'The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part' Review: Everything Isn't Awesome, But It's Pretty Good

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is a sequel that's sometimes as unwieldy as its title. Almost all of the major characters from the 2014 original have returned, and the same weirdly anarchic spirit that ran through the first film revives itself every so often in this follow-up. But where The Lego Movie was unexpected and often surprising, The Lego Movie 2 is mostly familiar, treading ground that other animated films from competing studios have already covered with more insight.If you'll recall, the events of The Lego Movie were revealed to be the manically imaginative playtime scenario of a little boy whose dad (Will Ferrell) was fanatical about how their various Lego sets were constructed. But when the son and father came to a compromise, all seemed well for the boy's toys, including Master Builder Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), his girlfriend Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), and other friends like Lego Batman (Will Arnett). The first film's final moments portended a destructive playtime apocalypse, when the boy's sister brought her Lego Duplo toys to play.Five years later, that dystopia has come to pass in a new city called Apocalypseburg. The Duplos have consistently destroyed Bricksburg and the citizens' attempt to rebuild, so now everyone but Emmet is dark and brooding. When an emissary from the Sistar System, General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz), kidnaps most of Emmet's friends based on their perceived leadership skills, our ever-ebullient hero has to once again save the day. Emmet, on his own journey to grow tougher so Lucy won't think he's too sweet, is teamed with a charming scofflaw named Rex Dangervest (also voiced by Pratt), as his friends face off against Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), the ruler of the Sistar System, and try to withstand her charm.Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, who wrote and directed the original film, have returned to The Lego Movie 2 just as the writers and co-producers; Mike Mitchell, whose career has included directing everything from Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo to Trolls, takes over behind the camera. While Lord and Miller's script is indeed funny, with a handful of delightfully out-of-left-field cameos and non sequiturs that hit the mark, it struggles to say anything terribly distinctive. Moreover, just as Trolls felt like its take on happiness and sadness was a year too late after Pixar's Inside Out, The Lego Movie 2 reaches the topics of growing up and becoming engulfed by toxic masculinity a little too late. Lord and Miller have the ability to make a good comic sequel, as they did when co-directing the 2014 film 22 Jump Street, itself a follow-up to a surprise hit. But The Lego Movie 2 struggles at its emotional core because it's just late to the party.In a film full of meta humor, Pratt gets to have the most fun of all as both Emmet and Rex, the latter of whom fully embodies exactly how tough Emmet thinks he should be. (That may or may not be a quirky coincidence.) Rex, who saves Emmet as he travels through the outer-space Stairgate (AKA the stairs leading out of the basement in the house where the film takes place), is designed as an oddball riff both on Pratt's recent action-star roles in Jurassic World and Guardians of the Galaxy, and on Pratt's GOTG co-star Kurt Russell. (The most consistently funny part of this film is Pratt's performance as Rex, which is clearly modeled on Russell's speaking style.) But even there, The Lego Movie 2 feels like it struggles to establish Emmet as a hero. There's some lip service paid to the very real notion that Emmet got a lot of credit for saving the world in The Lego Movie despite women like Lucy doing the hard work, but then everyone else is captured and Emmet is tasked with saving everyone again.Where the film takes Emmet, and the now-teenage boy who imagines various scenarios in which his minifigs can play, reeks of being one thing the first Lego Movie inexplicably managed to avoid: derivative. Whatever else can be said of the first film, it managed to feel original and distinctive while incorporating all sorts of recognizable characters from the world of pop culture. The Lego Movie 2 has plenty of charm and wit — Lord and Miller's fast-paced script offers a solid enough ratio of good jokes to bad ones — until it tries to get to a larger message of familial togetherness and the right way to grow up, elements that feel stolen from Toy Story 3 and Ralph Breaks the Internet.The first two films in the Lego Movie franchise were standouts of mainstream animation. The Lego Batman Movie, in particular, found a way to use a very recognizable character and franchise and shake things up with how its story was told. But five years after the first Lego Movie, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part ironically has the same problem that its hero has: it's failed to adapt to the changing times. The voice cast works their damnedest, there's some suitably catchy music (including a very funny Lonely Island song, to boot), the animation is crisp and detailed, but the story fails to reach the same heights. Unlike the first film's song, it's more accurate to say that in The Lego Movie 2, everything is...all right. Just not awesome./Film Rating 6 out of 10