The audience seated for a Friday night screening of The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part was about what you’d expect: Some small groups of adults, no doubt motivated by the joy of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s original Lego joint; throngs of teenagers with nowhere to go but the movies; and a handful of parents with young children bouncing out of their seats in excitement. As the film’s visual sugar rush began in earnest, it became clear when, and how, everyone would react to each of its elements. The teenagers would whoop at silly names and clever sight gags, the children would giggle and kick their seats during the catchy songs and one specific adult man would loudly clap every time he understood a pop culture reference—Bruce Willis in air vents! Gandalf with a stop sign!
While you shouldn’t typically read too much into an audience’s reactions, this theater experience was such an apt metaphor for The Lego Movie 2—a symphony of joy and a celebration of our own perspectives that also grows repetitive, predictable and borderline annoying after the first hour. It’s a sequel that’s well aware of the dangers of sequels, announcing them left and right with a wink and a nod toward the adults in the audience, and yet it can’t seem to avoid paling in comparison to its remarkable predecessors, particularly 2017’s The Lego Batman Movie. With the bar set so high, underperforming is far from failure—The Second Part is still a testament to the creativity that has blessed big-budget animation and children’s programming in recent years—but everything can’t be awesome forever.
The film picks up five years after the events of The Lego Movie, and the sunny town of Bricksburg has transformed into a Mad Max-style wasteland, appropriately named Apocalypseburg, at the hands of the Duplo invaders. If you’ve forgotten the events of the first film, The Second Part is quick to remind you that real-life tween Finn controls the central Lego narrative, while his younger sister Bianca is responsible for the sparkly, cute and wontly destructive aliens that threaten his city. While most of the citizens of Apocalypseburg have been hardened by their new lifestyles (Surfer Dave is now Chainsaw Dave, for example), Master Builder Emmet (Chris Pratt) is still the same happy-go-lucky everyman he’s been since day one. He’s even built a suburban paradise for his edgy girlfriend, Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), but she’s appropriately critical of his inability to read the room and get with the times.
The ostentatious new construction attracts the attention of a Duplo ship, and in no time, invaders snatch up Lucy, Batman (Will Arnett), Benny (Charlie Day), MetalBeard (Nick Offerman) and Unikitty (Alison Brie) with the intent of marrying Batman to the shape-shifting Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (a wonderful Tiffany Haddish) of the Systar System. It’s all typical little-sister stuff, but to the residents of Apocalypseburg, it’s a terrifying threat—and to Emmet, it’s a chance to prove himself tough and capable by saving the day. After a few musical numbers, most of the Queen’s captives are convinced of her goodness, but Lucy, always the cynic, plans her escape. En route to intercept the marriage, Emmet is saved from his own incompetence by a funny, on-the-nose parody of Chris Pratt’s Hollywood persona—a man named Rex Dangervest.
An amalgamation of all the roles that have transformed Pratt from nottie to hottie in the past decade, Rex is a galaxy-defending archaeologist, cowboy and raptor trainer who happens to be Emmet’s exact doppelganger. He’s cool, tough and macho—everything Emmet isn’t. As fun as it is to see Pratt poke fun at, even criticize, all the conventions that made the actor who he is today, the movie seems a little too proud of itself for getting away with it, and the same tough-guy jokes and raptor gags grow less potent each time they’re made. Compared to the funny and emotionally rich look at the toxic masculinity of Bruce Wayne in The Lego Batman Movie, the skewering of Rex Dangervest feels more like a skit that goes on too long than a character arc.
As the movie bounces toward its ultimately happy conclusion, it makes many of its big, important messages clear—femininity is as valuable as masculinity, you shouldn’t ask someone to change who they are, communication is key and pop music is actually good. It’s a hodgepodge of feel-good lessons that, while reductive and wrapped in a manic rainbow package, are still valuable to kids and adults. And unlike its predecessor, The Lego Movie 2 doesn’t end with a clear door to a sequel, leaving the future up to the vivid imaginations of all those kids who can dream even bigger than the franchise’s creators—as it should be. ◆
Starring Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish, Stephanie Beatriz, Charlie Day, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman and Maya Rudolph. Written by Phil Lord, Christopher Miller and Matthew Fogel, and directed by Mike Mitchell. At Assembly Row, Boston Common, Fenway, Seaport, South Bay and the suburbs.