It's been a long wait. After two spinoff movies, a TV series, and a little bit of growing up, we finally took another vacation in Bricksburg. But everything's not as it was in The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part.
The world is more complicated, the characters are more hardened by time, and our heroes are much more bleak. And it's all because of a conflict with a powerful force that changes everything: overwhelming positivity, thanks to the adoration of a younger sibling.
The first film was a refreshing concept of a story within a story, as Emmet's struggle against Lord Business was contextualized through a young boy named Finn and his own issues with his father, who was rather protective with his elaborate collection of LEGO. The end of that movie showed The Man Upstairs finally relenting, allowing his son to play with his belongings with a major caveat; his younger sister is allowed, too.
This is the narrative conceit that drives the conflict between
Bricksburg Apocalypseburg and the Systar System, which comes cross as a pair of siblings that have trouble sharing. But the meta-plot has a lot more to say than encouraging family members to get along. Instead, it's a cycle of maturation and its side-effects, learning more about the world around you and that everything isn't awesome. But that doesn't mean it has to stay that way.
The core of the film is driven by General Mayhem and Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi, the latter of whom wants to unite the two worlds by marrying their enemies' fiercest warrior, Batman. Emmet and Lucy go on a quest to save them, and the expectations of Emmet (and Finn's own maturation) force him to confront his own positivity in the form of Rex Dangervest, a quick-talking pastiche of voice actor Chris Pratt's most popular roles.
The animation is smooth, maintaining the high standard of brick-built CGI that made the first film so unique. There are some stylistic shortcuts that are new and different, if not a bit jarring, but they work in context. The unique marriage of classic bricks, Duplo, and Friends-style mini-dolls expands the world much like the brand has expanded over its history, with each aspect adding new layers to the meta-narrative.
The film is also loaded with the classic Phil Lord and Chris Miller sense of humor that has made films like 21 Jumpstreet and Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse so popular, with whip-smart jokes and rapid-fire references flying at a frenetic pace. It maintains all of the charm of the original film, not messing with a formula that's worked so well before.
The plot is not as tight as the first film, but it's only because director Mike Mitchell is working with bigger ideas. Instead of being an issue of control and disconnect between child and parent, it's more coming to terms with the levels of control you have. The meta-plot of a struggle between brother and sister just feeds into the greater point of the narrative:
Everything can't always be awesome, and that's ok. But that doesn't mean we should give up and accept that, not when we can fight to fix things.
The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part does well in living up to its predecessor, building on the established ideas, and pushing the concept to tackle more complex themes. It might struggle at times to convey these ideas clearly, but they're still there. And you don't have to dig deep into a bin of bricks to find them.
Rating: 4 out of 5
The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part premieres in theaters on February 8th.