Directed by Mike Mitchell
Starring Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish
Sequels are working at an automatic disadvantage; the vast majority of them lack the ingenuity and spontaneity that made the originals such fresh experiences. That applies to The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, which has all the joke-a-minute cleverness and unbounded sense of fun of 2014’s The LEGO Movie; it’s just not as, well, awesome.
The whole crew is back, and that’s a good thing. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the writing-directing team which was the driving force of the first installment, have taken up screenwriting duties and ceded the directorial reins to Mike Mitchell (Shrek Ever After, Trolls). The denizens of Bricksburg—including earnest Everyman and coffee lover Emmett Brickowski (Chris Pratt), badass Lucy aka Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), unstable Unikitty (Alison Brie), and brooding scene-stealer Batman (Will Arnett)—are all accounted for, as well.
Now, five years later, the once peppy town has been reducedWill Ferrell, Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Charlie Day, Nick Offerman, Chris Pratt, and Alison Brie to a rubble-strewn dystopia renamed Apocalypseburg, thanks to the constant attacks of LEGO Duplo characters from outer space. These invaders come in the form of candy-hued hearts and stars with wide eyes. Given The LEGO Movie’s third act twist that the events within the film are animated representations of real-world play-pretend, we have a clear idea of what that might mean. But just in case you haven’t got a clue, these invaders/tween-girl accessories are under the command of General Mayhem (Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s Stephanie Beatriz), who abducts Apocalypseburg’s finest warriors—including Lucy—and spirits them away to the obviously named Systar System. And it is up to Emmett to rescue them.
The LEGO Movie 2’s big strengths lie in addition. There are more meta production numbers (including one named “Catchy Song” which, as its lyrics suggest, promptly gets stuck in your head) that might lead one to think that this sequel is actually more of a musical than a straightforward animated feature. The pop cultural gags come at a faster clip; I counted references to Mad Max: Fury Road, Twilight, and Jurassic World—repeat viewings are likely to yield more. And there is an added layer of feminism to the proceedings, most apparent in the shapeshifting DUPLO ruler Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (voiced by the effortlessly funny Tiffany Haddish), who turns the usual notion of cartoon villains and their motivations on its head.
But something about The LEGO Movie 2 lacks the snap-and-click cleverness of its predecessor. Whereas the first movie turned the magic of play—our capacity to entertain ourselves with just our imaginations—into the final reveal where everything clicked into place, this sequel leads off with that idea…and then belabors it. There is more real-world intrusion—practically all of the third act is set there—because now the little boy (Jadon Sand) from the first movie has more plot to contend with as he must learn to play in peace with his little sister (The Florida Project’s Brooklynn Prince). And then on top of that, the sequel’s brain trust unwisely adds a psychological dimension to Emmett, as he struggles to discard his optimism and adopt to his dystopian circumstances via his brooding alter ego Rex Dangervest (who comes with a phalanx of subtitled velociraptors—neat!).
Those velociraptors are a throwaway detail that harkens back to the casual cleverness of The LEGO Movie. This sequel, on the other hand, feels heavy-handed—even its emotion feels loaded on by a huge plastic truck. And so, while The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part’s strengths lie in addition, it’s also where its weakness can be found.