Five years ago, I waxed rhapsodic about the unexpectedly original delights of an animated feature predicated upon a popular line of toys. The Lego Movie didn’t merely milk consumer interest in the parent product; it brazenly mocked its own brand and passive consumerism as an approach to living. Like free-versifiers who prove their mastery by voluntarily taking on the chains of a rigid poetic form such as the sonnet, even if only as an experiment, screenwriter/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and their animation team, Animal Logic, cobbled together a secondary universe entirely out of colorful building bricks – and they made it sing, visually speaking. Also, it was very funny.
Alas, much of the charm of the original has been lost in The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part. Mike Mitchell has taken over the director’s chair, and although Lord and Miller provided the script, the self-referential meta-humor that helped make the first one so much fun has grown noticeably wan here. You’ll literally have to wait until the very end for the exception: a song over the closing credits, “Super Cool,” on the subject of how cool it is to make closing credits and how particularly cool these particular credits are.
Is that wrap-up worth the wait? Your mileage may vary. Watching Lego Movie 2 is not exactly an ordeal, and doing it with kids in tow will likely enhance the enjoyment of the viewing experience. But it drags at times, especially when the action shifts from the Lego worlds of Bricksburg, Apocalypseburg and the Systar System to the real world of young Finn (Jadon Sand), his little sister Bianca (Brooklynn Prince, of The Florida Project) and their mother (Maya Rudolph, who actually does get to step on a Lego, barefoot).
The premise here is that Finn’s elaborate alternate universe is being periodically invaded by Bianca, who simply wants someone to play with. Rebuffed by her big brother, she takes to filching some of his Lego characters, and occasionally invades Finn’s layouts with her Duplo and Lego Friends toys. These are perceived as destructive aliens by nerdy EveryLego hero Emmett (Chris Pratt), his Goth girlfriend Lucy/Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and the rest of the core crew: Batman (Will Arnett), Metalbeard the pirate (Nick Offerman), Princess Unikitty (Alison Brie) and spaceman Benny (Charlie Day).
Narratively, this sibling rivalry gives rise to a convoluted intergalactic chase beyond the Stairgate (which is to say, out of the basement where Finn builds his layouts), during which Emmett tries to rescue kidnapped friends – notably Batman, who is being forced to marry the shapeshifting alien queen of the Systar System, Watevra Wa’Nabi. En route, Emmett encounters his more macho alter ego, the Han Soloesque space raider Rex Dangervest (also voiced by Pratt), who tries to toughen him up for the fray.
Where this fails to hang together is in the effort to combine the differently scaled universes of Legos, Duplos and Bianca’s crafts projects (glitter is copiously used here) into a coherent animation aesthetic. Much of the joy in the first Lego Movie derived from the extraordinary creativity that went into designing a world that seemed to live and breathe despite being made out of tiny bricks, everywhere you looked. In Lego Movie 2, we have mostly-Lego characters moving through environments that are made partially of Legos and largely of other things. The miraculous problem-embracing approach of the original is lost, replaced by a pasted-together cosmos. The kids in the audience probably won’t mind, but I did.
Lego Movie 2 still has some good jokes, largely in the form of cameo appearances from other pop-culture universes. Emmett can’t use ductwork to infiltrate a building without running into Bruce Willis climbing in the opposite direction, for example. There are recurring appearances from a sparkly vampire, and a one-off from none other than Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is reportedly now set to get her own Lego figure. I might actually break down and buy that one. As for the movie itself: I would have been happy to bid farewell to this franchise after its first outing. Sometimes sequels serve only to dilute the pleasure of a good concept.