Monday, July 15, 2024

‘The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part’ Takes the Easy Road

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I hesitate to call The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part lazy, because all movies, even bad ones, take an immense amount of work. But it does feel as if the movie seems to be feasting on low hanging fruit. Much like Wreck it Ralph 2 it is a movie about toxic masculinity told at every step of the way, by men.

Toxic masculinity is a real thing, and it should be addressed. I can’t help but feel men use it as a tool, so male characters stay the main focus of the story. Women are often sidelined in stories, but with “toxic masculinity” they have a built-in excuse. In some ways, it shows the insidiousness of a patriarchal system. Advancing a very real and necessary argument made by feminists is all well and good. But when you do so by excluding women, the message begins to buckle. It shows just how much we left to unpack in how we view and tell stories.

The first Lego Movie had a daring and innovative twist at the end. We learned the movie was actually taking place in the imagination of a small boy. A heck of a twist but it soon becomes a helluva burden for Lego Movie 2. Knowing what we know the movie attempts to operate on a metaphorical level. It alludes to the real world and the characters playing with the legos.

Aliens from the Systar system land in Bricksburg and cause mayhem and destruction. The aliens are Duplo block shaped creatures who resemble warped versions of kittens with exaggerated features. The design of the invading creatures is clearly meant to be of not just of a small child, but of a small girl. The other Lego toys, the normal looking ones, are those belonging to a boy, obviously.

The plot of Lego Movie 2 is actually a brother, Finn (Jadon Sand) and sister Bianca (Brooklin Prince) playing with the toys over time, acting out their fractured relationship. In the beginning, we see how the two play together. Finn’s Legos resemble more the legos from the first movie. Bianca’s creations are more fantastical and averse to lore and backstory.

Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and Emmet (Chris Pratt) attempt to move their relationship forward. The brooding cynic and the cheery naif is a pairing older than Hollywood itself but the second time around the pairing becomes less believable. Because of the destruction, Bricksburg has been transformed into Apocalypseburg. A city of ruins inspired by Mad Max: Fury Road and countless other post-apocalypse movies.

Right from the start, the pacing is off. Mike Mitchell, who was a storyboard artist before becoming a director, sets a laid back tone. It’s a safe choice and allows for greater attention to be drawn to the detail of the Lego creations. But when coupled with the script by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller it becomes a drag.

Lord and Miller have a quick-fire buckshot style of comedy, akin to early Mel Brooks. It is a style that is death when applied to static camera angles and leisurely pacing. If I had to guess, Mitchell made the decision, to give the audience a chance to laugh, so as to not have the next joke drowned out. But if a joke doesn’t get a laugh, an eerie silence spreads over the theater as we wait for the next set up. The comedic momentum begins to fizzle.

It doesn’t help matters that Lord and Miller seem to be less satirizing pop culture and instead merely citing it. Although I will admit I have some slight admiration for a movie so jam-packed with masculine tropes and archetypes; but whose climax is a wedding between Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) and Batman (Will Arnett). Batman’s outfit of a pure white tuxedo with a fuzzy cape might be one of the best character designs of any Lego Movie.

Emmet has a vision of an Our-Mom-ageddon, the end of the Lego universe, and so we have our ticking clock. A wedding, an impending apocalypse of a post-apocalyptic world is all well and good. But Lego Movie 2 decides it needs a textual realization of Emmet’s manhood for him to accept and reject to rehash the character arc of the last movie. Halfway through the movie, Emmet meets Rex Dangervest (Pratt), a roguish loner with a crew of raptors. For years he was stranded on the planet Undar of the Dryar System.

It soon becomes clear Lord and Miller are either trying too hard or not at all. Yes, I know, these are names thought up by little kids. But most kids I know have more imagination in naming things. In a way, it panders and underestimates the boundless possibilities of a child’s imagination.

Even the songs lack any sort of memorability. “Catchy Song,” which has “This song is gonna get stuck in your head,” as almost the sole lyric, vanishes minutes after it ends. Unlike the first movie, Lego Movie 2 is almost a musical. But the songs don’t land and are meant to be more exposition than anything else. Mitchell, along with Lord and Miller, has forsaken set up in favor of just letting the song do the work. The result is neither a snappy song or reason to care.

As the characters are being sucked into a black hole, Abraham Lincoln shows up clinging to debris shouting, “But I had theater tickets!” An old, and somewhat reliable joke, but here it feels as stale as everything else. When Rex shows Emmet how to build a time machine the movie name checks, Back to the Future, Doctor Who, and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. By name check I mean they show you a lego representation, say the name of the movie and move on.

Although I must admit, I laughed out loud when Emmet asked Rex, “What’s Back to the Future?” “A movie only older kids get to watch,” Rex answers.

I don’t know maybe I’m just being a cranky old man. I do know Lego Movie 2 isn’t totally stupid as they introduce the Mom character played by Maya Rudolph, who almost single-handedly steals the entire movie.

Rudolph is so talented that she is able to find humor even in such deserts such as Happytime Murders and Life of the Party. She’s not in Lego Movie 2 enough to be worth the price of admission. But she is in it enough that you find yourself dragged to the movie you’ll have something to look forward to.

Roger Ebert once defined a sequel as “a filmed deal.” Cynicism aside, watching Lego Movie 2 I never felt like people were phoning it in. But I did feel as if no one knew really why they were there. For a movie which focuses so much on the joy of imagination and sense of play it woefully lacks either.

Image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

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