Directors: Mike Mitchell, Trisha Gum
Stars: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett
Remember 5 years ago, when everything was awesome? Before Trump got elected? Before Brexit? It was a time of such utopian simplicity that none of us could possibly have appreciated it. Do you know happiness when it’s happening? Back in the halcyon days of 2014, The LEGO Movie was a genuine surprise; a movie based on a toy that wasn’t just a shameless cash-in. It had heart, it had wit and it fundamentally celebrated creativity.
The LEGO Movie 2 arrives in a very different climate. Everything isn’t awesome anymore. The world is coming apart at the seams. The tensions, struggles and the downright weariness with having to fight all the time are the focal points of this U certificate movie for kids and, y’know, everyone. It’s one of the sharpest pieces of modern-day satire out there and it features a character who plugs his ears with sausages.
Where The LEGO Movie opened with a perfectly unified metropolis, its sequel introduces us to a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The DUPLO toys have wrought heck on Bricksburg. Even Unikitty (Alison Brie) is more Thundercatty than she used to be. The MadMaxification of this universe is a lot of fun in itself, but The LEGO Movie 2 doesn’t rest on its laurels long. A cool masked character calling herself General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) arrives on the scene and abducts a bunch of Emmet’s (Chris Pratt) friends. It’s up to the former Special to rescue them, but he’ll have to use his own resourcefulness. Meanwhile, the other core members of the gang are taken to meet… the Queen (Tiffany Haddish).
The wonder duo of Phil Lord and Chris Miller are on hand once again for scripting duties, and in a sense they stick to the playbook of a sequel. There are plenty of call backs, emotional maturity is a dominant theme, and the fundamental structure of the film strongly echoes the first one. To strike hard at a seemingly inevitable pun; the two movies click together. The gag ratio is more or less on par also. The humour here is even more meta than in previous outings (including The LEGO Batman Movie). On his travels, Emmet encounters a more chiseled foil named Rex Dangervest (also Pratt), who happens to be a spaceship captain who trains raptors; pointedly keying in on Pratt’s notable franchise successes elsewhere and the transformation of his persona from doughy nice guy to beefy leading man. This is wry fan service that also informs the story; allowing us to quickly deduce Rex’s function in relation to Emmet.
These are the kind of smarts you don’t ordinarily expect to find in a rainbow coloured animated movie from a major studio. Clearly the ambition that drove the first film remains firmly in tact (hooray!).
If you thought ‘Everything Is Awesome’ was an earworm, The LEGO Movie 2 has a lot more where that came from. There’s a strong case for calling this film a musical. There are literal showstoppers pitched throughout the movie, while the end credits song – which features on-point verses from The Lonely Island – is an absolute belter. This sequel might knowingly throw its characters into darker territory (that’s what the second movie is supposed to do, right?), but the fun factor is dialed up to match it.
And the real world keeps knocking on the door of this doolally fantasy. Our LEGO heroes are in danger of being brainwashed by their DUPLO counterparts. The two-sides seem incapable of coexisting. This term, “brainwashing”, comes up again and again, and its hard not to think of the increasing divide between political ideals occurring both here and in the states. Improbably, The LEGO Movie 2 attempts some serious social commentary; holding a mirror up to our current climate in which the other side’s opinion is routinely deemed intolerable. Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) refuses to be taken in, and her resistance is hard. A big part of this installment is about recognising how draining it is having to be opposed to something all of the time, how our default settings have turned to suspicion and defense. How we all need to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves.
If that sounds heavy and like a bit of a downer, fear not; it’s also about time travel and stuff. In fact, the movie also makes winky-eyed mockery of shock-value downer endings. Nobody’s naming names but it’s highly possible that Bavengers: Binfinity War is the butt of this particular joke. And there’s even a sense of overstuffed ambition in the very complexity of the story. There’s suspense here, and twists, multiple levels of reality and, best of all, Maya Rudolph. The LEGO Movie 2 could be criticised for throwing too much into the mix. But isn’t it refreshing to watch something like this, made for such broad popular appeal, that doesn’t assume its audience is stupid?
Better than the first one? …Maybe.