“Listen to the music”
A film like The LEGO Movie is a once-in-a-decade type achievement (so to see its filmmakers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller also write/produce another once-in-a-decade feat with Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse only shows how inventive and original the two are). It daring to use its subject matter’s tactility and utility rather than pretend its nothing more than aesthetic was an ingenious choice, the surprise lifting of the curtain to reveal a human element behind the characters’ machinations the stuff of legend. So the inevitable demand for a sequel must be met with the realization that you can’t pretend your audience forgot the whole’s existence as metaphor. You have to lean into it, progress these parallel worlds’ stories together, and remember the irreverence worked because of its complementary heart.
What’s interesting is that Lord and Miller failed to do this with the 21 Jump Street series, the sequel proving dull and lifeless because it didn’t have that second level with which to play. They thankfully don’t make the same mistake twice on The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. Alongside director Mike Mitchell, the two screenwriters start things right where they left off after young Finn (Jadon Sand) appealed to his father’s (Will Ferrell) all-business mindset so he could remember there was more fun to LEGOs than following instructions and gluing pieces in place. The former’s hero Emmet (Chris Pratt) and friends could actually get along with the latter’s President Business, injecting some much-needed chaos to lift the spirits of both humans and plastic alike.
This isn’t therefore going to be like The LEGO Batman Movie wherein everything exists in a vacuum. We know straight away that strings are being pulled and Emmet, Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett), Unikitty (Alison Brie), MetalBeard (Nick Offerman), and Benny (Charlie Day) are puppets. This doesn’t, however, mean their journey is any less important once Finn’s sister Bianca (Brooklynn Prince) enters the basement with her Duplex aliens aboard glittery spacecraft. Because while she seeks to be included through destruction (that’s ostensibly what her brother was doing to Dad’s toys), Bricksburg is under siege and lain to waste. Five years of war ensue until Emmet and Wyldstyle’s home looks like Fury Road with a now older Bianca’s intruders proving a whole lot more technologically advanced than before.
Long story short: the indestructible General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) arrives with purpose, kidnapping Emmet’s closest five friends to attend a “matrimonial ceremony” in the Systar System on behalf of its Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish). It’s now up to Emmet to steel himself up to the task of traveling through the Stairway Portal alone in order to rescue them. An unsurprising mix of giddiness and terror leads him towards what should be certain death only to have himself be saved by a roguish stranger named Rex Dangervest. The humans are thus pushed to the background as the plot divides into a two-pronged narrative wherein Emmet and Rex seek to find the others as Wyldstyle works to escape the brainwashing pop music Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi has unleashed upon them.
Mystery has obviously been replaced by ingenuity. No longer are we trying to decipher what the “Kragle” could be since a Systar System being on the other side of a Stairway Portal pretty much speaks for itself. The question is then why Ar-MOM-ageddon looms above all that occurs and why it seems the characters in both Finn’s and Bianca’s control are so hell-bent towards watching it happen. I’d argue the reveal is almost as great as this film’s predecessor because the transparency here works to deflect the logical reason via a convoluted sci-fi fantasy subplot that bolsters the oft-experienced severity of adolescent maturation. President Businesses don’t simply pop-up out of nowhere. They’re instead bred from social conditioning, self-centered superiority, and an unyielding desire to grow-up overnight.
And while those themes unfold in the subtext (and sometimes the text itself with dialogue proving as meta as the structure this go-round), Emmet and Wyldstyle learn how staying true to whom they are will always beat conforming to outside influence. Does Emmet becoming more rugged and thoughtless like Rex make him a more attractive friend? No. Does Wyldstyle losing her edgelord demeanor to reveal joy make her less a badass? No. The latter has pushed against the “everything is awesome” façade so hard that the former wonders if he must do the same to stay relevant. It’s an important lesson to learn. When the happiness of others (and boy do the others become super happy) has you assuming something’s amiss, the problem is probably you.
That happiness is one of the film’s best traits because we can only handle so many melancholic epiphanies at once. So while Emmet and Wyldstyle confront the complexity of the crossroads at which they find themselves, Batman, Benny, and the others are having the time of their lives. They too reject the Queen’s (a series of blocks that constantly morphs into different shapes) messaging at first because it’s too good to be true (and often brilliantly written as a victim to its own incongruities). But once her musical interludes and iPhone playlist take hold, it’s useless to fight the urge to glitter up and let insecurities wash away. If Superman (Channing Tatum) can learn to tolerate Green Lantern (Jonah Hill), anything is in the realm of possibility.
It’s a welcome contrast point to the more dramatic over-arching purpose of this perpetual war because things could have easily gone too far into the human metaphor without. Some will argue it does thanks to a time travel plotline that forces a majority of the final third to take place in the “real” world, but I disagree. To me the hilarity of over-exuberant kawaii stars and hearts literally exploding with excitement perfectly augments the metaphor by showing this isn’t simply about playing with Dad’s collection. This is the convergence of two very separate aesthetics, age-ranges, attitudes, and desires. It’s childhood versus adolescence and the chasm that can be created despite having just a couple years of separation colored by the addition of a conditioned gender divide between them.
The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part is about overcoming stereotypes and realizing the common ground beneath society’s rigidly indoctrinated systems of control. That it’s as delightful and heartfelt as the original despite these weightier issues of identity only confirms its success. Just because it’s not as flashy, surprising, or “fresh” as the first doesn’t diminish its worth as a film for the entire family either because it very intentionally looks to target an audience that’s a bit older so those who enjoyed LEGO Movie can grow alongside it rather than simply enjoy both the same way. This is where Lord and Miller prove their smarts best. By letting their characters and themes age, their younger audiences can continue to find something new of value every subsequent year.
Rating: PG | Runtime: 106 minutes | Release Date: February 8th, 2019 (USA)
Studio: Warner Bros.
Director(s): Mike Mitchell
Writer(s): Phil Lord & Christopher Miller / Phil Lord & Christopher Miller and Matthew Fogel (story)