Nobody expected The Lego Movie to be anything more than a feature-length toy commercial, so when Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s 2014 animated film turned out to be clever, self-aware, sophisticated and fun, it was a triumph of creative effort over low expectations. Five years later, the Lego franchise has become synonymous with that kind of clever, self-aware, sophisticated fun (thanks to the equally entertaining The Lego Batman Movie and the somewhat underwhelming The Lego Ninjago Movie), so Lord and Miller (this time solely as writers and producers) and director Mike Mitchell now have much higher standards to live up to with The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part.
In terms of the jokes and the visual style, they mostly deliver, with another barrage of witty quips and one-liners, plus a beautifully detailed world made out of Lego bricks. The plotting is less effective this time, though, relying too heavily on the metatextual real-world framing device revealed at the end of the previous movie. Here, the connection between the adventures of the animated Lego characters and the generic live-action family squabbles is woven throughout the movie, so that the conflict is more about whether siblings Finn (Jadon Sand) and Bianca (The Florida Project’s Brooklynn Prince) will be able to play nice with each other, rather than whether Lego heroes Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) and Lucy (voiced by Elizabeth Banks) can save their world.
The world-saving mission itself is also needlessly convoluted in the manner of too many blockbuster sequels, although it hinges on a simple, kid-friendly lesson about being yourself. Five years after the events of the first movie, the Lego city of Bricksburg has become a Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic wasteland, thanks to repeated attacks from the invading Duplo blocks. Emmet, however, retains his sunny, optimistic disposition, which has started to annoy the dark and brooding Lucy. When a mysterious invader from space kidnaps Lucy and a few of the returning supporting characters (including Will Arnett’s Batman, returned from his solo adventure), Emmet decides he needs to become a hardened warrior in order to save them.
To that end, he teams up with the tough loner Rex Dangervest (also voiced by Pratt), who’s a sort of parody of Pratt’s various action-hero roles of recent years. The dual missions go on far too long and involve too many shifting objectives, but they’re still packed full of funny jokes, from returning characters and from new additions like the vain Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (voiced by Tiffany Haddish), who’s out to rule (or maybe just unite) the whole toy-based galaxy. Thanks no doubt to the popularity of theme song “Everything Is Awesome” from the original movie, The Second Part features enough songs to qualify as a musical, including multiple iterations of “Everything Is Awesome” and an end-credits song about how great closing credits are.
It sometimes feels like the filmmakers are trying too hard to recapture the old magic, but those efforts are still largely entertaining, and fans of the franchise should find plenty to enjoy this time around. Director Mitchell has a track record of helming bland franchise properties (including Trolls, the fourth Shrek movie and the third Alvin and the Chipmunks movie), and The Second Part comes off more like a calculated brand extension than the first Lego Movie did. Still, any kind of distinctive vision in a movie like this is welcome, and Lord and Miller once again prove that they can take the most unlikely corporate assignment and turn it into something delightful.