Remember when making a narrative feature based off a brand was a bad idea? Ah, good times. As much as the Lego franchise has put Warner Animation Group on the map, there was a time when people were dreading the mere concept of the brick people getting their own big-screen adventure. And then The Lego Movie came out in 2014 and blew everyone’s minds, proving that truly anything can be awesome when treated with the right about of creativity and heart. Sure, that opened the floodgates for virtually any property to be adapted, and while the results have been mixed – Trolls and The Emoji Movie are two examples of how to go about doing it and how not to, respectively – the notion that some concepts just can’t be pulled off has largely fallen by the wayside. While I wouldn’t call spinoffs The Lego Batman Movie and The Lego Ninjago Movie masterpieces of their craft, they retain the franchise’s self-aware sense of humor and snappy visuals to get the job done. However, the real challenge was always to directly follow up your original watershed film, one whose postmodern sensibilities almost eschews creating an actually compelling saga. And while The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part stumbles as it tries too hard to call out its predecessor, once the story picks up, it’s virtually smooth sailing from there, delivering another consistently funny and surprisingly poignant entry in the series. It might be heavily derivative from more prominent animated offerings that came before it, but by placing greater emphasis on character motivation and development, it easily makes an emotional through line to the viewer. I’ll admit, I was starting to worry about the sustainability of the franchise during the first fifteen minutes or so, but I’ve yet to see a screenplay from Phil Lord and Chris Miller stray too far from its overall objective.
Immediately following the events of the first film, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part picks up with Bricksburg being invaded by a swarm of toddler-tailored Duplo bricks, who will cause mayhem whenever they are allured by the prospect of color. As such, the denizens of Bricksburg have altered their lifestyle to that of a post-apocalyptic wasteland, where everyone is dark, brooding and not awesome. All but Master Builder Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) that is, whose sunny disposition shines through despite Lucy’s (Elizabeth Banks) best efforts to change him. One day they are invaded by Duplos led by General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz), who kidnaps Lucy, Batman (Will Arnett), Benny (Charlie Day), Princess Unikitty (Alison Brie) and MetalBeard (Nick Offerman). They are taken to their shape-shifting Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), who just screams evil as she announces her plan to marry Batman. Forced to prove himself, Emmet must travel to the Systar System to save his friends, along the way meeting the coolest galaxy-defending archoelogist, cowboy and raptor trainer out there, Rex Dangervest (Chris Pratt), who will teach Emmet how to be edgy and dark. But does Emmet need to sacrifice who he is in order to save the day?
If you saw the first movie, you’ll notice I left out all the stuff about Emmet and friends being nothing more than toys in a basement, and the human subplots that underlie the story. While they’re definitely here, and while they definitely influence the main goings on in the microcosmic universe, I’d rather not go into the themes of all that stuff, as like the last one, it’d probably be better going in not knowing what kind of tricks they’re going to be pulling. I will say though that the emotional beats, while layered throughout the movie instead of at the end, are very similar to that of the first. In other words, they’re playing the same kind of game but with different parts. Which is fine, as though it doesn’t do anything novel even for its own franchise, it’s all executed with the right amount of sensitivity and authenticity to bring the message home. It gets a little bit too Toy Story at times, but given the general concept for these movies, it’s certainly forgivable.
Still, at the end of the day what the people come to see is the imaginary elements suffused in the Lego world, and the seemingly endless amount of creative freedom that comes with it. While I don’t think any of these movies are ever going to feel as fresh as the first one, which was essentially fishing with dynamite, they do manage to squeeze in plenty of comedic novelty here too. At first it wasn’t so much the case, as the sequel is very eager to make a slew of callbacks by the way of returning characters – which technically makes sense, I guess, seeing as the people of Bricksburg aren’t likely to change that much – and even some songs that aim to rival the popularity of “Everything is Awesome.” So for a little bit, I felt like I was watching a greatest hits collection, but once the inciting incident took place and the plot took off, The Lego Movie 2 becomes fully dedicated to being its own album – to keep the music metaphor going. I’ll also gripe about it not being totally subtle with what its endgame is – thus proving any twists a bit mechanical – but seeing as they tie so nicely into the themes of the film, its final destination really couldn’t have been anything else.
If there’s anything people took away from the first film, it was its preponderance of whacky and hysterical characters, even ones as recognizable as Batman. While fan favorites like Benny and Unikitty also make their returns, I would argue that it’s the new players that really shine here. For starters, Chris Pratt’s second voice role in the series, Rex Dangervest, is about as dependable for some good chuckles as you would hope for. Especially if you’re familiar with Pratt’s career and are able to pick up all the references in the character’s résumé. Not only that, but he actually serves as a crucial and sturdy foil to Emmet and his development, making him quite the compelling addition to the overall story. However, if there was one voice actor I was most impressed with here, it was Tiffany Haddish as Watevra Wa-Nabi, who steals every single scene she’s in. Splashing onto the scene in 2017 with Girls Trip, Haddish quickly established herself not only a go-to comedic lead, but a voice talent you will instantly recognize whatever the role. That of course made her an obvious choice for animation, and she does not disappoint as I can virtually hear her chewing the scenery as she gobbles up her character’s perceived deviousness. She also gets a pretty choice duet with Arnett’s Batman.
So while The Lego Movie 2 isn’t quite as consistent and hard-hitting as The Lego Movie, it’s still well scripted storytelling in its own right. And considering that these movies are in fact derived from non-speaking yellow figurines, we could be doing a lot worse for ourselves.
Final Score: 8/10