I can state without unwarranted cynicism that the idea for producing a “Lego Movie” probably did not stem from the need for artistic fulfillment. As with many cartoons that feature cute, kid-friendly, endlessly marketable leads, it was greenlit by a studio that wanted to sell toys. But it was thanks to the perfect team of thinkers and dreamers – led by the writing/directing duo of Phil Lord and Chris Miller – that 2014’s The Lego Movie turned out to be as excellent as it was, featuring terrific laughs and exploring poignant themes about imagination and growing up.
That the film has since spawned a Lego Cinematic Universe – producing the wacky Lego Batman Movie and the pedestrian Lego Ninjago Movie in 2017 – stands as testament to the original film’s crowd-pleasing popularity. And now a direct sequel to that original film aims to continue the legacy, continuing the story of Emmet, Lucy, and all their friends – even as it tries to sell our kids more toys.
Perhaps you think my pointing out the marketability of the Lego Movie franchise verges on cynicism. I’m supposed to review the movie, not the toys, right? But know that I’m not attempting to be critical in this case – in fact, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part opened my eyes to how ingenious the marketing team behind this franchise really is. (Don’t worry, this is all leading into a discussion of the movie itself. Bear with me.)
The first Lego Movie featured plenty of thrilling setpieces and scenarios that could easily be converted into real-life toys for kids to build and break and leave on the floor exactly where their parents are most likely to step. But most of these sets – a construction site, a Western saloon, a spaceship – were stereotypically boy-centric. Outside of Unikitty’s Cloud Cuckoo Land, there wasn’t much that appealed directly to the young female market. (The fact that Unikitty now has her own TV series implies that producers realize how lucrative that market really is.)
The Lego Movie 2, on the other hand, features a lot of female-based toys – incorporating the new “Lego Friends” toy line established to appeal to young girls. Perhaps it’s coincidence, but this feels like a sign that Lego and Warner Animation want to broaden the franchise’s appeal beyond their base, which for the longest time was predominantly male.
The seeds were planted at the end of the first film, when The Man Upstairs (Will Ferrell) told his son to share the Lego cityscape in their basement with his sister. Five years later, the sister (Florida Project star Brooklynn Prince) has graduated from Duplo blocks to more standard and girl-oriented Lego sets. She also doesn’t get along with her older brother, and their real-life feud is reflected in the Lego reality.
The once-happy city of Bricksburg has been transformed into a Mad Max-style apocalypse, with Emmet (Chris Pratt) the only ray of hope in an otherwise bleak landscape. Despite the pleas of Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), Emmet can’t shed his sunny, everything-is-awesome outlook. Only when Lucy and several other characters from the first film are abducted by General Sweet Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) and taken to the alien queen Watevra Wa-Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) must Emmet work past his optimistic disposition and rescue them.
As far as sequel setups go, this one is perfectly serviceable. The plot makes room for most of the beloved characters from the first film (except Good Cop/Bad Cop, because Liam Neeson was apparently too busy killing bad guys with a snowplow), and provides plenty of great laughs. As with the first film, some of the biggest chuckles come from the celebrity cameos, like a redesigned Aquaman (voiced, of course, by Jason Momoa), and plenty of the jokes will resonate more with old audiences than young.
The film also features a more colorful and varied soundtrack than its predecessor, which only featured one real song (you know what it is). The Lego Movie 2, though, contains at least a half-dozen musical numbers, and most are a joy to listen to. The catchiest of these is the self-consciously titled “Catchy Song,” which repeatedly promises, not without merit, that “This song’s gonna get stuck inside your head.” Tonally and rhythmically, the second Lego Movie is perfectly attuned with the first.
It’s thematically, however, where the cracks begin to show.
The first Lego Movie had potent messages, beautifully delivered – childhood should be savored, imagination utilized. Business and workmanship should not come between a father and son. These messages were perfectly paralleled in the animated Lego universe and the live-action real world, giving the lighthearted film an unexpectedly moving climax.
The second Lego Movie follows in these footsteps, at first successfully. Whereas the villain of the first film wielded the “Kragle” – a permanent bonding element designed to immobilize Lego pieces, and thus limit their imaginative potential – Lego Movie 2 explores change and stasis on a deeper level, with Emmet’s undying optimism challenged by the need to play the role of brave action hero. At a certain point, the film appears on the verge of a climax that will allow for lessons about personality and the ways in which it should or shouldn’t be adjusted.
But even as that supposed climax approaches, one realizes that The Lego Movie 2 still has 30 minutes left in its running time. And it’s in those last 30 minutes that the story starts to go askew.
Without delving into any real spoilers, The Lego Movie 2 aims to deliver more complex messages than its predecessor, and the results are more varied in their impact. The real-world story, about the fight between Brother and Sister, doesn’t share any thematic connection to the Lego plot, and mostly serves to drive forward the animated events. A late-in-the-game twist increases the stakes for Emmet, Lucy, and friends, but plotwise, it strains credibility, as attempting to reconcile the events between the two worlds could give viewers a migraine.
I know, I know, you’re not supposed to think too deeply about plot mechanics and inter-universe logic in a Lego movie. But one of the joys of the original film was the way it did feature some level of logic, allowing us to believe those little yellow figurines were alive, yet simultaneously just playthings on Father’s tabletop.
The Lego Movie 2 never quite loses its way, and it features a heartfelt ending that sweetly recalls the ending to the first film. But its numerous plot and thematic developments do occasionally threaten to topple it, while its predecessor always kept its chaotic events in perfect working order. As a sequel, it never quite measures up.
“Everything’s Not Awesome,” the heroes sing at one point. It’s less a note of helplessness than of curbing the characters’ expectations. The Lego Movie 2 is fast-paced and funny, but it’s probably best to curb yours as well.
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is currently playing in theaters. Seriously, good luck getting that song out of your head.