Everything is not awesome. That is the new refrain of The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. Hot shot directing duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller created one of the most surprising, and yes, thoroughly awesome, modern animated films with the original The LEGO Movie (2014); the same way they have with the recent Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018). Given their obligations to that project, they’ve turned over the direction to Mike Mitchell (Trolls, 2016), who once advised the team not to make a sequel. He may have been right; the film was firmly unsequelable. The film did end with the perfect gag – spoilers – a big, funny reveal of Will Ferrell finding his son playing with his most loved LEGO creations. Where do you go from there? The answer here is to lean into the meta concept and embrace it whole cloth. Brick by brick, they’ve reconfigured a nice replica of the previous comedy and added new intrinsic value for a decidedly younger audience.
The previous film was comedy perfect. Every line landing right where it should. The jokes built upon each other, repeating and reestablishing context often. It was a masterwork of writing for animation. Somewhere in an expansive commercial for toys, Lord & Miller found the heart that makes them generationally appealing and universally beloved. Here, they have returned in a writing capacity, and their knack for timing remains self-evident. If the previous film had any major oversight, it was a lack of ambition for its female characters, especially Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks). The Second Part opens with Will Ferrell dramatically noting, now it’s your sister’s time to play.
This is a reclamation of a female perspective. It establishes that Wyldstyle was also a Master Builder and worthy of the same praise as Emmet (Chris Pratt). This allows new plot devices. While we start in the logical extent of a boy’s imagination – the apocalypse of Mad Max, complete with a fair parody of Fury Road (2015) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017), you know, guy stuff – it sharply gives way to more frothy feminine ideas. Duplicitous Duplo blocks are wreaking havoc on the post-apocalyptic paradise! Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) has invaded and is brain-washing the LEGO denizens into being willing participants in a matrimonial ceremony. The ship-shafting alien is marrying Batman (Will Arnett). This gives way to initial concerns, is the story going to say what ‘90s films always did, that the play of young girls is destructive and less than that of boys? Gratefully it does totally the opposite – maybe sharing and indulging in a sibling’s ideas is not always awesome – but maybe you can make anything awesome, if just try.
This leaves Emmet in a bit of a rut, once heralded as the One, the Master Builder the plot orbited around. Things change when you have siblings. This is hard to take, when his friends naturally drift into the new play, and he’s left grasping for his isolated past. Evidently, a parallel Emmet has other plans. His new buddy, Rex Dangervest, also voiced by a more engaged Chris Pratt is a boy’s dream of what a man is. He’s a future version of Emmet, what he’s always aspired to be, made hard from years neglected under the family washing machine. They become the stubble buddies, the vest friends, have radio calls that go like, “Stubble Trouble, this is Alpha Wolf Dog Bro.” Dangervest drives a Millenium Falcon type craft manned mostly by dope raptors named after formative ‘80s action figures who spout cool affirmations. In short, a hilarious and totally accurate glimpse into every boy’s imagination. But is it the aliens whom are untrustworthy or this renegade doppelganger?
The original may have featured pitch perfect writing, but its biggest asset was the great earworm, “Everything is Awesome”. That was the mantra and raison d’être of The Lego Movie. Once again, The Lonely Island have been enlisted, to measurably equally funny and joyful effect. The best showing is a hilarious, repetitive jingle called “Catchy Song”, that proposes, “this songs gonna get stuck inside your head,” laid over propulsive hip beats and a nice production that pops. A quality Beck & The Lonely Island team-up – “Super Cool” – makes an early entry for the year’s best credits song. The film’s best moments reflexively comment on the past, “Everything’s Not Awesome” suggests, “Everything’s not awesome, but it does not mean it’s hopeless and bleak.” As a reflection of its inner depression, the lyrics quip, “Woah, I think I finally get Radiohead.” Batman interjects, “You should try Elliot Smith.”
There is a clear reduction of tone here. The film is aware it’s a lesser sequel, is openly willing to comment on it, and assuage any concern that it’s going to revise the past. By opening up the meta layer of live action play (all of the LEGO live in constant fear of an “Our-Mom-Aggedon”). While Will Ferrell’s input has sadly been reduced to mostly voicework, Maya Rudolph fulfills the live action role as the mother, who must not step on any LEGO or she may end the kids’ play forever.
The new balance between animation and meta-reality works just fine. It takes the one piece left by the previous film and extends it into a full adventure. It’s pretty self-evident that even within the short run time, the ingenuity of first picture has been reduced by overexposure, with the pretty good LEGO Batman (2017) and lame LEGO Ninjago (2017), selling us toys but not the original dream of a necessarily great comedy. Here we come a bit closer. Too close not to recommend it for the biggest fans and too close for anyone on the fence about the last couple entries. Not everything is awesome, but the second LEGO film admirably does the job.