This sequel retains the mile-a-minute comedy, action and first class animation of the first. So why the muted fanfare around its release?
Lucy and Emmett navigate a gritty Mad Max-style world in The Lego Movie 2. Source: Warner Bros.
When The Lego Movie was released overseas back in 2014, Australian distributors Roadshow delayed the local release, keeping it from cinemas for 54 days. Fans were outraged; even Roadshow boss Graham Burke later admitted the delay had been “One hell of a mistake”. That didn’t stop them from doing the exact same thing two years later with The Lego Batman Movie to yet another outcry. Now they’ve done the same thing a third time with The Lego Movie 2 – only this time, no-one seems all that bothered. What’s changed?
It’s definitely not the quality of the film. While The Lego Batman movie was a bit thin in parts, and the less said about The Lego Ninjago Movie the better, this retains the mile-a-minute comedy and impressive action of the first film, only now with more musical numbers, dinosaurs and exploding love hearts. The first Lego movie ended with cheerful can-do type Emmet (the voice of Chris Pratt) and his badass warrior buddy Wyldstyle/Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) having defeated President Business, only to be being confronted by the unstoppable evil of… Lego’s entry-level Duplo blocks.
Now it’s five years later, everything is now Mad Max-style grim and gritty (except for Emmet) thanks to constant attacks from “The Sis-star System”, and when an invader kidnaps Lucy, Batman (Will Arnett) and a bunch of others to take them to a sinister matrimonial ceremony that will trigger “Ar-mom-ageddon”, it’s up to Emmet to follow them through the Stair-gate and save the day. It’s basically a space road trip, and Australian animation studio Animal Logic does a great job with the various locations. They made a name for themselves with the first film and the animation remains first-class here; this really makes you want to dig out your old Lego sets and build a spaceship or two.
The first film ended with the big reveal that everything going on was a reflection of a battle in a suburban basement between a father and son who wanted to play with Lego in different ways. Here the clash is between a brother and younger sister, and despite some solid attempts at misdirection the series’ pro-play attitude makes it obvious how things are going to end up. So the plot is a little strained as it struggles to pile on connections and insights to give a bit of forward motion to a story where the destination is never in doubt.
On the flip side, writers Phil Lord and Chris Miller (who wrote the first Lego Movie, as well as the Jump Street movies and the recent excellent Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) are brilliant when it comes to combining humour with character moments that don’t feel forced. While this has a lot of messages about the false maturity of going “grim and gritty” and the importance of valuing other (female) points of view and ways of playing, they never feel forced. Also, the jokes are really good.
So why doesn’t anyone care that this is yet another Lego movie we’ve had to wait nearly two months to see? For one thing, the threat of movie piracy has receded (or the distributors have stopped talking about it), and delaying a film matters less when illegal options aren’t a pressing concern. For another, people now know how the story goes: given a big kids' movie, Roadshow are going to wait until the school holidays draw near before releasing it.
Holding back a kids’ movie until the school holidays might be a sensible business move but it still has a downside. The Lego Movie 2 was something of a flop in the US, struggling to make over $US100 million where the first film made over three times that. No matter how good a film may be, that kind of performance leaves a mark. Where the first Lego Movie was a surprise hit that left Australian audiences feeling like they were missing out, this one? After tanking in the US, it just doesn’t seem as awesome.
The Lego Movie 2
Director: Mike Mitchell
USA / Australia, 2019, 107 mins
Release date: March 21st