As a reviewer, there is always something slightly pretentious about calling something ‘insincere’. After all, what do we know ? Perhaps we may not feel as much as the creators intended us to, but that doesn’t mean we can outright discredit their intentions as if we were in their heads. And yet, it is hard to find a way to talk about The Lego Movie 2 without talking about its sincerity (or rather its lack of it), especially in comparison with its predecessor. The Lego Movie, first of the name, had pleasantly surprised many with its simple yet relevant message, its overall effective comedy, its talented cast and its vibrant animation. Five years and a couple spin-offs later, the audience was in its right to expect a little bit more, the initial surprise having worn off; unfortunately, what we get is ultimately disappointment.
It is always tricky to compare films from the same series, especially when they have different directors (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller for the original, Mike Mitchell this time around) and consequently different artistic visions. Even if they are connected narratively, we should be able to talk about a sequel without constantly referencing the original material. In this case, it is simply impossible, for The Lego Movie 2 can hardly stand on its own. It is slightly ironic that a franchise that seemed to have at its heart the importance of creativity ultimately repeats itself so soon.
That is not to say that this is a bad movie per se: some jokes work very well, and although the plot is as predictable as they come, it is presented in a thoroughly entertaining way. The problem lies in the ‘some’: indeed, instead of feeling like a brand new installment that has reason to be, Lego Movie 2 falls in the unfortunate category of sequels which are watered-down versions of their original. For every joke that works, there will be five more that will provoke nothing but awkward silences. Once again, the creativity that the film encourages is counterbalanced by the fact that its comedy and attempt at relevance relies so much on references to other pieces of popular culture, a trend in recent media I had already shortly touched upon in my Simulation Theory review only a few weeks ago and that doesn’t seem to die down.
It is precisely by doing this that the film unfortunately alienates its own audience. I had the same problem a few months ago with Ralph Breaks The Internet: a film which equally forgets that its charm lied in the fact that both children and adults could find something to like. Both sequels pile up on references that only the adult portion will get, but forget in the meantime to write a storyline that will hold their attention as well. The adults are bored while the kids are confused most of the time, and we can’t help but wonder who these stories are really supposed to be for.
Perhaps is that the best way to describe The Lego Movie 2: confusing. The storyline manages to be both simplistic and convoluted, and the way the film decides to answer to the claims of sexism that were made to the first one is hard to fully comprehend. It’s hard to say whether the film is trying to do too little or too much (one Chris Pratt was a perfectly reasonable amount of Chris Pratt!), and in doing so, it loses us more often than not.
Fortunately, a few saving graces remain, mainly in the form of the cast: hearing Stephanie Beatriz’s surprising vocal range is always a delight, Brooklynn Prince getting more attention after her excellent debut in The Florida Project is as heartwarming as it is deserved, Tiffany Haddish excels as Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (which is probably the best addition to the original cast), and Maya Rudolph and Richard Ayoade both confirm their status as national treasures in small (but consistently funny) roles. The returning actors also do the best with what they’re given, and the dynamic animation is probably the only thing that actually gets better in the sequel. While the overall soundtrack is not on the level of the first’s, it is also one of the film’s biggest assets, especially its credits song which is sure to make you leave the film with a smile on your face.
There is truly no pleasure in saying that a franchise with so much potential has shot itself in the foot so early in its course; but it is no real surprise either. It was a miracle that we received an anti-corporation/pro-creativity message from a company so rooted in consumerism the first time around, and it might have unfortunately been a little too optimistic to expect it to happen a second time. As said previously, this is less a truly bad movie than one that disappoints because it took the easy way out when it had previously amazed by its ways of challenging its own expectations. The Lego Movie 2 will remain one of these movies that aren’t a bad time, but certainly won’t leave a mark either.