There is a central plot point in this story in which the heroes are taken from their jaded and cynical existence and brainwashed by extended exposure to joy and fun. Slowly they become open and accepting of the simple colourful, undemanding pleasures around them and just as this was happening to the characters on screen so too did the same happen to me. You can go into The Lego Movie 2 expecting it to deliver something new or mistrustful of its commercial motivations but in the end you just have to give in to it and enjoy the tunes, the gags, the animation and the endearing voice work. The second you step outside you’ll shake it off and return to who you were before but while it’s going on it’s actually quite diverting. It’s hard to know whether it has any pretensions; it seems to want to sell lots of expensive toys (it will) and it seems to be reaching for the narrative heights and deeper meaning of Toy Story 3 (it doesn’t) but maybe it really just wants to entertain you for a couple of hours (it does).
When the first big Lego movie came out it was quite different from any other kids film but with The Lego Batman Movie and the Lego Ninj-idunno Movie following close behind it, it has all quickly become very familiar. The manic nature of the first film put me off a bit but either this one was a little calmer or I’ve just got used to the style. Similarly the film doesn’t seem to throw quite as many random and disparate pop culture references in the mix but maybe they just feel less random now too. (To be fair I was surprised to see Ruth Bader Ginsburg pop up in brick form.) It is interesting to see how much of lead voice actor Chris Pratt’s other work plays in to this one with the spaceship and the dinosaurs, especially when you consider he was a practically unknown actor when he played this part before.
One of the parts I thought was least successful about the first Lego movie was the live action scenes with people playing with the Lego at the end. They rely more heavily on this aspect second time round and while it didn’t bother me as much (because, you’ve guessed it; I’d seen it before) these bits were a little corny and predictable. It was good to see young actor Brooklynn Prince back on the screen here after her breathtaking performance in The Florida Project but the family dynamics in this film are certainly not what they were in that. The child psychology and the messages about parenting at play here are at about the level I’d expect from Sesame Street which seems a little lazy. Think about what Pixar have done in this respect, not only with Toy Story but with Incredibles 2, Coco and Inside Out, then this all seems very trite by comparison.
Still as I say, criticisms aside, it wins you over sooner or later and in the end I actually thought it was quite fun. It might have the emotional capacity of a plastic brick but there is definitely stuff here they are able to build something with.
The Ripley Factor?
Here I am able to be entirely positive. Following the first Lego Movie movie I read a really good piece on The Verge website called We’re Losing All Our Strong Female Characters to the Trinity Syndrome. Named after the female lead in The Matrix it bemoaned how lots of films had strong women in them who took a backseat in the story after they had served their purpose in turning the male everyman into a hero. One of the main examples of this discussed, alongside The Matrix, was Wildstyle in The Lego Movie. This article was actually one of my main inspirations in creating the the Ripley Factor test by which the Not Left Handed Film Guide measures the portrayals of women in film.
This second film seems aware of these criticisms and even references how Wildstyle was previously marginalised and did all of the work while Emmet took the credit. With this stated it works hard not to repeat the same mistakes and in this movie Wildstyle drives most of the action and makes all the sensible decisions. Emmet by comparison is pretty much just taken for a ride.
Judging Wildstyle and all of the female characters in this film by the relevant Ripley Factor criteria they do well. Do the female characters exist only to define or motivate men? No. Does the inclusion of the women in the film feel like tokenism? No. (The test also asks if the women in the film are real and believable and whether they are objectified in a way that does not balance with the treatment of men in the film but these two things seem less applicable with little yellow block people so we’ll let those go.)