MPAA Rating: PG
USCCB Rating: A -I
Reel Rating: 4 out of 5 reels
The original LEGO Movie surprised the world by being a movie based on and made out of a toy brand that was actually a funny and rather heartwarming film. Like Toy Story or The Incredibles, it was a tough act to follow, but The LEGO Movie 2 succeeds. Sort of. The story, plot, and overall execution of this sequel are not nearly as sophisticated as the original, yet do succeed wildly in the most important way: creating a Universe that feels as though it was designed by a twelve-year-old boy fighting for control with his eight-year-old sister—something that is relatable to many.
The story begins immediately where the last film ended as Bricksburg was invaded by Dublo creatures from the sister of “the Man Upstairs.” Things go from bad to worse and five years later Bricksburg is a desolate wasteland now dubbed “Apocalypseburg”, populated by dirt, sand, and Mad Max-inspired vehicles. Our hero Emmet (Chris Pratt) remains as optimistic as ever, insisting “everything is awesome” and even recently built a house with a white picket fence for him and his girlfriend Lucy (Elizabeth Banks). His outlook dims slightly when Lucy is kidnapped by an alien from the Sistar System. With only his positive attitude and potted plant to help him, he rockets off to save her in an adventure that involves dinosaurs with lasers, a song that is way too catchy for its own good, exploding hearts, Batman in Elton John getup, and a shapeshifting queen who insists she isn’t bringing about the end of the world. It’s just another day in the imagination of a pretty cool kid.
This film occupies several genres but does well in one of the most difficult: parody. Unfortunately, the “feature length parody film” is a lost art, with recent examples such as Scary Movie, Meet the Spartans, and Epic Movie being absolute cinematic trash. Yet those that do succeed, such as Airplane! and Spaceballs, inevitably become beloved classics. The goal of parody is to highlight literature, art, and music through imitation and humor. (I recall that the 1990’s grunge band Nirvana said they knew they “made it” after Weird Al lampooned one of their songs.) Oddly enough, this tradition has strong Biblical roots. The book of Jonah, for instance, constantly upends expectations by showing pagans repenting while God’s chosen prophet spiteful and disobedient. Jesus himself constantly mocked the hypocrisy of the religious authorities in humorous ways. Throughout this sequel, there are constant references to works of literature and popular culture. My personal favorite is how the evil queen convinces Batman to marry her by playing off his rivalry with Superman.
I must be honest and confess I do come to this movie with a bias, as Legos were a favorite childhood toy (true of most males my age). Thus, I can state with some authority that this film brilliantly captures the spirit of Lego creation. Flouting the instructions, children will frequently go off script to create things from their imagination. Thus, it is perfectly understandable that Emmet would reshape his dream home into a “dream home spaceship” adding rocket jets but keeping the picket fence. It’s also natural to put grenade launchers on raptors or that a Lego head could keep talking without a body.
While the tone is pitch perfect, the story is weaker than the original film. Still, it manages to connect all of the pieces. The struggle between Emmet and the queen of the Sistar System mirrors the real fighting between a brother and sister, whose mutual Lego destruction threatens to bring about Momaggeddon. To avoid punishment and the confiscation of their toys, the unnamed siblings have to find a way to play together. It’s a “nice” moral but feels tacked on rather than part of a natural arc.
Films like the LEGO Movies are often labeled “escapist,” as if such a term is an insult. Yet the same term has also been used by contemporaries to describe Casablanca, The Adventures of Robin Rood, and other movies now considered great art. Only time will tell if The LEGO Movie 2 will join these titles, but even if it doesn’t, it will find a permanent place in my collection.
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