The Lego Movie should not have worked. A feature-length commercial for building block toys traditionally marketed toward children (but as just as much fun for adults) simply should not make for an entertaining film. Yet through some stroke of inspired genius writers/directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller managed to pull off the seemingly impossible by displaying an overwhelming level of cleverness, pop culture humor, subtle hilarity, and exaggerating the film’s obvious product placement to a level of parody wrapped around an anti-corporate message itself wrapped back around a feature-length commercial for building block toys now marketed to both children and adults. What’s more, the unexpected inclusion of human characters added a meta-narrative of loss of imagination and family relationships. Lord and Miller even managed to turn an example of vacuous, fluffy pop songs meant to appeal to as many people as possible, and thus blinding the masses toward their corporate masters, into a genuine hit, thus blinding the masses toward their corporate masters. What should not have worked ended up working on more levels than previously imaged as Lego Movie both was and wasn’t everything it claimed to both be and not be. It was an anti-corporate commercial, an individualist statement on working together, a non-conformist message in favor of conformity, a non-argument argument that children and adults could both love for entirely different reasons.
Lego Movie 2: The Second Part does not equal its predecessor simply because we cannot be surprised in the same way again.
What was unexpected and dazzling in the first film is no longer so now. We know there will be catchy songs meant to be catchy songs, we know there will be dozens of cameos from every property Lego has rights to, and we know the entire Lego world is being controlled by mythical human creatures. The novelty is gone, can’t come back, and there is no way to change this. And this is where the real test of quality comes in: can the material hold up once the surprise fades? For Lego Movie 2, the answer, delivered with more tepidity than enthusiasm, is yes.
Picking up at the exact point the previous film ends, including a very quick rewind of the preceding events, The Second Part includes all of the elements of Lego Movie, minus a few voice actors, and the surprise. Whereas the mystery of the Kragle unfolded with a pleasant reveal, Lego Movie 2‘s inclusion of Our-Mom-Aggedon is clever yet all too obvious, as are a series of other fantasy sounding names given to simple objects: The Sistar System, the Dryar System, the Stairgate, and so forth. Of course, being obvious doesn’t mean they aren’t also enjoyable, a statement true for just about everything on display in Lego Movie 2. Anyone paying attention will be able to ascertain what is happening and will happen, but that doesn’t make watching it unfold, with its own quick wit and visual wonder, any less entertaining. Lord and Miller, now writers and producers with Mike Mitchell stepping in as director, even sneak a hilarious reference to Radiohead and Elliot Smith into what remains at its core a film about children’s building block toys. As with most sequels, Lego Movie 2 wants to emphasize what worked in the first film. While this is good in most cases with the characters, the worlds, the cameos, and the meta-narrative all contributing to the enjoyment, there are some instances where repeating what worked before is simply too much.
Apparently the makers of Lego Movie 2 believe that the absolute best thing about Lego Movie was “Everything Is Awesome.” Not only is this song repeated in three different variations, the film triples down with several new self-aware pop songs. Whereas “Everything is Awesome” served as the ubiquitous background noise of Lego Movie, the sequel pads out numerous musical numbers. The result may appeal to smaller children but older kids and adults could find their attention waning as “Catchy Song” and “Everything’s Not Awesome” drone on endlessly, and even the best of the new batch, one character’s tribute to how incredibly not evil they are, overstays its welcome. The songs, written by Jon Lajoie, are undeniably clever, as is all of Lajoie’s decidedly not kid-friendly work. But by dialing up the annoyingly catchy aspects of “Everything Is Awesome” these musical numbers tumble over the line between amusing and irritating. (Ironically, I couldn’t remember the chorus of “Catchy Song” while leaving the theater despite hearing it layered over itself several dozen times.) What had been a smart commentary of over-played, cut-and-paste catchy pop music is replaced by an all-out assault on our ears.
As well, the anti-corporate, anti-conformist messaging of the first film is entirely gone in this one. While repeating Emmet’s previous quest to break out of his conditioned thinking and establish himself as a master builder would have been foolish, Lego Movie 2‘s in-universe narrative is simultaneously less straight-forward and shallower. Fortunately the Lego narrative and the human one remain inextricably tied to each other. Most of the film’s effecting moments, and a couple of its funniest, are found outside of the Lego world. The apparent running metaphor of an adolescent boy afraid of losing his imagination may not fit together, but the dueling narratives of Finn and his little sister’s competing worlds definitely do. Although lacking the wicked subversion of the first, The Second Part still has far more emotion than should be present in a feature-length commercial for building block toys.
Beyond these changes, the framework of Lego Movie remains largely intact, perhaps sagging in places after a few years of wear: the characters are great, although not as fleshed as they were previously, the animation is still beautiful with the addition of Duplo bricks, and the humor, while not quite as fresh, is still quick, constant, and clever. Vocal performances remain top notch and the added cast of Stephanie Beatriz and Tiffany Haddish are enough to overcome the absence of Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and Will Farrell.
The film may not work on as many levels as the previous one had no business working on, but that doesn’t mean Lego Movie 2: The Second Part doesn’t work. The core is solid, and while we may have already witnessed the peak of the Lego Universe, as long the pieces fit together, there’s no reason for the franchise to collapse.