Movie Review: THE LEGO MOVIE 2 Is Awesome…ish

The sequel boasts loads of charm and memorable new characters, but lacks the surprises of the original.

I, like most people, was kind of blown away at how good The Lego Movie was when it was released in 2014. Even with Chris Miller and Phil Lord's exemplary track record (and a fan of the damn toys themselves) I wasn't sure a full movie would be anything worth my time as an adult when I sat down for it, only to be proven very, very wrong two hours later. The characters were charming and memorable, the action was inventive, and it even had a good lesson to learn - it was a nearly perfect film. The next two Lego movies, Batman and Ninjago, were less inventive and closer to the glorified toy commercials we feared the original would be, but still not without their charms (and in Batman's case, an improvement on several of its live action counterparts). Still, the original characters of Emmet, Wildstyle ( Lucy), Benny, etc. were much missed on those entries, and I was happy to see them revived for Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, which picks up exactly where the first film left off, as our heroes' home city of Bricksburg was invaded by Duplo aliens.

Of course, the hook of the first film (spoilers for those who haven't seen it) is that everything we were seeing stemmed from the imagination of a young boy who was playing with his father's carefully constructed Lego sets. Unlike his father, who followed the instructions and even glued his models together, the boy ignored the "rules" and created his own vehicles and buildings, as well as mixing themes together (which is how the Justice League and other licensed properties were able to show up and mingle with the original characters), and we discovered that the villain was actually a stand-in for his domineering dad. The father (Will Ferrell) saw the error of his ways and relented, allowing the boy to just have fun - giving the movie a nice message even if it kind of conflicted with the toymakers' increased emphasis on building specific sets (i.e. the Millennium Falcon) that require very concise instructions. "Do whatever! Use your imagination! But also please buy Emmet's Construct-o-Mech, available now!"

Anyway, the Duplo invaders that showed up were already established as the boy's younger sister's, so the live-action element isn't a surprise this time around - and it makes the film's twists a bit easy to figure out well in advance of the characters. As the Duplo characters destroy Bricksburg and leave it in a post-apocalyptic state (very Fury Road inspired; it's a shame they don't stay there long), Emmet and the others find themselves trying to adjust to their new world, only for a new villain to appear and disrupt that as well. These new antagonists, which have a "girlish" look and are clearly not cut from the same Lego cloth, are able to block any attack that Batman and the like can fire at them, and one of them, General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz), ultimately infiltrates their hideout and kidnaps everyone but Emmet (they see him as inessential). She has orders to take them to the "Sistar System", where Batman is to be married to Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), which we're told will prevent "Ar-Mamageddon" as long as it happens at exactly 5:15 that day. Emmet goes to rescue them, aided by new character Rex (also voiced by Chris Pratt), who is like every "boy's toy" mixed into one - a space commando/cowboy/raptor trainer (yes, these and other jokes are at Pratt's expense) who encourages Emmet to break stuff and use guns and other cool things. 

It doesn't take a genius to figure out what's really going on - the sister wants to play with her brother and his toys, and he is hesitant to let his spaceships and dinosaurs mingle with flowers and tea parties (Mayhem and some of her pals are modeled after the Lego Friends line, which is aimed more at girls). The real world equivalent was a complete surprise the first time around, so this time the twist is that it's a... musical? OK, not a full blown one, but there are four or five numbers by Jon Lajoie* (plus the return of "Everything is Awesome" in various forms) that break up the action and help give the film more of its own identity to stave off the occasional same-ness that rears its ugly head. Now that we know about the live action element, it's pretty easy to guess what "Ar-Mamageddon" is, leaving the film with fewer surprises this time around - the songs are a nice way to mostly make up for it.

I was also surprised to see fewer uses of the licensed characters in the sequel; the Justice League show up early on but quickly exit again, and (perhaps since he got his own movie) Batman isn't used as prominently as you might expect. Alas, they also sideline Benny, Unikitty, and Metalbeard, giving their returning actors with little to do beyond occasionally comment on the action (at least they got that much; Liam Neeson's Bad/Good Cop only appears in a few shots, without his famous voice, and Morgan Freeman's Vitruvius is still dead). Plus, none of them really get a big cheer-worthy moment, which disappointed me; one of the first film's big highlights was Benny finally getting his spaceship - the sequel lacks that kind of crowd-pleasing triumph for him or any of the other supporting members.

Luckily, Haddish's Queen is a delight, constantly changing her shape and trying to convince Lucy that she's not evil, while also tricking Batman into marrying her by pretending she really wants to marry Superman, which fires up his ego and has him wooing her for no reason other than to prove he's better. Some of her cohorts are also wonderful inventions, particularly Richard Ayoade as Ice Cream Cone and Ben Schwartz as Banarnar, a clumsy banana who spends most of his screentime falling down, much to the delight of my son. As with the original there are a number of meta jokes that went over his four year old head ("Marvel won't return our calls", someone mentions in a dire time of need), plus a surprise cameo that is strictly for the older people in the audience, but he was constantly laughing at the antics of the "banana guy" and other physically-driven gags. We recently watched Lord & Miller's Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs again, and I had forgotten how many oddball gags they snuck into that one (including a Welcome to Mooseport reference that still blows me away); the pair (who turned directorial duties over to Mike Mitchell this time, but wrote the script) truly excels at giving parents and children equal amounts of enjoyment, even if it's not always simultaneous.

(Luckily, my son doesn't like to leave the theater until the lights have fully come up, allowing me to sit and listen to the end credits song by Lonely Island, which is mostly about how great the end credits are.)

Ultimately, it's a perfectly good followup that unfortunately doesn't benefit from the lowered expectations that greeted the original. This time we KNOW it can be great, and at times it is, though the plot often leaves the memorable supporting characters with nothing to do, and the action beats aren't as inventive. Also, without spoiling their nature they spend more time in the real world in the third act, bordering on Toy Story-esque "Are these toys ACTUALLY alive?" confusion/rule breaking at the expense of the far more visually exciting Bricksburg/Sistar areas (that said, I never tire of gags that center on how tiny they look in the real world). I was really hoping to walk away with a feeling of "I can't believe they surprised me again!" as opposed to "That was pretty good!", but then again, I'm the dad - my kid was still singing the song as he walked out of the theater and babbling about the Banana guy, so in that case the movie is a resounding success. And, for what it's worth, some of the new sets do encourage imagination over specific builds, so they're even learning their own lesson! 

*I mention him mainly as an excuse to link to this again, and encourage you to check out the full album.