As the fourth entry in the LEGO cinematic universe, The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part has the tricky task of following the established formula for LEGO movies while also trying to stand apart as a unique experience. It passes the first test with flying colors. The movie is full of the requisite witty gags, clever animation, unexpected cameos, heartwarming lessons about family, and those awe-inspiring builds that translate into wallet-draining products. However, the film strains under the weight of expectations and an abundance of characters that doesn’t quite reach the heights of The LEGO Movie.
If you’ve enjoyed previous installments in this franchise, I definitely recommend seeing this movie without reading any further. The less you know, the more delightful and unexpected this movie will be. But if you want to know more, then read on, my friend.
In case you’ve missed the trailers, The LEGO Movie 2 picks up moments after the previous one left off as DUPLO invaders attack Bricksburg, transforming it into Apocalypseburg. Five years later, Lucy, Batman, Unikitty, and other returning characters have become grittier, post-apocalyptic versions of themselves, while Emmet remains his cheery self.
This status quo is interrupted when General Mayhem arrives and kidnaps everyone but Emmet and takes them through the Stairgate to the Systar System where Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi is hatching a plot that will change things forever. Emmet sets out to rescue his friends and along the way teams up with the ultra-awesome Rex Dangervest who promises to teach Emmet how to toughen up.
Whereas the first LEGO Movie relegated its live-action segment to a third-act twist, the human characters of Finn and his previously unseen sister Bianca are referenced right from the start of LEGO Movie 2 and pop up throughout. This forces viewers to try and keep track of two realities simultaneously and understand plot developments on both a literal and metaphorical level. It’s a lofty goal for a movie primarily aimed at children. While this approach leads to a few genuinely clever and heartfelt moments, it slows the pacing of the movie and ultimately brings up more questions than it answers.
The true MVP of LEGO Movie 2 is Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi. Tiffany Haddish’s vocal performance gives this character a lot of personality. I’m eagerly anticipating the release of the movie’s soundtrack, so I can listen to her character’s songs again. (Yes, songs. The latter half of the movie features several catchy musical numbers.) The queen’s constant shape-shifting also highlights the flexibility of the LEGO system perhaps better than anything else in the entire LEGO movie franchise.
One area where LEGO Movie 2 shines compared to all three of its predecessors is the diversity of its cast. While The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Batman Movie barely passed the Bechdel Test, LEGO Movie 2 easily passes that bar and arguably even scores well on the Kent Test depending on how you interpret Sweet Mayhem and Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi as women of color (their voice actors certainly are, but their characters are pink-skinned aliens, which is problematic).
Honestly, I wish the movie had dug deeper into some of the gendered aspects of play and LEGO products than it did. Despite being a momentous occasion when minifigures and minidolls coexist on screen and in sets for the first time, there are only a few offhand jokes about gender roles. The movie sets up some interesting contrasts in the characters of Rex Dangervest and Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi, but it doesn’t go as far as I would have liked with them.
As someone who has paid close attention to the animation and visuals in all four LEGO movies, I was really happy to see that this movie chose to reverse the trend of relying on non-LEGO elements. In the original LEGO Movie, every explosion, flame, and body of water was fully built of (computer-generated) bricks. There were some key non-LEGO elements, but they were cleverly integrated and central to the plot. The LEGO Batman Movie moved away from that and used realistic water and smoke. The LEGO Ninjago Movie went even further and introduced realistic rocks and plants. This probably helped reduce the set building and rendering times for the animation studio, but it also reduced the overall “LEGOness” of the movies. While there are some non-LEGO elements in LEGO Movie 2, they are subtle and strategic. Of particular note, the waterfalls in LEGO Movie 2 look like they are made out of fabric, which fits well with the stop-motion feel of the animation.
Unlike The LEGO Batman Movie which seemed to cram in vehicles galore just so there could be a plethora of tie-in products (did every villain really need a bespoke car for plot reasons?), The LEGO Movie 2 sets are seamlessly integrated and motivated by the plot for the most part. They also compare well to their onscreen counterparts with only a few instances of dramatic up-scaling (notably Apocalyspeburg and the Rexcelsior). This is not true with some of the LEGO Movie 2 Collectible Minifigures who only got a millisecond of screen time, but I’m not complaining if it means we get Dorothy and friends. (The keen viewer also will also spot a few builds just begging to be made into sets in the second wave of LEGO Movie 2 products that I hope gets released later this year).
Oh, and be sure to stick around for the credits. While not as intricate as the credits of The LEGO Movie, they feature moving builds, a hilarious song, and more.
In summary, The LEGO Movie 2 is an entertaining, if over-stuffed sequel that contains all the elements audiences and critics loved about the original LEGO Movie. LEGO fans of all ages will enjoy the story, characters, humor and message of the film, even if certain parts feel repetitive or strained for deeper meaning.
The LEGO Movie 2 opens this Friday, February 8th. All images courtesy Warner Bros.