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Non-Review Review: The Lego Movie 2 – The Second Part

Appropriately enough, given the brand involved, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part very skillfully builds on The Lego Movie.

Of course, The Second Part faces the typical challenges that haunt sequels to beloved and genre-bending films. A large part of what made The Lego Movie such a joy was the way in which it played with audience expectations of what it could be. More specifically, it built very cleverly and very consciously to a late development that was both entirely organic and very surprising, which is a difficult balance to strike. The Second Part starts with that late development baked into the premise, which means that it can’t pull the same twist again. It removes an important toy from the chest.

Bricking it.

However, while The Second Part lacks the novelty that made The Lego Movie so refreshing, it does have the advantage of building on what came before. In keeping with the nature of the toys depicted, The Second Part has the luxury of building upon an established template to tell its own story. The Second Part can trust that the audience understands the logic (both literal and metaphorical) that guided The Lego Movie, and so can develop that idea in interesting directions.

The result is a sequel that is fulfilling and satisfying, but which never quite matches the highs of the original film. The Second Part is clever, funny and canny. However, it is also – by its very nature – less innovative and creative. The results are impressive and affecting. While they don’t have quite the same impact as they did in The Lego Movie, the success of The Second Part is at least reassuring. That the template works so well even without disguising its twists offers proof that the fundamental building blocks are solid.

Piece in our time.

The Second Part operates from the basic assumption that the audience understands the narrative logic of The Lego Movie, that the events depicted on screen are effectively conjured from the subconscious of a teenage boy and filtered through the lens of a “highly sophisticated interlocking brick mechanism.” This allowed for a very effective and startling climax to The Lego Movie, when the film peeled back the jokes and the computer-generated imagery to present the unembellished conflict at its core; a playful child struggling with a rigid and uncreative father.

The Second Part takes this revelation for granted. This is obvious in a number of ways. It is reflected in the manner in which the already-self-aware internal mythology becomes explicitly modeled on both the geography and the relations of a familial house; the “si-star system”, the “stairgate” through which they must navigate, the desolate world of “Undar the Driar”, and the looming threat of “Ourmomageddon.” Indeed, the characters themselves seem to note how literal all of this becomes. “Our mom gets in?” Wildstyle observes dryly at one point. “Seriously?”

He’s Emmet his match.

More than that, the characters themselves seem more aware of what they represent this time around. At the climax of the film, the heroic Emmet finds himself grappling against a horrific opponent who embodies a lot of the core themes of the film. When Emmet points out that none of what is happening makes an sense in terms of internal plot mechanics, his opponent helpfully obliges, “All of this is taking place within the subconscious of a teenage boy!”

All of this means that The Second Part effectively finds itself in a game with its trump card already played. There is nothing that The Second Part can do to hope to match the cleverness of that twist from its direct predecessor. Indeed, the film even seems to nod towards the desire to attempt to one-up-itself when the nature of the film’s antagonist is revealed. The development is absurdly convoluted to the point of being self-aware, relying on seemingly sophisticated ideas like time travel and multiple dimensions and causality in service of a bigger twist.


Instead, in a very canny move, The Second Part stresses that the mechanics of this seemingly-clever twist are not the point at all. The Second Part all but acknowledges that the actual internal logic of this late-game twist is absurd, and the result of a very childish understanding of storytelling that mistakes narrative complexity for narrative effectiveness. (As the film itself points out, this seemingly gigantic third act twist is the sort of nonsense that a teenage boy would think is ingenious.) Instead, the film falls back on its emotional hook, which is anchored in The Lego Movie.

As a result, The Second Part is effectively playing a hand containing cards that the audience already recognises. This is a dangerous game as far as sequels go, inviting the law of diminishing returns. However, The Second Part shrewdly chooses to position this as a strength rather than a weakness. Knowing that the audience already understands that story logic that drove The Lego Movie, the film no longer has to conceal that logic. Instead, the story can play out with that element out in the open, a very transparent approach to narrative.

Putting the pieces together.

So The Second Part starts with the understanding that this is film about the awkward relationship between a teenage brother and his much younger sister, and so develops that idea from the outset rather than bringing it into play at the climax. The first film only really featured human characters at the climax; the second liberally sprinkles them throughout the narrative, meaning that the audience is never unaware of the role that they play in the story.

Placing that relationship in the open, and at the heart of the story, allows The Second Part to develop it in a wealth of interesting directions. The Lego Movie was a surprising ode to creativity delivered by a toy manufacturer famous for selling replica sets that encouraged children to build familiar and recognisable structures. While that irony created an interesting dynamic at the heart of The Lego Movie, it feels like The Second Part understands that doing all of this within a sequel might be too much to bear.

A cottage industry.

As a result, the film chooses to develop its arguments in a number of ways that lean upon it being a sequel. Most overtly, The Second Part retains the narrative template of building a story around a strained relationship between two family members. The Second Part swaps out the emphasis on father-and-son for brother-and-sister. This is a shrewd choice on a number of levels. Most obviously, it allows for a more equivalent perspective. The Lego Movie was about a son wrestling with his father. The Second Part is about a brother and sister struggling with each other.

More than that, it allows The Second Part to consciously remedy at least some of the issues that existed with The Lego Movie, such as its underdeveloped female characters. To a certain extent, these issues could be excused with the revelation that the story was about a young boy and his father, but The Lego Movie existed within that subgenre of movies about bumbling and clumsy male leads with hyper-competent female supporting characters who did a lot of the work only to function as love interests. (The Matrix and Ant-Man come to mind.)

Not a major concern.

Sequels often represent an opportunity to correct even minor errors with popular films, to take stock of existing problems and remedy them on the second attempt. Ant-Man and the Wasp made a point to elevate its female sidekick to a credited lead with title billing. The Second Part includes a much stronger emotional arc for the character of Wildstyle and emphasises just how dependent Emmet is on the people around him despite his status as “the Special.”

Even beyond that, the majority of important new characters are female. The basic plot of the movie brings the Lego figurines into contact with the mysterious “Queen Wateva Wanabe” and her trusted lieutenant “General Sweet Mayhem.” Similarly, the father very quickly extradites himself from the familial situation in the household, meaning that the film places a greater emphasis on the role of the mother in the lives of her children.

Going Wild.

This shift is about more than just cast demographics. There is a sense in which The Second Part attempts to grapple with how boys and girls talk to one another. The crisis at the heart of The Second Part is rooted in fundamental differences in how these children attempt to communicate, and the assumptions that they make about one another. On a narrative level, The Second Part is effectively about the collision of a stereotypically masculine narrative (“dangerous adventure, epic war, scheming plot!”) with a stereotypical female narrative (“wedding, celebration!”)

More than that, building upon the understanding established in The Lego Movie that this narrative is playing out inside the subconscious of a teenage boy, there is an exploration of how difficult it can be to understand or trust other narratives, how people can be blinkered when dealing with one another, and unwilling to engage with stories or ideas that do not conform to their own understanding of how the world is supposed to work. It’s a clever idea, albeit an abstract one. The Second Part is very aware of it, even if it doesn’t repeatedly hammer it home.

Of course, The Second Part remains very firmly anchored in the viewpoint of its central male character, even if it is much more cognisant of other perspective. One of the cannier narrative choices within The Second Part is the acknowledgement of the passage of time; outside of a teaser that plays out in the immediate aftermath of the closing scene of The Lego Movie, the bulk of the film unfolds four years after the events depicted. Again, playing the film’s meta-text straight means the audience understands that this means the young boy as also aged four years.

As a result, The Second Part can cannily position itself as an exploration of teenage masculine anxieties. It does this by framing the story in “grim” terms, with most of the characters emotionally “brooding.” Four years after the end of the first film, “Bricksberg” has collapsed into “Icksberg” or “Apocalyspeberg”, a desolate wasteland obviously modelled on Mad Max: Fury Road. (“Tremble at our customisable vehicles!” declares one character during a car chase through the wasteland.)

Mad to the Max.

This allows The Second Part to play with the anxieties and the insecurities of adolescence; the desire to seem “deep” or “complex”, and to mistake something superficially “adult” for something truly “mature.” The film cleverly positions Wildstyle as the character most obviously embodying this trope, growing increasingly wary of Emmet’s cheerfulness and optimism in the face of what she believes to be a bleak and uncaring world. Wildstyle sees Emmet as a child who simply never grew up, hoping that he might eventually “change.”

Emmet gets a glimpse of what he might look like if he were to change when chance throws him into the arms of the mysterious “Rex Dangervest.” Also voiced by Chris Pratt, “Rex Dangervest” is an adolescent fantasy that exists in conversation with Emmet’s more earnest childhood innocence. Shrewdly playing off Pratt’s other roles, Rex is a “velociraptor trainer”, “archeologist” and “furniture enthusiast” with “chiseled features previously hidden by baby fat.”

Making his Rexit.

In the movie’s own knowing way, Rex serves as an analogue for how Chris Pratt’s screen persona has changed from his work on Parks and Recreation to more recent efforts like Jurassic World and Passengers. What had once been an endearing sense of earnestness has given way to cynicism. The Second Part very cannily plays this as the exaggerated insecurity of a teenage boy, who builds a giant space ship that looks like a fist and insists that The Matrix is a very “deep” movie that “only teenagers can properly enjoy.”

There is also a sense that The Second Part is using this contrast between Emmet and Rex to reflect on the passage of time for more than just the kid at the centre of the story or for Chris Pratt’s screen persona. There’s also a tacit acknowledgement that the wider world itself has changed in the four years since the release of The Lego Movie. The Lego Movie arrived in 2018, before any number of shocks to the global system, and before any number of sources of perpetual cultural, global and social shocks. In hindsight, everything may not have been awesome, but it felt that way.

Don’t be a drag.

One of the more interesting aspects of The Second Part is in watching the film try to navigate this divide, to concede that it is in fact possible that “everything is not awesome” while still refusing to collapse into an abyss of despair and anxiety. The Second Part is a movie about spanning gaps. Some of those are literal, such as the space between the basement and the “si-star system.” Some of those are temporal, such as a twist involving time travel. Some of those are emotional, such as a brother and sister clearly trying to understand one another and failing.

The Second Part seems a very timely movie. If The Lego Movie understood the appeal of the brand for those willing to build with their imaginations, then The Second Part plays into the brand’s belief that maybe everybody can fit together in the end.

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