Why do you Build me up Just to let me Down?
DIRECTED BY MIKE MITCHELL/2019
On the heels of publicly getting canned from last year’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, filmmaking duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller have bounced back nicely, albeit producing (not directing) a fantastic animated film. That film is Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. It is not to be missed.
Unfortunately, their long-brewing sequel (long-brewing by today’s rapid turnaround standards, anyhow) to their 2014 super-hit, The Lego Movie, cannot accompany our friendly neighborhood Spider-Men.
You can build anything you want out of Legos, it’s true. And with enough time and resources, it can be truly awesome. So then, why isn’t The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part better? With a half a decade and all the power of Warner Animation Group in its favor, the question is as valid as can be.
The original Lego Movie (“The First Part”?) surprised many as it earned its way to boffo box office and audience respect as opposed to simply coasting on its major brand recognition. Out of the gate, its earnest efforts to prove itself intelligently comedic and poignant immediately shut down fears of the film diluting the respectability of the LEGO name. To its hyperactive credit, The Lego Movie proved to be far more than a feature-length ad for its titular bricks. It spawned two superior spin-offs, both in 2017: The Lego Batman Movie, and The Lego Ninjago Movie.
The momentum ends there. If The Lego Movie, oh-so smart and funny as to be gratingly impossible not to like, were the smartest and most popular kid in high school, then the sequel would be his irritatingly loud shadow, always a step behind and twice as exhausting.
Even as The Lego Movie 2’s predecessor earnestly tinkered around in Toy Story territory, it also managed something of a Shyamalan-like twist at the end, revealing that the whole thing has been a live-action little boy’s anxiety tale about his dad. The Lego Movie 2 finds itself saddled with that reveal from the outset, regularly cutting back and forth from the continuing adventures of Emmett (voice of Chris Pratt), Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett) and UniKitty (Alison Brie) and the corresponding real-world activity. The Justice League getting lost once they disappear into the mysterious light portal known as “the stairgate”? It’s the little sister taking her older brother’s stuff out of his basement menagerie. Rex having been lost for the ages in a dark, unknowable netherworld? Just another mini-fig lost under the dryer. It quickly gets to be a cumbersome device, if not an aptly consistent one.
But worse than that is the sharp realization that even more-so than The Lego Movie, The Second Part has been transparently reverse engineered as a metaphor. At the movie’s central core is the mission of smartly unpacking notions of male tween-hood. It goes about actualizing it in ways more ham-fisted and desperate than how Wreck-It Ralph’s sequel tiredly actualized the internet as a bustling city.
It’s five years later, and much has changed in Lego movieland. Everything is decidedly not awesome. But hey, at least this movie knows it. In fact, it doesn’t just know it- it sings it. “Everything is Awesome”, that catchy Oscar-nominated ear-worm from last time, has matured into an oppositely identical version of itself, apropos for the conflicted headspace of a kid who still loves Legos, but isn’t sure if he should anymore. If that song doesn’t get stuck in your head, then the new tune, “Catchy Song” will. (“This song will get stuck in your head!”)
Emmett, everyone’s favorite Master Builder, remains bright and optimistic despite the world around him having collapsed into Mad Max-like chaos and decay. The possibilities-filled universe of Bricksberg is now the fallen, marauder-infested Apocalypsberg. Lucy, who’s adopted an uncharacteristically brighter hair style, provokes Emmett onto a soul-searching spiral of dealing with his own squareness. It’s time to put childish things aside. Maybe into a plastic tub. Or so he’s decided.
Emmett meets Rex, a cool guy who advises him in the ways of being cool. Rex and his pet velociraptors fly around in a giant, dark, fist-shaped spaceship, since it’s cool to smash things, not build them. He advises Master Builder Emmett that in order to defeat the baddies, he must become a Master Breaker. To do that, he’s “gonna have to get in touch with some pretty grown-up feelings!” Uh huh. Bring your tissues, son- it’s all so sad.
The baddies, by the way, are all girl Legos. The helmeted henchgirl, General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz), wrangles Batman into the clutches of shape-changing Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), who wants to marry him. Pretty soon, they’re all covered in glitter and acting at home in LEGO Friends playsets. Oh the horror. Are all of Emmett’s friends brainwashed? Who is this evil queen, anyway? Will Emmett ever be cool? Or is their whole world doomed to be outgrown? Whatever, man.
You might be thinking that the last thing that the world needs is another movie all about adolescent male angst. You’d be wrong. The last thing the world actually needs is a movie convinced of its own cleverness in its treatment of adolescent male angst. Never mind that every action movie for the past forty-five years has been their own inadvertent dive into that exact territory. The Lego Movie 2, aware of this, thinks that by riffing on it in roundabout waysit’s hanging a lantern on something heretofore unrealized.
Once passed this film’s requisite twist/reveal and form-nudging pranks that Adam McCay thought were so awesome in Vice, we wind up in a film-splaining wrap-up that’s part Toy Story 3 in emotional intent, part Lord of the Rings: Return of the King in its refusal to end. The most interesting thing about The Lego Movie 2 is the notion that Rex is too Han Solo-esque for comfort. Maybe if Lord and Miller hadn’t gotten waylaid into that debacle, this Part wouldn’t feel so woefully secondary. In this case, second to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. In terms of other Lego movies, though, it’s the bottom of the bin.