Almost everything is awesome in Mike Mitchell’s obligatory sequel to Chris Miller and Phil Lord’s breakout 2014 animated feature. The gags are still fast, furious, and often deeply referential; the animation still impressively blurs the line between CGI and super-convincing stop-motion; and the songs are still maddeningly catchy – especially the one titled aptly “Catchy Song”.
It’s that last little bit that highlights the weaker aspects of “LEGO Movie 2”: It’s often too self-conscious for its own good. On the plus side, nobody seems to be phoning it in and the movie spends just as much time exploring bigger ideas, and sticks the landing with its core themes – hope vs. cynicism, building things vs. breaking them, and finding a little common ground with the people in one’s life.
The sequel picks up right where the first movie ended. Finn (Jadon Sand) has scored access to his dad’s Lego world – as has his kid sister Bianca (Brooklynn Prince). For our heroes – sweet, doofy Emmet (Chris Pratt), WyldStyle/Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), egomaniacal Batman (Will Arnett) – that means an “alien” invasion of Duplo block critters that smash the living plastic bejeezus out of Bricksburg. (Y’know, the way toddlers often do.)
Flash forward a few years, and the city has been replaced with the adorably dystopian Apocalypseburg, complete with Mad Max-esque inhabitants and a collapsed Statue of Liberty straight outta The Planet of the Apes. Life is heck, with anything shiny or happy avoided lest it draw the invaders’ attention. Batman and Lucy have gotten even grimmer and grittier, and Princess Unikitty (Alison Brie) has gone feral. Emmet, on the other hand, is serenely oblivious.
Things take a turn when a General Sweet Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) arrives and forcefully “invites” Batman, Lucy, Unikitty, Benny (Charlie Day), and MetalBeard (Nick Offerman) to a wedding on the orders of Duplo Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish). Emmet, keen to prove he can indeed be mature, ineptly sets off on a rescue mission and is taken under the wing of Rex Dangervest (also Pratt), an intergalactic cowboy/astronaut/dinosaur trainer/archaeologist and embodiment of everything Emmet thinks he’s supposed to be.
Much like its predecessor, it relies heavily on a barrage of rapid-fire jokes and movie references, many of which (including a couple of off-the-cuff Bruce Willis gags and a well-timed Radiohead reference) are aimed at older viewers. They stick more often than not, but after “The LEGO Movie,” “LEGO Batman,” and “LEGO Ninjago” over a few short years, the formula feels a little rote – especially over the course of an ample 107-minute runtime.
That said, this enjoyably madcap sequel does try some new things. It rallies for the third act with a couple of unexpected plot twists and some genuine emotion, something few genre flicks manage. Its biggest success, arguably, is that it moves a little further with its “Toy Story”-inspired notion of what it means to grow up to examine how we play with others in a way that works as a much-needed take-down of toxic fandom. And that is (what for it…): awesome.