Every time I hear about a really bad, crass idea for a movie franchise — an “Angry Birds” movie, a “Funko Pop” movie, an “Emoji Movie,” there’s always one tiny, dimly shining kernel of hope inside me.
It could always turn out to be the next “LEGO Movie.”
On paper, a movie based on the little interlocking bricks seemed like a terrible example of a cash grab. But then the actual movie, written and directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, came out in 2014 and turned out to be a funny, frenetic, innovative and slightly subversive marvel. (The “Angry Birds” movie? Still bad.)
Now, after the wonderful “LEGO Batman Movie” and the so-so “LEGO Ninjago Movie” comes “The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part,” with Miller and Lord again writing the screenplay but handing directing duties to Mike Mitchell (“Trolls”). It isn’t quite the revelation that the first movie was, but keeps the original’s zippy, cheerful spirit intact while building upon its world.
The brilliant third-act reveal of the original “LEGO Movie” was that the entire movie, a struggle between plucky Emmet (Chris Pratt) and his pals against the oppressive schemes of the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell), was in fact playing out in the real world on a table in the basement of a family home, where a boy named Finn (Jadon Sand) wanted to play with his father’s cherished LEGOs.
In the sequel, Finn is now a teenager, and taken over his Dad’s set. The cheerful world of Bricksburg has become the gritty, “Mad Max”-style world of “Apocalypseburg,” ravaged by years of battle against an alien threat that manifests itself in the form of kitties, hearts and smiley faces. It doesn’t take much to pick up on the fact that this “threat” is actually Finn’s little sister Bianca (Brooklynn Prince of “The Florida Project”), who wants to play with her older brother the way the brother wanted to play with his dad in the first movie.
Several of Emmet’s friends, including WildStyle (Elizabeth Banks), Unikitty (Alison Brie) and, of course, Batman (Will Arnett), get spirited away by the formidable alien commander General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) to the alien world. That world is overseen by Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) and is a candy-colored cross between a suburb and a day spa, with a nonstop soundtrack of catchy pop songs that get stuck inside your head (like one accurately called “This Song Will Get Stuck Inside Your Head.”)
Emmet heads off in hot pursuit to rescue his friends with the help of a cooler minifig, the heroic bad-boy Rex Dangervest. Rex is also voiced by Pratt, who seems to be channeling his “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” co-star Kurt Russell and is sending up his action-movie persona. Rex’s entire spaceship is piloted by a raptor crew, a “Jurassic”-sized inside joke.
The jokes fly fast and furious, some rather sophisticated (like the reason why no Marvel superheroes exist in this universe) and others delightfully goofy, like Banarnar, a talking banana played by Ben Schwartz who keeps slipping on his own peel. Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill return as Superman and Green Lantern, and Bruce Willis’ two-line cameo as the LEGO version of himself is honestly the most committed I’ve seen him onscreen in years.
Emmet hopes to rescue his friends from Queen Watevra, but do they need to be rescued? While the first “LEGO Movie” had a clear villain in Lord Business, the sequel leaves us in suspense as to exactly who we should be rooting for and against.
This makes the movie feel a little unfocused at times, but it’s all by design, and ends up expanding on the original movie’s message of the value of open play. Just as Finn challenged his father’s idea of what play should look like, now Bianca is challenging his own preconceptions. It’s a subtle dig at toxic masculinity and gender stereotypes that couldn’t be better timed.