The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART. Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish, Stephanie Beatriz, Charlie Day, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Maya Rudolph, Will Ferrell. Directed by Mike Mitchell. 107 minutes. Rated PG (Mild themes and animated violence).

When you realise that the biggest shock at the 2014 Oscars was that the critically beloved and commercially successful family film 'The Lego Movie' wasn't nominated for Best Animated Feature (a category many pundits predicted that it would win), you can begin to grasp the reception that this film had. Written and directed by "it" duo Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the movie provided a perfect balance between humour and heart, delivered with dazzling animation and a winning voice cast, all in a project that many bemoaning it after it was first announced wrote off as transparent cash grab. How blatant can product placement get, cried the naysayers. After the finished picture put all doubts to rest, the Warner Animation Group soon announced plans for a handful of sequels and spin-offs, including 2017’s 'The Lego Batman Movie' and 'The Lego Ninjago Movie'. Five years later, the first direct sequel arrives in theatres, burdened with the meta title 'The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part'. Although, thanks to its nature as a sequel, the movie lacks the surprise factor of its predecessor, it firmly overcomes this familiarity by the halfway mark, piecing together another fun, funny and heartfelt narrative that adds up to far more than flagrant product placement.

In the final moments of the first film, a collection of Duplo toys (a line of larger bricks marketed towards younger kids) arrived in Bricksburg, announcing that they were there to "destroy" our unlucky heroes. When this film kicks into gear, five years have passed in Bricksburg, now going by Apocalypseburg and styled as a wasteland straight out of the 'Mad Max' playbook. Although everyone else has taken to their new post-apocalyptic lifestyles with gusto, our hero Emmett (Chris Pratt) is hanging on to his seemingly bulletproof optimism, still listening to a painfully catchy remix of the first film's upbeat earworm "Everything is Awesome" on his morning coffee run. His semi-girlfriend Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) is trying to teach Emmett how to brood, but his outlook on life remains irrepressibly positive.

That is, until Lucy, Batman (Will Arnett), the pirate MetalBeard (Nick Offerman), Unikitty (Alison Brie) and astronaut Benny (Charlie Day) are kidnapped by futuristic robot General Sweet Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) to attend the wedding of the mysterious Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) in the far-off Systar system. The catch? The Queen’s plans to marry the leader of Apocalypseburg, a title that Batman quickly claims. Watevra Wa'Nabi presents as a shape-shifting pile of bricks, and the animators go wild with these powers, giving her performance of the song ‘Not Evil’, designed to convey her innocence, a fun tongue-in-cheek ambiguity. Multiple mentions of a mysterious end of days event called “Armamageddon” linked to the wedding have Lucy and her fellow captives worried, though the Queen's sinisterly cheerful re-education program soon has them reading from the same songbook. Batman - his awareness of his loneliness amplified after his solo outing - is especially vulnerable to the Queen's charm offensive, and soon agrees to his role in her proposed nuptials.

Back in Apocalypseburg, Emmett teams up with adventurer Rick Dangervest (also voiced by Pratt) to save his friends. To do so, Master Builder Emmett must master the counterintuitive art of Master Breaking, which requires him to tap into his hidden darkness that Lucy has been helping him uncover for months. With Armamageddon looming and some time travel hijinks coming into play, Emmett and Lucy must reconnect if they are to save their friends and Lego civilisation as they know it.

Despite the world-ending stakes of the plot, the jokes still come hard and fast in Lord and Miller’s script (with an additional story credit for Matthew Fogel), though their success rate rises markedly in the second half, once new franchise director Mike Mitchell has shaken out some of his early, hyperactive jitters and the old “quality over quantity” adage comes into play. Like the first movie, the cleverest lines and jokes come from a fine seam of self-awareness that runs through the action, particularly from Arnett’s boastful Batman, who is happy to reference his character’s long history on the big and small screens. But Batman's not the only self-aware character in this movie though, with Rick Dangervest and his army of velociraptor sidekicks clearly poking fun at Pratt's 'Jurassic World' franchise role, hat tips to a handful of time travelling characters from pop culture, some funny shots fired at both DC and Marvel Comics' film and comic book output, and more terrific Bruce Willis gags than anyone would reasonably expected from a movie about plastic children's toys.

Much of the filmmaking seems to be variations on the themes established by the first outing. The sparky humour is matched by the film’s eye-popping visuals, which maintain the faux-stop motion style, bold colour palette and snappy editing of the previous film. Where the first movie had a touching message about the value of imagination and play framed through a father-son relationship, the emotional focus here turns to siblings, landing with similarly powerful success throughout the final act. The actors clearly have a blast as well, bringing the same abandon in their returning roles or – in the case of new additions like Haddish, Beatriz and Maya Rudolph – matching the high energy of their castmates.

Frankly, the creators of ‘The Lego Movie’ did themselves a disservice by setting the bar so high with their first outing. ‘The Second Part’ is a worthy follow-up, even if it can’t top its forebear. That said, five years seems to be the perfect amount of time between ‘Lego’ outings, and we should look forward to 2024 with great anticipation.

Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

Out March 21.

Roadshow Films.

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