Lego Movie 2

Maybe aim for not bad

When The Lego Movie came out in 2014, my son was 11. By that age, he and his friends were far more into computer games, Star Wars and superhero movies than their Legos, but they got a kick out of the movie–in no small part because of its ability to not only draw on a childhood love of Legos but also appeal across pop culture landscapes like Star Wars and the DC comic universe.

And it had a really thoughtful and satisfying story to boot.

Lego Movie 2: The Second Part definitely continues the pop culture landscapes and references–cranking them up into overdrive, in fact–but it seems to miss the mark when it comes to the story.

Lego Movie 2 starts exactly where the first one ended and then jumps ahead five years. Where the animated story in the first film reflects Finn’s real life interactions with his father, this one reflects the real life contentious relationship between Finn, who is now in his early teens, and his younger sister Bianca, whose permission to play with their father’s Legos irritates Finn.

In the animated story, Emmet now lives in Apocalypseburg, a dystopian landscape similar to the ones that populate a lot of young adult novels (and makes more than one reference to the Mad Max franchise). Emmett is still upbeat and optimistic but faces pressure from Lucy and others to grow up and be tough–a common adolescent struggle.

When General Sweet Mayhem kidnaps Batman, Lucy and other characters and takes them to the Systar System (i.e., “sister system”), Emmet goes after them with the help of Rex Dangervest, a new adventurous and take-charge character who Emmet idolizes as everything he is not.

“The death of the imagination in the subconscious of an adolescent mind?”

One of the joys of the first film is the gradual reveal that the animated story reflects Finn’s real life, but we already know that in this film, which makes it a lot easier to predict. The climactic moment reflects an all too common sibling scene, which you see coming a mile away.

Also, the first film successfully wove thoughtful criticism of big business into the main focus on the relationship between Finn and his father, but this film’s attempt to weave multiple plots and themes related to sibling rivalry, the challenges faced by boys growing into adolescence as well as our larger polarized cultural landscape leaves us with a less focused and more murky film.

This film is also less hopeful than the first one, which dampens its spirit. Consider the lyrics of one of Lego Movie 2’s songs, reworked from the first film’s “Everything is Awesome:”

Everything’s not awesome

Things can’t be awesome all of the time

It’s an unrealistic expectation

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try

To make everything awesome

In a less idealistic kind of way.

We should maybe aim for not bad

‘Cause not bad right now would be real great

 

That feels a little cynical for a kid’s film, in my humble opinion.

On the other hand, I enjoyed the film’s constant stream of pop culture references and jokes. While most of them went (far) over the heads of children in the audience, the teens and adults laughed–a lot. At times, however, I did begin to feel like I was trying to drink from a firehose; as soon as I caught one reference, the film was already in the middle of the next one. And there were more than a few times when the references felt more like marketing and merchandising attempts rather than witty allusions.

Many of the film’s themes and messages are worth considering, like the pressure on kids to be tough versus compassionate, how anger can keep us from communicating with each other, and how working together can make things better. But they seem to be dulled or lose their impact in the busyness of the film.

Near the end of the film, one character’s comment articulates a main theme in the film: ”the death of the imagination in the subconscious of an adolescent mind.” By that point, I couldn’t help but add and underline in my notes: “‘…an adolescent mind’ saturated by pop culture and marketing.”

Which, in the end, is what this film feels like too. Lego Movie 2 isn’t an awful film. It’s just “not bad.” But I guess things can’t be awesome all of the time.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is rated PG for mild action and rude humor.

Click here for more by Carmen Andres.

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