There are two (maybe three, but we’ll get to that) sorts of people who are definitely going to like The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, kids, and people who like LEGOs. It’s not that it’s bad, cause it’s not. It’s good-ish. It has the same irreverent humor the original is laden with. Therein lies the problem. It’s the same humor. It’s the same everything.
If you’ve ever built a LEGO set, you should be familiar with their instructions. Each set comes complete with step by step, build by number directions to put the pieces together. I found it quasi-ironic then that a movie about LEGO seems to follow the directions for its predecessor nearly step by step, by the numbers, building the movie. Right about here, I was ready to lay into The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part hard for lacking the originality of its predecessor, but as I went through it, I think the only thing I can hold against it, the only thing making it not quite as good, is the fact that it came second. The old saying holds true: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But maybe next time don’t wait five years with your follow-up guys?
The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part
Director: Mike Mitchell
Release Date: February 8, 2019
The Lego Movie concluded with the twist that everything happening in our LEGO world and to our LEGO characters is actually the doing of real-world people playing with them. A human boy wants to build whatever he wants, however he wants, using his father’s LEGO sets. His father, conversely, believes in following the instructions, and wants manicured order, and will even superglue his piece together to achieve it. Ultimately, the father learns how his son views him (as an uptight, evil lord of business), and reverses course, understanding that it’s better to use one’s imagination than strictly adhering to formulas and directions. Dad embraces his newfound philosophy so fully that he lets his son know that the boy’s younger sister will now be allowed to play with the LEGOs as well and that they must get along.
That’s where we left off, with aliens from the planet Duplon arriving and stating that they’ve come to fuck shit up. Or something like that.
TLM2 picks up right there, and plays out the conflict to establish the new world order, one in which all the LEGO characters we knew from TLM are living in a post-apocalyptic world, hiding from the aliens in the newly created town of Apocalypseburg. And right about here, as Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) goes about his morning routine, getting coffee, greeting cats by name on the street and singing (of course) “Everything is Awesome” you realize not only is this movie going to follow the formula of the first, but it’s incredibly aware that it’s doing it.
In fact, it’s TLM2’s self-awareness that keeps this movie afloat and keeps it in the same league as its predecessor. It begins by parodying, well, basically every post-apocalyptic film ever, but honing in nicely on Mad Max: Fury Road during its Apcoalypseburg scene. It continues later, by creating a new pop-sounding single parodying and perhaps topping TLM’s hallmark “Everything Is Awesome” with “The Catchy Song.” The ultimate ear-worm, it’s written by Jon Lajoie, better known as Taco from FX’s The League, and features the likes of T-Pain and That Girl Lay Lay. Major props to Lajoie not only for “The Catchy Song,” but for his three other original songs too. His songwriting is a perfect fit for this film and augments other well-selected, established hits like Motley Crue’s “Kickstart My Heart.” And they lyrical simplicity of a song that boldly proclaims “this song is going to get stuck inside your head,” is genius commentary.
“The Catchy Song” demonstrates a form of self-referentialism that defines the meta that made TLM so good. Screenwriters Phil Lord and Chris Miller are meta masters and may have out-produced themselves by pulling this song into the film. It’s an allusion to the success of “Everything is Awesome” and simultaneously an acknowledgment that following up a catchy pop track like EIA is nearly impossible to do.
Meta-ing the meta, it’s also parallel commentary regarding TLM2 and its inherent attempt to live up to the success of TLM while simultaneously attempting to follow the same formula. Impossible? Definitely improbable, but being self-aware, and embracing this awareness with incredibly clever twists, it might be possible to mimic, if not mirror, that success. I.e., Emmett can’t become a Master Builder again, he already is one, so why not introduce another hero to the mix, this one a portmanteau of all the other roles Chris Pratt is famous for, in the form of Rex Dangervest. Including Star Lord the Raptor trainer allows for endless commentary and jokes that revolve heavily around velociraptors with much aplomb.
There’s some next level moviemaking and LEGO-universe-based twist shit in development here and I’m sure, somewhere out there, M. Knight Shyamalan is cursing Lord-Miller for their brilliant fucking twist, wishing he’d thought of it first. Granted, he’s cursing them quietly, with a blank, emotionless face, in class Shyamalan fashion, but cursing them he is.
Are twists necessary in a family LEGO film? Hell no. But this isn’t entirely a family film either. It’s also a movie for people who love movies (as clearly Lord-Miller do) and can appreciate the cornucopia of references inherent in any given sequence. As such, the real-world revelation’s already been done and something new is needed to supply the narrative plot with drive, a piece of resistance, so to speak, to fill in the story where originality should live. After all, a film should be more than a connected series of brick jokes, even brick jokes glued together with a 1,000 funny quips about Chris Pratt and his transformation from baby-fat-funny-everyman in Parks and Rec to international action star, lord of dinosaurs.
I love how TLM2 plays with conventions, including conventions that it helped establish in TLM. It’s perhaps the singular best part of the film: while TLM is aware of all conventions already out there in the world (LEGO conventions, conventions pertaining to all the properties licensed by LEGO, real-world conventions and memes and commentary), TLM2 is aware of its own awareness and subverts it at well-picked moments, building upon a healthy foundation with master-builder like skill. Director Mike Mitchell does a near seamless job in continuing the directorial rhythm established by Lord-Miller in TLM. I have to say, while not a fan of 3D films in general, seeing TLM2 in 3D was a beautiful experience. The animation is stunning, the blend of stop motion and motion graphics spot on.
The biggest challenge in following the original is in accepting the dual reality at play, LEGO world versus real world, and that everything happening in the LEGO world is being dictated by action in the real world. Yet, at the same time, there’s an understanding that the real world is only encompassing a fraction of reality, and that the LEGO pieces can still move in the real world without the help of the real world people. It worked in the original because it’s a revelation. In TLM2, it’s more incongruous as a reality and a plot device that’s intercut throughout the story.
Outside that, what could have made it better? Not a hell of a lot. Ultimately, TLM2 really only falls victim to following the performance of the original TLM which was just that, an original. Game recognizes game though, and as such, if you enjoyed the first, chances are you’ll enjoy the second.