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 dropping one for the other at random intervals before simply deciding to pick it back up again somewhere down the line and repeating the process across all 13 episodes. The whiplash is palpable, as only one story actually has any real significance to Castle and the major characters from season 1: recapturing Billy Russo.
After receiving a just and brutal beatdown in the climax of season 1, Billy awakens from a coma with no memory of his past misdeeds, yet retains the psychological trauma from that event . . . as well as his sociopathic mentality, amped to 11. Barnes certainly goes for the gusto, milking every ounce of hyper aggression, paranoia, and insanity until it becomes almost caricature. Inexplicably, most of the people around him, fully cognizant of these traits, follow him down the rabbit hole, particularly his equally traumatized psychiatrist Dr. Krista Dumont (Floriana Lima, Supergirl/Lethal Weapon). Given Russo’s reemergence, you’d think Frank and his DHS cohort Agent Dinah Madani (Amber Rose Revah)—who seems to have been just waiting for an excuse to finish Russo off after being used and shot in the head last season—would move heaven and earth to take him out again. And indeed it doesn’t take long for Madani to track Castle down and set off on the hunt . . . only to have them sit around and do nothing. It takes nearly the whole season before they finally clash with Russo, and by then, the flame has dimmed.
Meanwhile, we get to explore the side adventure of Frank having saved a young girl, Amy/Rachel (Giorgia Whigham), caught in the crossfire between politically motivated Christian fundamentalists and the Russian mob. Fun! While it makes total sense that Frank would step in to help this scared street tough out of a jam, it makes almost no sense why he would continue to force her to stay with him once he has access to law enforcement that can take over the responsibility. Ok, sure, there’s the parental aspect, and Frank’s nature of always looking for (if not downright needing to find) an excuse to put down bad guys, but the way it plays out is hard to swallow. In fact, just about everything about this storyline reeks of perfunctory hollowness. The macguffin that everyone is after (an actual roll of film) is revealed to be essentially meaningless, both in terms of content and value. The characters involved are stereotypes without any significant development, with the only exception being the major villain of the season, John Pilgrim (Josh Stewart, Criminal Minds).
And really, this encapsulates the biggest issue with season 2. We have an assemblage of potentially interesting characters, who are then given either nothing truly significant to do or end up wallowing in their own victimization. Every time Russo seems to near a moment of revelation and take some measure of responsibly for his actions, he turns around to blame whoever’s nearest at the moment—or simply Frank by default. Fine, he’s a bad guy, we can almost forgive his lack of growth. But then we have major characters like Madani, who spends the entire season acting the wounded fawn, contrary to her assured characterization from the first season. Perhaps we can chalk that up to trauma, but after a few episodes it wears thin, and her molasses pace at retaking any measure of control strips her of any real strength or dignity. Worst of all, Dr. Dumont’s own psychological trauma devolves her from an intelligent, insightful therapist to a battered wife somehow justifying Russo’s actions with a “he can change, and only I can change him” mentality that actually places her in a bizarre and disturbing triangle between herself, Madani, and Russo that feels less Marvel and more Jerry Springer.
The second storyline fares little better, with Amy’s relationship with Frank stemming less from trust and more from Stockholm Syndrome. To her credit, she expresses the audience’s call to some kind of action (running, fighting, planning), and seems as frustrated at the lack of progression as we are. Pilgrim is given an interesting backstory, but even he ultimately comes to terms with the fact that his heart just isn’t in the hunt here. Even the last of the sidekicks, war-buddy Curtis (Jason R. Moore) can’t seem to make up his mind how involved he really wants to be in this whole affair, and as Russo flat-out says to him, there’s really no need for him to be putting himself through it anyway.
And so we come back to Frank, and man caught between two factions without any real investment in either. He had his chance to kill Russo, and chose to leave him a broken shell. So it’s no great surprise when Russo is unleashed on the world (what else was really going to happen?). Half the time they are begging Frank to finish Billy off, and half the time begging him not to. So it’s then little wonder he gets bored and turns his attention to the surrogate daughter who provides an ample supply of hoodlums to pound, which seems to be his driving force throughout the season. He doesn’t really care who’s in front of him as long as he can wreak some havoc. By the end of the season, Frank may have fully embraced his role as the Punisher, but it’s less a result of growth and more a simple acceptance of his innate nature. One may chalk that up to the extent the character is capable of, but longtime comic fans may have something to say about that.
But if character and story are the least of your concerns, then you may find yourself quite satisfied by the constant and rousing depth of action. The encounters are visceral, brutal, and well-choreographed. Most of it adheres to the realm of the real, which naturally means characters in general—and Frank in particular—are stabbed, shot, beaten, and broken with abandon during each encounter. While it keeps the consequences valid, it also requires a lot of down time to heal. The timeframes are truncated (thankfully), and few characters suffer any prolonged or overly lingering side effects.
Fun as it is to watch the Punisher beat and be beaten over and over, it can’t mask the dearth of development throughout the series. The acting is fairly solid, with everyone doing their best with what they have to work with, but ultimately we have to care about the characters and their journey, and there just isn’t much to hang on to here. Under normal circumstances, I’d call it a bump in a road that could be easily be fixed down the line, but as Frank will likely be joining Matt Murdock, Luke Cage, Danny Rand, and Jessica Jones in the Netflix graveyard anon, we’ll have to accept that we’re ending with less than a bang. And that truly is a shame.