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“The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part” — some things are awesome

New sequel is not assembled with quite as much care

<p>Writers Phil Lord and Chris Miller speak about "The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part" at the 2018 San Diego Comic Con.</p>

Writers Phil Lord and Chris Miller speak about "The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part" at the 2018 San Diego Comic Con.

When “The Lego Movie” premiered in 2014, general expectations were dismissive and cynical. Animated movies centered around children’s toys and licensed merchandise are typically cheap, disposable fodder destined to either fill space on television channels or distract children on long car rides. But “The Lego Movie” shattered the mold with hilarious writing, creative visuals and an earnest appreciation of child’s play. As a direct sequel to the surprising favorite, “The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part” is saddled with expectations in the opposite direction. Although it fails to reach the spectacular heights of its predecessor, “The Lego Movie 2” is a fun and uniquely appealing movie in its own right.

The film’s plot picks up right where “The Lego Movie” left off. Moments after Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) saves his world from the evil machinations of a dastardly villain, his toy brick world is invaded by Duplo beings from the Systar System. Despite being the hero of the previous story, Emmet proves useless in driving off these invaders, and he finds himself increasingly left behind as his compatriots and surroundings become darker and tougher versions of themselves over a five-year conflict. When Emmet’s friends are abducted and taken to the Systar System, Emmet must embark on an epic quest to save them — but of course, none of that is what the film is actually about.

For the uninitiated, “The Lego Movie” and its sequel serve as realized visualizations of a child’s imagination as he plays with a large assortment of Legos. It’s a clever concept that turns many possible flaws into strengths, as reliance upon frequent deus ex machinas, generic prophecies and nonsensically goofy characters makes perfect sense coming from the mind of a child. In the case of “The Lego Movie 2,” the unceasingly polite and cheerful Emmet represents the inner child, and the film’s plot directly addresses the question of whether such youthful innocence should be abandoned as an adolescent makes his first steps into young adulthood.

Most of that thematic symbolism will completely sail over the heads of children in the audience — the theoretical target demographic — but a major part of the film is devoted to amusing the parents and other adults watching with dialogue-driven humor. Characters casually lean against the fourth wall, lampooning themselves and other properties licensed by Lego with snide commentary and fast-paced punchlines, taking itself just seriously enough to stuff the plot with exaggerated drama while leaving space to goof around with absurd interludes. It’s the kind of farcical comedy that becomes smarter by acting dumber, like a stage magician who fumbles his card trick but reveals the correct card anyway.

But as hilarious and thematic as “The Lego Movie 2” is, there’s no getting around how visually unimpressive it is as well. Its predecessor rigidly conformed to a specific style guide — movements were intentionally choppy and clumsy in places to give the movie the occasional resemblance of stop-motion animation, and absolutely everything was designed either with Legos or with the materials a child would use to supplement a design made with Legos. This gave the first film a dazzling, fresh aesthetic. The sequel suffers by not conforming to this style nearly as closely. While by no means an ugly film, “The Lego Movie 2” is comparatively clean and repetitive and lacks the creative energy “The Lego Movie” radiated.

The whole main cast of characters from the first film reappear in “The Lego Movie 2,” and while they still put on wonderful performances, they’re largely present for the purpose of continuity and have very little to do in the plot. The film introduces an assortment of new characters but rarely goes farther with them than introductions. As a result, the movie feels narrower than the first, with much less variety and character interaction. On the one hand, this allows the film to give Emmet and his character arc a stronger focus than before. The tradeoff is that the film has less space to make itself likable and allow the audience to become emotionally invested. 

The sequel’s problems may stem from its primary target of parody. “The Lego Movie” was largely a send-up of big action blockbusters, films like the “Star Wars” series or “The Matrix,” films that children would not necessarily have seen but would have acquired some knowledge of through pop culture references and derivative films. In order to effectively poke fun at such cultural behemoths, the first film had to make itself big enough to match their spectacle and cover enough ground to mirror their stereotypes. 

“The Lego Movie 2,” however, is more interested in satirizing family-friendly action-adventure movies and is saddled with the baggage those films entail — a simple plot that’s easy to follow, multiple musical numbers and more overt moralizing with family values. Regardless of how effective this parody is, it’s difficult to ignore the grating simplicity of the execution — an annoying pop song about how annoying pop songs are is funny but still annoying.

“The Lego Movie 2” is definitely lesser than its predecessor, but the film still manages to be hilarious and enjoyable throughout its runtime. Its flaws are disappointing but never critical — never enough to counter the sheer wonder that such an earnest and creative film about merchandised properties can exist. With its unique brand of quick-witted comedy and a solidly-formed adventure, the film can truly claim to have something to appeal to audiences of all ages.