The LEGO Movie 2 “Grows Up,” But Did It Need To?

You can only do The Sixth Sense once. You can’t duplicate The Usual Suspects. Making a sequel to a movie with an excellent, world-recontextualizing twist necessarily means that the follow-up will lack that element of surprise, and have to make up for it in another, usually much more meta, way. The twist of 2014’s The LEGO Movie came as such a shock because audiences had gone into what they believed was a kids’ movie and were bopping in their seats to the surprisingly infectious “Everything is Awesome,” thinking the animation was the most complex thing about the film. To reveal that all of it—Emmet, Wyldstyle/Lucy, President Business, the Kragle, the Special—were orchestrated by a real-world kid working out his frustrations with his absent perfectionist father was akin to looking at the bottom of the coffee mug and seeing “Kobayashi” stamped on the porcelain.

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part ventures out into the world beyond Bricksburg to build a story around the boy Finn, now an adolescent, and his younger sister Brianna, who’s old enough to play with his LEGOs using her comparatively childish Duplos. Their sibling rivalry literally shapes Emmet (Chris Pratt) and Lucy’s (Elizabeth Banks) world into a gritty-slash-glittery, Mad Max-versus-Jupiter Ascending sequel, replacing some of the guileless delight of the original with heavy-handed lessons about balancing multiple sides of oneself.

Read on for our non-spoiler review.

It’s been five years since the fallout of Taco Tuesday, and Bricksburg has become Apocalypseburg: every brick and every person sandblasted/tattooed/spiked and grimly on the lookout for the mumbling, brightly-colored Duplo invaders from the end of the first film. After countless battles with their seemingly unstoppable foes that always end in devastation, Lucy and Emmet are at their wits’ end: The Duplos don’t obey the LEGOs’ physics, and for every weapon that the Master Builders can create, the Duplos have a giggling heart or big-eyed star that can explode it. There seems no way to win.

That is, until General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) touches down in her bizarre ship and kidnaps Lucy, Batman, and other beloved regulars from the first film to tow them back to the Sistar System to meet their leader. Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), a sentient mass of shapeshifting blocks, is a delightful antagonist to the Master Builders, who are excellent at manipulating the world around them to fit their needs but not so good at applying that same open-mindedness to themselves.

Screenshot: Warner Bros.

Meanwhile, sweet, hapless Emmet, who never quite adjusted to Apocalypseburg, must become the gritty hero that the narrative requires to save his friends—with some help. Enter Rex Dangervest (also Pratt), the swaggering Han Solo to Emmet’s Luke Skywalker: flying through space in a ship shaped like a giant fist, he is Emmet’s inverse in every way, and also the humble brick builder’s role model for the person he’s “supposed” to become.

The movie’s theme is clearly summed up by, of all things, 1 Corinthians: When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. The thing is, the movie was never childish in the first place. Adult audiences needed only to watch it to see their own hangups and self-imposed creative constraints reflected back. But that’s the problem with leaning into the world that the first movie revealed; now the sequel’s perspective belongs to Finn, caught between still loving LEGOs five years later and wanting to abandon them now that his younger sister has caught up to him and he hasn’t moved on. His insecurity drives much of the conflict, making for a less universal moral but also making a very deliberate (if frustratingly gender-essentialist) point about the ways in which boys and girls play.

Expanding the bounds of the LEGO Movie story for frequent visits to Finn and Brianna’s world also muddles the question of narrative control: Are the LEGOs and Duplos warring because these siblings want them to, or in spite of them? The moments in which Lucy and Emmet muster the willpower to exert control beyond their dimensions are inconsistent, making it difficult to buy into the story’s stakes.

Screenshot: Warner Bros.

One way in which the movie does “grow up,” or rather develop, is in its animation. While the first installment exhilarated audiences in the sheer creativity of using LEGO bricks for anything from coffee to explosions, the introduction of the Sistar Universe gives the animators so many more materials to work from: felt, taffeta, glitter! Again, all excellent contributions from Brianna’s imagination.

Bringing back old characters (including unnecessary cameos from the Justice League—which were not surprising because Warner Bros.) while introducing new ones makes for an overcrowded movie in which no one gets enough time. Haddish is sparklingly brilliant as Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi, but woefully underused. A late-stage reveal about the Captain Phasma-esque General Mayhem made me want to take the time to learn more about the Duplo world, when instead we were hurtling toward the story’s conclusion.

The sequel was also packed with more musical numbers that had me, like Lucy, groaning at their ubiquity. Sure, it’s fun to see Batman rap about “Gotham City Guys,” but wasn’t the better place for that in The LEGO Batman Movie? (Also, sadly, no Robin tagging along to the Sistar System.) And I’m proud to confirm that, twelve hours later, “This Song Will Get Stuck in Your Head” is not as persistent an earworm as it claims to be. That said, the gritty reprise of “Everything’s Not Awesome” strikes the perfect tone—as does The LEGO Movie 2 any time it’s poking fun at itself.

There’s still plenty to delight in, especially in watching Lord and Miller subvert their own rules and reach beyond the boundaries they’ve established. But expect the messaging to hit you like a ton of bricks, rather than coming together with a satisfying, quiet click.

Natalie Zutter is super-curious if The Playmobil Movie (her preferred childhood toy of choice) will have any of this complexity. Talk movies with her on Twitter!

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