By: Steve Pulaski
The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part arrives amidst a very different landscape than its predecessor did back in 2014. The highly anticipated and explicitly entertaining LEGO Movie was embraced and acclaimed by people across generations, many of whom enthralled that they finally got to see the most integral toy to their childhood brought to life on the big-screen. It was a different beast; a film that warped a lot of nostalgia and meta humor into a manic cacophony of colorful energy that proved the wait was absolutely worth it. Its sensibilities were as fresh as the awe-inspiring animation by Animal Logic, and many, including myself, thought it was the beginning of a dynastic movie franchise.
But 11 direct-to-DVD/streaming movies, 11 short movies, 10 TV specials, and 11 TV shows have been spawned since The LEGO Movie assembled in theaters, not to mention theatrical offerings The LEGO Batman Movie and The LEGO Ninjago Movie coming to fruition, as well. LEGO entertainment is so pervasive at this point that the dynasty as quickly become more about saturation of property as opposed to the assertion of quality. Marry that with how commonplace self-referential humor is in popular culture (FYI: Deadpool wasn't released until the following February in 2015), and inevitably, there is a little less magic with The LEGO Movie 2. Its characters still remain memorable, as does the film's overall ability to make you smile. But I feel you'd be lying to yourself to admit that this time around, everything is merely all right.
The film resumes where the first one left off, as dad (Will Ferrell) and Finn (Jadon Sand) bond over playing LEGOs together when Finn's little sister Bianca (The Florida Project's Brooklynn Prince) receives Duplo blocks, another variety of the popular building blocks. The invitation of these newfound bricks, among other factors, eventually causes the happy, healthy community of Bricksburg to become "Apocalypseburg." Our resilient heroes — Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett), Benny the Spaceman (Charlie Day), and Unikitty (Alison Brie) — have went from overflowing with joy to embittered, although Emmet is still his optimistic self.
But Emmet is put to the ultimate test to remain positive when General Sweet Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) kidnaps the five friends and holds them hostage in her Systar System Army. Her ultimate plan is to tempt each of them uniquely in order for them to let their guard down long enough so Bricksburg can be overtaken and destroyed. Whether this involves arranging a marriage between Batman and the shape-shifting Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) or introducing Emmet to the cowboy/dino-trainer Rex (Pratt), Mayhem puts forth whatever it takes — this time, it's Lucy's turn to save her friends before "Ourmomageddon" is nigh.
Where The LEGO Movie was a figurative and literal block-buster, orchestrated to cleverly exhaust even a handful of the limitless possibilities of the globally recognized brand, The LEGO Movie 2 is more grounded in a narrative as opposed to being all flash. It's also refreshing to see that director Mike Mitchell (Sky High, Trolls), working with Trisha Gum (Robot Chicken), also decided to slow the frantic pacing that has been a nagging issue in all of the LEGO movies down a considerable notch. Writers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (who couldn't commit to directing this film due to their commitment to Solo: A Star Wars Story at the time), too, manage to let us take in the atmosphere of the environments, even though a considerably large portion of the film shows characters taken out of the current setting and transplanted in a cut-and-paste fashion into their own unique, animated backdrops.
But even with that, The LEGO Movie 2 just isn't as fresh and as ostensibly boundless as it was before. That's what the rapid dilution of a brand and two spinoffs, one solid, the other entirely needless, will do. Jokes that prompted belly-laughs from the first, due in large part to our absorption in the material initially, merely merit familiar smiles and chuckles. It's not that the style or humor has changed, it's just become more recognizable, the quips expected, and the constantly referential jokes routine in a culture that craves the next wise-cracking, pop-culture in-tuned hero like Deadpool or LEGO Batman. Five years is quite a bit of time to wait for a sequel in the age of immediacy, but seeing as how greatly the culture of mainstream humor has moved in such a direction that The LEGO Movie is merely a tentpole of it as opposed to a piece of counterculture, a great bit of the enjoyment factor has worn off like Emmet's Sharpie-dotted stubble. Once again, I must reiterate: everything may not be awful, but it's sure a lot of "all right" the second time around.