By Preston Wilder
It’s exactly five years – 1825 days – since the release of The Lego Movie in February 2014, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller had spent each of those days thinking up at least one gag to include in their script for The Lego Movie 2. The wit and invention (okay, mostly invention) of this animated comedy is breathtaking, and the film is forever moving on to the next joke. Call it ‘The ADHD Movie’.
There’s a plot of sorts, about alien invaders – the ‘Lego Duplo’, which is actually a whole subdivision of Lego aimed at younger kids – alarming the citizens of Bricksburg who include ever-optimistic Emmet (voice of Chris Pratt) and dark, brooding Lucy (voice of Elizabeth Banks), but of course the plot is irrelevant; it’s all about the jokes. Some of the jokes are knowing digs at the Marvel way of doing things, like the line about Batman (voice of Will Arnett) being “off having his own standalone adventure”. Some are puns, some are movie references. Some of them deal in a kind of surreal irony, like the alien queen getting a song-and-dance number to assert how non-evil she is, “the least evil person you’ll ever see”. (Which of course only proves that she must be evil; or does it?) Some are just plain surreal, like the way it opens in medias res with a jumbled, ‘previously on Lego Movie’-type battle that briefly made me wonder if the cinema might’ve put the trailer on by mistake.
Above all, this is ‘The Smart-Aleck Movie’ – aimed at the same exact demographic as comic-book blockbusters, namely the 14-year-old-boy contingent who delight in mocking everything you say when not engrossed in superheroes and video games. No random phrase can be uttered in The Lego Movie 2 without being spoofed or deconstructed. “I’m your worst nightmare!” is deflated by being taken over-literally, a classic teen gambit (“You mean you’re me when I’m late to school and forgot my homework, and my pants are made of pudding?”). “I can’t HEAR you!” – spoken as part of an inspirational pep talk – collapses into a discussion where Person A wonders why they can’t be heard since they are, after all, speaking at a reasonable volume, and Person B explains that they’re actually a little bit deaf in one ear. If you’ve ever sat at the back of the class amusing your friends with merciless sotto-voce trolling of the teacher’s every word, you’ll probably enjoy this movie.
And what if you just like Lego? The Lego Movie is a strange franchise, not just because it’s filled with subversive humour while also being a commercial for a large corporation – which is strange enough – but also because it’s not even an appropriate commercial; 14-year-old boys have largely outgrown building things with coloured bricks. The thinking, I presume, is that younger kids will come anyway, drawn by the whole Lego brand, while the cool veneer will disguise how corporate the whole project is – though the movie’s theme, in between the jokes, is very on-brand, being all about harmony and togetherness. The Duplos just want to be friends, the film’s true villain turning out to be toxic masculinity. The live-action fragments that pepper the movie show a bickering brother and sister gradually learning to play together. Lego is all about building.
Maybe that’s what soured me slightly on the film, the disconnect between its snappy, cynical surface and slushy, un-cynical message – or maybe this geeky, snarky, essentially destructive sense of humour just becomes exhausting after two hours. I admit I got a little tired of The Lego Movie 2 – yet it’s so clever, so extremely clever. The queen sings a song about Batman, referencing all the various Batmen from Adam West to George Clooney – which is clever enough but the song also works on a plot level, since she’s trying to marry him for her own evil (?) reasons and trying to make him jealous by playing on his Superman fixation (“I’m just not into Gotham City guys / I’m just not into guys who don’t wear tights”). Lord and Miller have structured things nicely, in the 1825 days since the first movie.
“Everything is awesome” goes the catchy song – and everything is pretty awesome here. You can’t fault the jokes, or the rate at which they arrive. You can fault the tone for being slightly one-note, or the bland message behind it all, or the eagerness with which it accepts the mind-numbing power of catchy pop music – but not the jokes, not the casual reference to a ‘CPD’ (‘Convenient Plot Device’) or the quick glimpse of “unlicensed” superhero Larry Poppins (like Mary, but with superpowers), or the cameo by a Twilight-ish sensitive teen vampire (“I also DJ on the side, and wear women’s jeans”). This is funny stuff – but note that it’s also taking place, so we’re informed, in “the subconscious of an adolescent”. You have been warned.
DIRECTED BY Mike Mitchell
WITH THE VOICES OF Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett
US 2019 106 mins