into it, Bianca’s world doesn’t quite get the same treatment. The film saves itself in this department a bit in the end, but the film’s need to make the chaos of the Biancaverse feel distinctly “girly” feels less smartly defined than Finn’s creations or even the decidedly gender-role free world of the first film.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is likely the most predictable sequel of the year, and weirdly enough that’s not entirely a criticism. It’s not as fresh or exciting as the first and its ideas of familial relations are steeped deep in years of tropes it’s not quite willing to upend, but this is a visually appealing bit of pop culture escapism that grasps why its predecessor was such a massive hit and dutifully continues that work. It knows it doesn’t have to reinvent its own bricks to enchant fans, and sometimes that’s enough. Let’s just hope that the energy and heart that makes these films fly doesn’t wither away into complacency.

B

For more thoughts on The Lego Movie 2, as well as Netflix’s latest film Velvet Buzzsaw, check out the latest episode of The Reel Nine Podcast:

Ryan Ninesling