The LEGO Movie 2 Title

Here’s a blunt truth: The LEGO Movie should not work as a movie, let alone work as a great movie. On paper, even the premise of a movie based on a line of toys with no singular identity of its own, a line that explicitly develops playsets themed around licensed properties as an extension of managed brands, sounds like the most tedious sort of late-stage capitalist cynicism. It sounds like the sort of corporately-driven idea that is designed from the ground up to act as an advertisement to children that their parents must pay for them to see in the theater, normalizing the practice of brands selling themselves on name alone regardless of intrinsic value or quality of output.

And, on one level, that’s exactly what The LEGO Movie is. It absolutely is a product made for the express purpose of self-celebration, giving the LEGO brand a platform to proclaim its own cultural impact. But it’s also a film that is surprisingly self-aware of that motivation and doesn’t really try to hide it, instead leaning heavily into the ethos that if the film is good enough that the inherent anti-artistry of the premise ultimately doesn’t matter.

And it works! But why does it work? The answer lies in some very smart and well-informed decisions baked into The LEGO Movie’s writing, and perhaps as importantly, in the subversive brilliance of its writers and directors.

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Creed II and Rocky IV

As a franchise, Rocky has almost always been defined by the hubris of its star and creator, Sylvester Stallone. The original film is not actually so much about boxing as it is about the boxer, a working class guy who has only one skill in the ring and desperately wants to achieve more for himself, and what Stallone gradually lost sight of in writing and directing the sequels is that it was that character struggle that made his film resonate with people. As reflected in the franchise’s gradual decent into farce, Stallone felt the key to keeping Rocky Balboa a relevant pop culture icon was to make the fights bigger and the characters in perpetual awe of Rocky’s greatness, and the films suffered for it, finally attempting to pull out of the dive with the attempted drama of Rocky V and only finally approaching the heights of the original after a sixteen year hiatus with Rocky Balboa, though even that retained some sillier elements that harken back to Stallone’s worst impulses.

This is why Creed felt like such a revelation upon its 2015 release. The decision to make Rocky the supporting character for the son of his greatest rival, Apollo Creed, was an inspired bit of torch-passing, allowing Stallone to remain in the spotlight as a new name took on the legacy of the Rocky series. And that’s what Creed is largely about, as Adonis Creed struggles with the legacy and identity left behind by a father he never knew, and while the boxing matches are among the best of the whole series, Creed feels most like a rebirth of the parts of Rocky that struck people so strongly that a franchise was able to form in the first place.

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