The LEGO Movie is the best American animated feature film of the last decade. The LEGO Movie 2 is not. It’s not even the second best – that crown probably goes to Toy Story 3 – but I would put it in my top five. Stylistically, the sequel is just as strong as any of the other LEGO releases, which is a good thing. The computer animation still has that photorealistic stop-motion look to it, the LEGO pieces are all detailed and highly-accurate, including the addition of Duplo and LEGO Friends pieces, and the visual humor is still there in spades. The sequel still has a lot going on: it’s not merely a simple three-act “save the cat” plot, but a layered film commenting on itself and other films like it at the same time. The film’s music is just as bitingly satirical and catchy as the original film (if not even more so). The real world is still a reverent and supernatural kind of place that influences the LEGO world in interesting and often hilarious ways. The imagination is all there, leaving it as one of the most enjoyable new films I have seen in the past couple of years.
The problem has nothing to do with the quality of the production or direction. The problem isn’t with the style of the film or any of its textural elements. Every joke lands and there’s not a beat out of place, it’s just that the film isn’t aiming as high. If there’s a problem, it’s that the first movie aimed so high for its thematic core and it succeeded. If you haven’t read Timothy Lawrence’s excellent essay on LEGO movies, firstly, you should, and secondly, it makes the point that The LEGO Movie is ultimately resolved by Emmet’s transcendence into the supernatural world (that is, our world) and the reconciliation of father and son. The two of these combined make a powerful archetypal theme of man’s relationship with God or Christ’s relationship with God the Father, or the countless permutations of this theme, and this makes the movie incredibly interesting, meaningful, and important. It is a film that aims to be about how each of us – every individual – relates to the infinite, something that very few other films even attempt, let alone get right. This puts The LEGO Movie in league with 2001: A Space Odyssey and Cloud Atlas, as far as thematic subject matter goes. These are extraordinary aspirations for an animated film about LEGOs, yet the film meets them, presenting us with an insightful thesis on the nature of man, transcendence, and time that is clear and. most of all, enjoyable to watch. So it’s no wonder that the sequel cannot compete.
What The LEGO Movie 2 uses as its thematic crux is the archetypal sibling rivalry. While this is a logical next step for the franchise, it lacks the creator/creation and God the Father/God the Son nuances that the original film had with the father/son relationship. While some of this is still alluded to in the sequel, it is merely a reflection of what was being explored in the first film – without adding anything to it. All that the sibling relationship offers is a slightly more nuanced way of saying that everyone should play nicely with one another and that love triumphs over everything. Being a LEGO movie, it manages to show this with more sophistication than the majority of other films, but it still remains true that the majority of other films are about this in one way or another – especially this past decade or two.
This (relative) lack of depth can be seen most clearly when Lucy has her first transcendent experience with the outside world. It makes sense for Lucy to have her own moment of transcendence in this film, especially since The LEGO Movie 2 focuses on her arc in the way the first one focuses on Emmett’s. Unfortunately, what this boils down to in this movie is breaking the fourth wall by explaining that ourmamageddon really means our mom is gettin’ all the legos. There is no holy moment for her – no reverence – just an explanation to a joke the audience got an hour and a half ago. This is quite possibly the only real misstep of the movie.
On the other hand, The LEGO Movie 2 is just as insightful in its meta-commentary on the state of Hollywood blockbusters. Mainstream American cinema has moved away from earnestly good characters and replaced them with cool badassery (or an attempt at it, anyway). Disney is targeted, in particular, between the introduction of Rex Dangervest, an obvious parody of Star-Lord from the Guardians of the Galaxy (as well as sharing similarities with other Chris Pratt characters), and with Lucy’s arc being a shot at a variety of female characters in Marvel movies as well as Rey in the Star Wars sequels. I don’t want to reveal too much, but the fact that she is a strong female with an internal struggle regarding her identity as such is enough to be a comment Marvel and Disney’s Star Wars films which boast female characters – all of which are one-note and practically flawless.From L to R: Lucy from The LEGO Movie 2, Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens
If the point of reading this review is to determine if you should go out and watch The LEGO Movie 2 – either by yourself, with your friends, or with your family – you should definitely make a point of going to see it in theaters as soon as you can. The LEGO Movie franchise deserves as much support as it can get in our modern wasteland of American animation, with only Sony’s Into the Spider-Verse giving me much hope for what was once one of this country’s great artistic strengths. But if you were already going to see the movie because you loved the first one so much – you still should – but perhaps temper your expectations just a tiny bit. That way, everything can be awesome.