Updated: Mar 30, 2020
By Derek May:
YIN: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part
Everything can’t always be awesome, can it? It’s a valid question and a major theme of The Lego Movie sequel. Because sure, the original movie was a revelation at how insightful, clever, and yet playfully enjoyable a licensed-product film could be. But fun as The Lego Batman Movie was, it never quite reached the heights of its progenitor, and the less said about the Ninjago Movie the better. But now the band is mostly back together, and expectations are through the interlocking roof.
Fortunately for the worlds of both film and imagination, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part delivers on the awesome expectations to thrill, subvert, and elucidate with its signature formula of heartfelt acumen and zany revelry.
The title may seem on the nose, but it’s entirely apt. Kicking things off directly following the events of the first film, the follow-up is a continuation of not only those events but those themes as well. The third act of the original entered the human world, as a father (Will Ferrell) and son (Jadon Sand) reconnected over the wonder of unbridled imagination. But that openness meant that everyone could now join the fun, and thus arrived a sister (Brooklynn Prince) and her assortment of pre-schooler Duplo blocks. Over the course of the next five years, the consequences for fictional Bricksburg and its population of heroes was dire, and everything once again changed.
Well, almost everything.
Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) is as optimistic and gleefully positive as ever, much to the chagrin of everyone else who has wholly embraced the desolation and destruction wrought by the continuous Duplo invasion. Most aggrieved is Lucy/Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), whose penchant for brooding contrasts with her affections for Emmet. She’s set an ideal for her hero (and for herself), that no one may be capable of achieving. But when a new threat arrives and kidnaps Lucy and the rest of the gang, Emmet must dig deep to not just be a champion once again, but to discover what being a hero really means.
Ok, that’s all relatively straightforward. But from here on, things get really whacky. For the first half of the film, I was admittedly unsure where exactly we were going. Even with its wonderful twists and turns, the first movie was a pretty straight shot, with the audience gently but effectively led by the hand. This time, with the understanding that all the characters (human and Lego alike) are a bit older, it’s fair that the story takes a few extra liberties, presenting a more complex exploration of maturity. As with many things in life, by the time we reach the end and look back, we can see how beautifully everything ultimately tied together. And so it does, as the film wraps itself in a neat bow, yet never sacrifices its power to affect the heart and the mind.
After having broken the wall between the worlds of human and Legos, I wondered how the creators would carry forth that concept. I mean, knowing it’s all real-life kids playing with their Legos would seem to dampen some of the impact, right? Wrong. The sequel stands by its revelation, but manages to meaningfully integrate it rather than push it aside in favor of the animated world. There’s a beautiful balance fashioned, and it leaves us free to enjoy the adventures of Emmet et al.
In addition, all the cleverest nuggets remain, including Easter eggs, sly references and entendres, and of course, some excellent music. Everyone involved seemed to understand that no one was going to top “Everything is Awesome!” so why try? Instead, they simply crafted songs that worked best for the story. While “Awesome” solely dominated the first film, there are enough interludes this time to qualify the sequel as a legitimate musical. I’m not the biggest fan of that genre, but all the songs work so well in context that even curmudgeons like me can tap along. Tracks like “Catchy Song” will no doubt rise to become breakout hits, thanks in large part to the work of songwriter Jon Lajoie—who if you don’t know from his acting work on shows like The League you might recognize from indie comedic tunes such as “Everyday Normal Guy” (one of my faves—NSFW).
Fortunately, all the sparkly visual and auditory splendor never detracts from the crux of the film: the characters. Each really completes a significant and life-changing journey along the way. Whether it be Lucy coming to terms with her past, Batman facing his inner demons, or the human children finding a peaceful coexistence, everyone evolves while reflecting the same potential issues as within its multi-aged audience.
But as with all protagonists, it is left to Emmet to face the most substantial turmoil. All heroes need a guide, and Emmet finds a mentor willing to lead him to become the man Lucy wants him to be: Rex Dangervest. Voiced by Pratt doing a spot-on Kurt Russell impression (Guardians 2 meta!), Rex not only reflects much of what Emmet desires to be, but also what the actor himself has portrayed onscreen (cowboy, raptor trainer, astronaut, etc.). Pratt does an excellent job pulling double duty, and the dynamic between the two characters is not only key to the film but provides some of the best thematic moments to boot.
But while Emmet and his pals represent various aspects of the young boy, new characters like Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish, Night School), General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz, Brooklyn Nine-Nine), and even Ice Cream Cone (Richard Ayonde, The IT Crowd) arrive to offer a sisterly perspective. While Lego is considered a largely non-gender-specific toy, it’s nice to see more representation. Aside from the Duplo series, the film also includes the Lego Friends branch (aimed largely at young girls) and the differences in design help highlight the separation between the factions.
I personally grew up as an only child, and so the friction between the siblings registered intellectually, but not as emotionally (at least until the end). However, as my girlfriend is younger sister to an older brother, she immediately related to the dynamic and found it perfectly in synch with her own experiences of unfulfilled desire for playtime inclusivity.
In the end, I think that’s how The Lego Movie 2 manages to recapture that lightning. Not only does it further the story and characters in bigger and better ways, it adds more dimension by shining the spotlight in even more places. With a little more maturity and a lot of healthy introspection, the film pushes the boundaries within and without. It reaches out to those it may not have connect with before, and explores themes that few films (animated or not) ever dare, all while wrapping itself in joyous silliness and earworm beats. There are few films these days that check all the boxes while entertaining every age demographic in the household, but somehow this duo manages to pull it off. There’s something in here for everyone, and I defy you to come out of the theatre without a smile—especially if you stay for the “Credits Song.”
YANG: The Punisher Season 2
With the way things are going, this may be the last time I review a Netflix Marvel series. With the announcement of Disney’s own proprietary streaming service forthcoming, Netflix is axing its new rival’s shows left and right. And given their track record of oscillating quality, perhaps it’s not the worst thing. Frank Castle’s first appearance on season 2 of Daredevil was generally met with favorable enthusiasm, and his follow-up solo outing was given a general, lukewarm thumbs up. But with season two of The Punisher, the show delivers on the bone crunches and body counts, but thumps down a storyline beaten all to hell.
Season 1 drove Frank (Jon Bernthal) with a relatively clear purpose: uncovering the truth behind his family’s murder. The various internal storylines all dealt with that issue, or with the larger conspiracy behind it, in some fashion. It was a complex, layered narrative that kept the audience engaged with each revelation. By the end, Castle had dismantled the lies and exacted his version of justice on those responsible, most especially his former friend Billy Russo (Ben Barnes, Westworld). Season 2, however, inexplicably tries to split the focus between two completely unrelated storylines, often completely