Only minimal spoilers ahead!
I saw The Lego Movie 2 last night, and I think it’s the worst film in the franchise. It’s not bad, it’s not unwatchable, it contains several laugh-out-loud moments…
But it also feels exactly like what you’d expect from a “safe sequel” pumped out by a big company.
The first Lego Movie caught lots of folks off guard with its blend of licensed characters, wacky humor, references, and subversion of the typical hero narrative. I had already been enjoying that same concoction for years in the Lego video games, so seeing that formula translate so well to a movie was a delight.
It also had a successful emotional through-line with some genuine heartfelt catharsis at the end, and a fun sequel teaser that I’ve been anxiously awaiting the results of for five years.
Part of that movie’s charm was its novelty. Something a straight sequel just can’t replicate. In choosing to keep the exact same set of beloved characters and force them to go on a new adventure, Lego Movie 2 already starts on the back foot.
Many of its jokes are callbacks to moments in the previous film, instead of outright new material. “Remember that thing you thought was funny!” does it less and less for me the more often it happens, and Lego Movie 2 is full of those moments.
In the first film, the backdrop was a whole basement full of unique Lego Worlds. Each one provided new adventures and challenges, with a breakneck pace and a new set of colors every time. Here that promise is once again teased with the Systar System, a collection of planets created by Bianca, the little sister of the first film’s driving force, Finn.
But the Systar System is nothing more than a couple of small environments that also strangely reinforce standard gender roles. Finn’s little sister Bianca is limited to playing with “girl-focused” Lego toy lines, so she’s created a planet that mimics suburbia, another that’s a health spa, and a giant wedding palace and wedding cake. When she steals toys from her brother…it isn’t to play with the different toys she wishes she had too, but to “girl-i-fy” them with glitter.
All of this might work in a movie that had a grander scope, but The Lego Movie 2 has a smaller scale and smaller stakes than its predecessors. I guess that’s an interesting path for a sequel to take…but it doesn’t pan out, because the story that’s here isn’t enough to sustain a feature-length adventure. And while its B-plot is a fun indictment of everything Chris Pratt has become, it’s also just a second pile of in-jokes on top of the pile of in-jokes that are already the backbone of the movie.
Imagination was the cornerstone of the first movie. Finn’s imagination was not at all limited in its scale and scope in that original tale…and he’s still the main character here in spite of the efforts of the marketing, with his “original team” taking center stage in the narrative, often to its detriment. I hope you like hearing Emmet talk about various double-decker pieces of furniture.
The middle of the movie drags with almost no forward plot movement, instead pivoting into being a sort-of-musical.
That pivot almost works, and it’s the most exciting thing about the film, but there are only a couple of original songs instead of the eight-ish that you’d need for a full musical.
All of Bianca’s “characters” brim with the same creative energy that the original characters had in the first movie, particularly Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi, who is excellently portrayed by Tiffany Haddish. When the movie has new plot stuff to focus on, and isn’t just trying to remind you of that other movie you liked, it’s a lot of fun.
It’s not devoid of laughs either, though many of them are references or jokes for the 30+ members of the audience that have zero punch or humor on their own. An extended cameo by a Hollywood A-lister playing himself was a particular favorite of mine, and generated the biggest laughs of the movie
Unfortunately, the ending attempts an exciting twist before it then reduces the pathos of the first movie into a bland message about getting along with a pinch of the ol’ “bad father” for good measure. Maya Rudolph is nearly wasted, and that her character isn’t also participating in the Lego Play Narrative is a crime.
The final line of the movie is yet another nostalgic callback to a joke from the original film…and then the wildly creative end credits song begins. The song, from Beck, Robyn, and The Lonely Island, syncs up perfectly with a delightfully animated end credits sequence and provides as many laughs as the best moments in the film.
Animation-wise, things look good, and there are a few sequences that flirt with old-school 2D hand drawn techniques…but I miss the technology-pushing visuals that both the original film and Lego Batman had. Both of those films have more dynamism, more vivid color palettes, more focus on texture and materials, and more detail and variety in their backgrounds.
When the much-awaited Planet Duplo finally appears in the movie, it might as well be a bland cardboard background.
Now granted, this film is coming out after the fully jaw-dropping Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse. So it’s got tough competition. But the other Lego movies all pushed the bar a little higher, and this one feels like it just maintained the same level. In spite of having a slightly higher budget ($100M) vs Lego Movie 1 ($65M) and Lego Batman ($80M), it’s hard to see that money on the screen here.
I left feeling that the movie was “fine,” but it could, and should, have been great. Especially with the pedigree of the talent here. I wanted it to tackle gender stereotypes about “play.” I wanted it to throw in a menagerie of all-new Lego characters, leveraging all the brands that the toy company has deals with. I wanted Finn’s Sister to be the driving character, since Finn already had a turn. I would have loved a full-blown musical instead of the scattered handful of highlight musical moments we got.
The Lego Movie 2 takes zero risks, and provides the safest possible followup imaginable with a few laughs thrown in for good measure. I get it. I get why this happened. A studio produced this as a follow-up to their surprise hit franchise and it needed to not disappoint any fans.
But it’s the only safe/bland/”corporate” movie in this otherwise inventive and genre-bending franchise. Even Ninjago was a weird risk considering it was based off of a TV show, and an original Lego IP. Lego Movie 2 doesn’t ruin the franchise at all, but it’s also not a great path forward for future films. I hope the next one recaptures the inventive mash-up spark that’s such a fun hallmark of the franchise.