Films based on toys are nothing new, but “The LEGO Movie” really did feel like a breath of fresh air when it was released into the world five years ago. That film – a stirring, hilarious, and surprisingly moving ode to creativity and the ups and downs of worldbuilding – somehow managed to take the concept of a film about toy bricks and make it into something with genuine earnestness and soul. It remains the blueprint for how to make a licensed toy movie that the whole family really can enjoy, and after two spinoff films we now finally arrive at its sequel. So, does “The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part” live up to its predecessor?
The short answer is that there’s no way it could have, and not just because it’s a sequel. “The LEGO Movie” was a unique feat of universe construction that also managed to be an emotionally satisfying blockbuster experience. “The Second Part” can never be that, but it can still be an utter delight to watch, and it succeeds in meeting that goal with nearly every frame.
It’s been five years since the events of the first film, and a lot has changed. In the world of humans, a younger sister has come into the picture and begins wreaking havoc on the organized sense of play at work in the vast LEGO empire in the family basement, so Finn (the boy who wanted to play with LEGOs so badly in the first film) has responded by transforming his play place into a post-apocalyptic landscape. The LEGO world is grittier, darker, and more action-packed now, with frequent invasions from the sister, which take the form of alien invasions to the eyes of the LEGO characters.
In the LEGO landscape, everyone else has moved on into the darker and grittier future, but the same can’t be said for Emmet (Chris Pratt), the happy-go-lucky builder who’s still just enjoying life and doing his best to get things back to normal. Emmet would like nothing more than to settle down with his girlfriend Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), but she’d rather be brooding and battling in the new world, eager for her man to adapt and change as well.
Neither of them gets much of a choice in the matter, then, when an alien ship arrives and abducts Lucy, along with Batman (Will Arnett, still the best part of the franchise) and a small group of other key builders, to take them off to the Systar System (do you get it?) where they meet Queen Whatevra Wa-Nabi (Tiffany Haddish, who’s a natural voice actress), a shape-shifting ruler who demands that their two worlds come together with a royal wedding. Desperate to prove he can grow up and live in an edgier world, Emmet sets off in pursuit, where he meets the action hero LEGO character Rex Dangervest (also Chris Pratt) and they team up to stop the brainwashing evil queen from bringing about the end of both of their worlds. As Lucy and Emmet each fight their battles, though, it becomes clear that they both need to learn to see things differently.
You might be able to chart where the rest of this goes, and how the metaphors in the world of play LEGO characters translate into the “real” world of human siblings trying to get along, but as with the first film, that doesn’t really matter. The themes at work are universal enough that they still matter to everyone in the audience, and the film’s heart still carries enough weight to get even the most predictable points across.
Once again, what the film lacks in surprising thematic concerns it more than makes up for with almost endless charm, from meta-textual jokes about LEGO characters themselves to digs at “gritty” reboot films, sequels, and even other film franchise (there are quite a few “Justice League” jokes). The voice cast – led by Pratt, Banks, Arnett, and Haddish, with several notable assists – is stellar, the jokes almost always land, and the final action sequence comes together in a way that’s both moving and thoroughly inventive. It doesn’t quite approach the whimsy and wonder of the first film, but it’s as close as it could possibly get.
So, the “LEGO Movie” franchise proves that it still has legs, even if they’re tiny and made of plastic. These films, against all odds, managed to really be about something, and in a world where even the emojis on your phone can be made into a big-budget film, that’s worth celebrating.
‘The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part’ is in theaters February 8.