2014’s The LEGO Movie was my favorite film of that year, and so the sequel, The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part had an incredibly high bar to clear. Unfortunately, The Second Part has a bit of sequelitis as well as some haphazard storytelling that makes it pale in comparison to the first movie. And yet I can’t deny that I was laughing my head off through the first act and I appreciate the themes the film is going for with regards to issues of toxic masculinity. Although it doesn’t hit as hard as the upending of the Chosen One narrative from the first film, The LEGO Movie 2 still has some interesting things to say and always says it with a bright, colorful tone that makes the film constantly entertaining. Everything may not be “awesome” with the sequel, but it’s still pretty great.
Picking up right where the first movie left off, Bricksburg is invaded by aliens from the planet DUPLO (LEGO toys made for young kids) in the Systar System that destroy everything in sight. Five years later, and now our LEGO characters live in the bleak Apocalypseburg where everything is terrible and everyone is miserable except for Emmet (Chris Pratt), who remains his jolly self. When General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) arrives from the Systar System and demands the strongest warriors for a matrimonial ceremony with Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), she kidnaps Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett), Unikitty (Alison Brie), MetalBeard (Nick Offerman), and Benny (Charlie Day), so Emmet goes to rescue his friends with the help of the dashing hero Rex Dangervest (also Pratt).
As you can probably tell from the synopsis, what’s happening in the real world is a battle between Finn (Jadon Sand) and his sister Bianca (Brooklynn Prince), so The LEGO Movie 2 is also taking place between two perspectives. While the first film was happening from Finn’s point of view, The LEGO Movie 2 has to balance between what Finn imagines and what Bianca imagines, and it’s not always successful. For Finn, he sees Bianca’s femininity as a threat to his macho maturity, so everything childish and girly is attacking his world. But for Bianca, she just wants to play with her big brother, so the characters from the Systar System are inherently misunderstood. Trying to juggle these two perspectives can make LEGO Movie 2 a bit tricky, especially when it adds in that the LEGO minifigures have their own autonomy. There was a glimpse of that in the first movie, but in the sequel, it feels like a narrative crutch.
The film also suffers from a bit of sequelitis, piling on more musical numbers and callbacks that don’t really enrich the narrative. Screenwriters Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are no strangers to parodying sequels as they did with 22 Jump Street but here it feels like the film is running to the safety of familiarity, which is a shame when you consider how bold and surprising the first film was. The callbacks don’t derail The LEGO Movie 2, but they provide a constant reminder that you’re in sequel territory and there are certain boundaries the film is afraid to break or doesn’t know how to handle.
And yet despite these flaws, I still had a blast with most of the film. The humor remains razor-sharp and the animation is as stunning as ever. We’ve now had four LEGO movies and at the very least they’re all incredibly entertaining and fun even if they don’t reach the dizzying heights of the original. These are just fun worlds to inhabit, and the flexibility that LEGO provides—that it can build anything and still be LEGO—gives a tremendous amount of flexibility to the storytelling. The first film can take place across multiple LEGO worlds and the sequel can change everything to Apocalypseburg and the Systar System and still work.
Beneath the colorful worlds and fun parody, you still have a thoughtful story about how we raise boys and girls, and I just wish LEGO Movie 2 hits its themes a bit harder. The message at the center of the film about how for boys, becoming more “mature” means becoming angrier, colder, grittier, and meaner is a valuable observation. Emmet’s conflict in the film is how he can be so upbeat and cheery when the world has gone to hell, and that hellworld is a reflection of Finn’s persona. Finn is now a teenage boy, and he thinks that maturity and masculinity are synonymous with darkness, not the kindness and optimism embodied by Emmet. The lesson that you don’t have to be a gritty, hardened badass to be a “man” is incredibly valuable, and I just wish LEGO Movie 2 had been able to land it with the same kind of impact they had in the first movie when it came to a lesson about what makes you special.
In The LEGO Movie, everything was awesome (even if the song “Everything Is Awesome” was the rallying tune of an authoritarian overlord), and it’s hard to make everything awesome again. There are more than a few moments where The LEGO Movie 2 reaches the heights of its predecessor, but the film as a whole can’t compete with what Lord & Miller accomplished with their first movie. The sequel may not be as tight or a cohesive as the first film, but it’s still a joy with delightful jokes and wonderful characters. It will be interesting to see how much steam is left in the LEGO franchise, but as long as they use the world to go after interesting themes with a heavy dose of humor and heart, there’s no reason to ever quit building these delightful films.