In the five years since directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller confirmed that everything was, indeed, awesome, the LEGO Cinematic Universe has seen two more official entries, but no direct sequel to the film which spawned them all. The world has waited in total desperation to discover the fates of Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), Lucy (voiced by Elizabeth Banks), and the rest of the Bricksburg gang after the terrifying cliffhanger which saw creatures from the planet Duplo descend upon them with a promise of destruction. With Mike Mitchell (Trolls/Sky High) taking the helm for The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part, the continuation not only catches us up with Bricksburg, but the family from which these stories emanate. This particular aspect is what makes The Second Part a touch more endearing than its predecessor: the audience is in on the gag. With this knowledge, the script from Lord, Miller, Matthew Fogel, and Raphael Bob-Waksberg (BoJack Horsemen) digs into what makes a family and how LEGO connects us all.
With President Business (voiced by Will Ferrell) defeated, Bricksburg prepares themselves to return to a world with imperfections, with no Krazy Glue™, and where Taco Tuesdays actually involve tacos. However, with the end of that battle comes a new one, as the father and son who imagined this battle acknowledge that it’s time for baby sister to join them. Since then, the Duplos from the Systar system have waged a five-year war upon Bricksburg resulting in town becoming a waste land, now known as Apocalypseburg, and its peaceful citizens turned savages. After living five years under siege, emissary of the Systar System General Mayhem (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz of Brooklyn Nine-Nine) arrives and kidnaps Lucy, Batman (voiced by Will Arnett), Unikitty (voiced by Alison Brie), MetalBeard (voiced by Nick Offerman), and Benny (voiced by Charlie Day) for a forced conversation with the queen of the Systar System, Watevra Wa’Nuabi (voiced by Tiffany Haddish). As their only hope for rescue, Emmet takes off after them, unaware that his actions may very well determine the fate of all of their worlds.
The best thing about any sequel is that it doesn’t have to waste time on set-up. While the original LEGO Movie is a fun film, an absolute marvel of imagination, The Second Part is able to just jump back in after a small recap and go. Yes, this does mean getting more of the things that seemed novel in the original, but it works here. With the rules firmly established, The Second Part can just jump in and play, which it does in spades. There are space battles, new planets, and even more musical numbers, including one such song titled “Catchy Song” – because of course it is – which will do exactly as the song suggests and get stuck in your head. This is more than sequelitis rearing its head, throwing more and more out in hopes you won’t notice. Rather, because the filmmakers know the audience is now clued into the concurrent worlds – those of LEGO and the real world – the “more” aspect comes not from a need to keep things shiny and awesome, but from being able to pull from more creative influences. Before the reveal in the first film, everything we see and experience just seems like another LEGO adventure, just with a bigger budget and a more notable voice cast. Now, though, the audience is keenly aware of how Emmet’s adventure is directly tied to the world of the Man Upstairs, which means The Second Part can put that aspect of the story front-and-center, placing the parallel narratives on a collision course.
While this new approach does remove much of the mystery of the larger narrative, it does enable the story to open up to greater possibilities. No longer confined to Bricksburg and the connected LEGO realms which reside in Dad’s (Ferrell) basement, suddenly Emmet and company can travel through the Stairgate (basement door) to the Systar System which resides in daughter Bianca’s (Brooklynn Prince) room. But as the story shifts location, this means that Emmet, as Finn’s (Jadon Sand) avatar, must go with him. This empowers the filmmakers to go a little nuts (powered by their imaginations, as well as those of The Man Upstairs) creating some truly clever and hilarious moments in the film. So, instead of traveling between Western World, Medieval World, and more, Emmet’s flying through asteroid fields, traveling to distant planets, and meeting previously unknown LEGO sets (enter Rex Dangervest (also voiced by Pratt), an archaeologist, space ranger, dinosaur wrangler, and more) which brilliantly test the naïve figurine in ways both ridiculous and heartfelt. Wisely, even though the playing field is bigger and the characters are more diverse, everything about The Second Part succeeds or fails with Emmet.
Where the first film’s message resided within the conflict of Dad and Finn as they fought over what makes building perfect, The Second Part takes it to the next step: family. Though we see the conflict play out in two fashions – LEGO and real – it’s far deeper than mere sibling rivalry. This isn’t just “build versus destroy” as the ending of the first LEGO suggests. As Emmet must save his friends from danger, the concurrent narrative explores the same idea, just on a smaller scale. For Emmet, his is a menace that could leave the figures disassembled or worse, whereas in the real, it’s a schism of the home. To make this clear, where Emmet is Finn’s avatar, all of Duplo represents his sister: tons of sparkles, squeaky voices, and childish jokes. With the filmmakers providing this strong reminder of the kind of story that is really at play, every single skirmish takes on a more profound sense. If the original LEGO explored what makes something special, The Second Part focuses on the things which connect us, that it’s not what we build or the tools we use, but that we build, that we explore that matters. With so many moving pieces (no pun intended) in the narrative, The Second Part does seem to lose its focus, adding a few sub-conflicts that do little more than generate conflict for the sake of conflict. However, even this imperfection seems to play into the larger themes of the LEGO films, that it’s what the builders infuse within their creations that determine the story.
Fans of any of the LEGO films are going to leave The Second Part feeling absolutely delighted. The voice and live-action casts are perfect, the story is charming, and the songs are undeniably infectious. There’re plenty of call-backs and in-jokes for the adults and nothing but joy for the kids. Even the weaknesses can be seen as strengths, an actual subcommentary within the film, as what we observe is not just a tale of heroics from an animated LEGO figure but is also all a part of our collective imaginations. The audience is what makes Emmet, Bricksburg, and the entire LEGO Universe real. As long as they believe, everything will be awesome.
In theaters nationwide February 8th, 2019.
Final Score: 4 out of 5.