It is awe-inspiring just how little of The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part at all interesting while being a prime example of functional filmmaking. There is not much you can fault it for except for the fact that it doesn’t make you want to keep watching. And the grand scheme of faults, that seems kind of minor for as many bloodied slogs there have been in the past.
To be clear, it’s not bad. It’s not boring. In fact, at several points in this sequel to the phenomenal 2014 original, you might even crack a bemused smile. But at any point, if you don’t steel your mind and buckle down, you could drift away like Unikitty herself into your own separate bubble world.
The biggest problem, strangely enough, is that it even exists as it does. If it were the first Lego movie from Warner Animation Group, it wouldn’t be burdened with working with the audience’s knowledge of the meta-narrative. (Or, perhaps, it could have done its own thing like The Lego Batman Movie.) Lord Business (Will Ferrell) turned out to be the real-life father of Finn (Jadon Sand), and the contrast between the universe’s need for Emmet (Chris Pratt) to be special against his unflinching ability to be anything but special mirrored Finn’s desire for the special recognition a father bestows upon his son.
This was the punch that helped land the otherwise highly traditional arc of a prophesied hero saving the world onto something that was surprising and emotional on a level that children’s films just aren’t. It was mature and nuanced enough with a blend of superficial and complex values that no matter who watched it, you could get something from the story. And that is the unfortunate curse of awareness that this sequel has to deal with.
Picking up from where the story left off, Finn is dealing with the violent, destructive incursion of his Duplo-loving younger sister Bianca (Brooklynn Prince) into his playspace while completely ignoring the immediate (and shockingly callous) departure of his father. Emmet, Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), and the rest of the Lego crew have to deal with this toddler that doesn’t understand how to play the way Finn wants to play.
And to that extent, it’s a highly relatable allegory. Whether it was your actual younger sibling or a neighbor or just someone you happened to sit next to a lot during lunch, you had to deal with this sort of adversity in childhood. You had an idea of how to play, and then you had to deal with someone thrust upon your games with no idea of what to do other than Be Involved.
Knowing, however, that the meta-narrative is what ratcheted up the first movie from terrific to a damn treasure is problematic. Before you even see that this is the relationship between Finn and Bianca, it is all you’re doing while watching the first act; mapping incidents to metaphorical interactions that they might be having, and then, as they grow up over the course of five time-lapsed years, how that would strain between a non communicative teen and an overzealous, unironic preteen.
It’s the point where none of it is particularly surprising by the time it’s all revealed what’s happening, nor are the new imagination-interpreted items of the real world that much of an unknown. Ourmomageddon, the Systar System, some prophetic vision of a dolphin clock showing 5:15. We get it, and we get it far before the movie seems to want us to.
Once it leans into these relationship parables, however, it really starts to get intriguing. It takes an exhausting parodic version of Pratt’s career in Rex Dangervest and his inclination to be tough and closed off over vulnerable and expression and makes Emmet’s natural positivity a hero in the story. And it does so while giving a tender reasoning behind the portrayal and interpretation of Bianca’s Duplo madness.
None of it, however, feels earned. Emmet’s attempt to learn to be hardened in a world of softies is supposed to be a response to Lucy’s cold response to his bucolic white picket-lined dreams of their lives together, but that only happens insomuch as it occurs in what seemed like an inconsequential scene. Emmet didn’t seem all that affected and Lucy didn’t seem any more put off than she usually is to Emmet’s wacky schemes.
Nor do any of the jokes land all that well, save for one throwaway, offscreen gag at the end. The movie is too self-aware (the new earworm is straight up called “Catchy Song”) and too closed off from its own emotionality to be effective as goof after goof glances off the bow and we dutifully sail to the finish line. It is, in other words, very clear that the director of Trolls and Sky High also directed this. (And that’s not to say those are bad either! Just also very cut and dry in their execution.)
Through sheer force of will conjured through energetic performances, catchy musical tunes, and the ever thoughtful narrative tapestry Phil Lord and Chris Miller does this thing rise above the bar of simply staying afloat. But by hewing too close to its origins and constantly calling for comparisons to one of the best animated films of the past decade, it’s too rocky of a ride to recommend without tremendous and hefty reservation.
Final Score: 6 out of 10