The LEGO Movie 2 is a fun, familiar celebration of play [Spoiler-free Review]

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.

7 comments on “The LEGO Movie 2 is a fun, familiar celebration of play [Spoiler-free Review]

  1. Purple Dave

    I found it to be incredibly preachy, even moreso than TLBM, which many people felt fell flat once they moved past the opening scene and got to the meat of everything that the filmmakers felt was wrong with everything you liked about Batman. I don’t think it’s going to go over as well when people realize what this movie is saying about their favorite parts of this movie either. And the queen was just shy of utterly annoying. They did such a good job of making her obnoxious when you first meet her that I just can’t put that out of my mind. The ending basically feels like unapologetic hand-waving. Frame the entire movie in terms of robbing a bank. Does the ending still work?

    And I have zero interest in the soundtrack. With TLM you mostly just had to power past Everything is Awesome before it could crack open your skull and beat your brain to a pulp with a 2×4. TLBM leaned pretty heavily towards bad pop music, but was totally worth it for the opening number alone. TLNM, I…honestly can’t remember one tiny little bit (did it have a soundtrack?). But this? It’s like they shaved off any tolerable parts of EiA and made an entire soundtrack out of what was left.

  2. Legoinsel

    thanks, Dave. I was afraid it would be like this. Since the first movie was great, the Batman movie had its moments, the Ninjago movie was just superfluous (but gave us some great sets so I could live with that), I’m not sure where to put this one.

  3. Johnny Johnson

    I liked it just as much as the first one. If you hate the idea of the LEGO building being “watered down” (Space is pretty empty, and the plot revolves around elements outside of the traditional LEGO System), I guess I can see people not liking this one as much as the original. Same for if you hated the music in the first one. Not my problem, I guess!

  4. Purple Dave

    The message is a bit more heavy-handed and less humorous than TLBM, and the plot seemed a bit less fleshed out, but the pacing was a _lot_ better than when TLBM basically ground to a halt right after the opening fight sequence. So, roughly on par with TLBM. And I can remember most of the plot after one viewing, so it’s way out of TLNM’s league. The minifigs aren’t quite as exciting as TLM (partly because most of the really cool characters from TLM are either returning in spades or totally absent, and partly because there just weren’t as many notable characters in general), and they’re _WAAAAAAAY_ less exciting than TLBM. How they compare to TLNM, I think, really depends on what you think of Ninjago in general. I like the TV series, but largely only cared about the fish-troopers, so the sets weren’t much more interesting to me than the movie was. Ninjago City was the one exception, but not really in my budget (the Docks was a bit bland for coming on the heels of NC).

  5. Wartracer

    @Purple Dave:

    Based on the trailers and such I get a really bad feeling that the main purpose of the film is crap all over men. Did that seem to be the case, or is it just focused on being as culturally inclusive as possible? Geez, I guess both are pretty bad…
    Not to say that including different peoples is bad in and of itself, but then that’s the entire point it gets really preachy fast.

  6. chip

    If it has gender based message I’ll probably skip it. I prefer my movies without identity politics and prefer to not be lectured while I’m being entertained.

  7. Nat

    Doubt anyone’s still reading these comments, but:

    Not really gender-preachy. A gag about Lucy doing all the work and Emmet getting all the credit. Dad (the human dad) has mellowed, but continues to be a bit distant. They actually conspicuously avoid talking about Lego’s unnecessary gendering of sets. And the Lego creations in the movie are implicitly gendered by color and build style in much the same way that Lego sets are, but without explicitly calling any attention to it or interrogating it.

    The movie tells us: “girls prefer bright/pastel colors; boys prefer dark/earthy colors; girls are happy to incorporate non-Lego elements into their building; boys prefer strict Lego-only building; girls are more interested in relationships in their play; boys are more interested in conflict in their play”. But all of this is implicit, rather than explicitly stated.

    IOW, it has gender-based messaging running through it, just like every other movie that has men and/or women in it. What movies have you been watching that don’t?

Comments are closed.