Thursday 14 February 2019

Another brick in the wall: "The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part"

2014's The Lego Movie presented as one of the great surprises of recent pop culture: an item of corporate brand renewal, yes, but one that - in the Midas-like hands of writer-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller - emerged as smart, funny and imaginative, as much an advert for the restorative possibilities of play as it was for any particular product. (Though you can bet it shifted a fair amount of Meccano.) After a pair of rapid, back-to-back spin-offs in 2017's The Lego Batman Movie and The Lego Ninjago Movie, some of that surprise element may have worn off going into this week's The Lego Movie 2. Yet much of the first movie's visual and comic invention persists: this is recognisably the work of creatives having a huge amount of fun picking up the pieces scattered at the original's conclusion - when the introduction of girly Duplo blocks threatened the supremacy of the previously boysy-busy Lego universe - and arranging them into dynamic new shapes. Part Two's official business is tessellation - successfully coming up with an entertainment that snaps together with the first movie, both on screen and in some future boxset - but it also manages to push its predecessor's aesthetic of blocky instability further still.

Conflict of some kind is established early on between the gritty Lego world (formerly known as Bricksburg, now renamed Apocalypseburg in a nod to the inane franchise law that insists series return at least 10% darker) and the glittery fuchsia-pink Duplo world referred to as the Sistah System, in which even Batman (voiced again by Will Arnett) submits to a makeover in Liberace white, and from which our blithe hero Emmet (Chris Pratt) feels compelled to rescue his sweetheart Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks). The bulk of the movie, however, is composed of a series of almost entirely random riffs and skits, and although Lord and Miller take a writing credit (animation veteran Mike Mitchell assumes the director's chair), you can't quite believe anybody troubled to put anything down on the same sheet of paper. More likely, faced with the film's talking ice cream cones and tennis-loving dinosaurs, that ideas were scrawled on Post-Its, screwed up in balls, then tossed into the air to see where they'd land. This ad hoc, make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach offers considerable appeal on the zippy diversion front: it's exactly the reason why I'd always reach for Disney's semi-forgotten 2000 animation The Emperor's New Groove - where, amid a troubled production, the company's usual methods were tossed comprehensively out the window - over the more strenuously classical likes of Tarzan, Mulan or The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In the beamingly postmodern world of the Lego films, nothing really matters, anything goes, and everything is both awesome and awesomely temporary.

What's left behind in their wake is a scattering of minor pleasures, pop-cultural confetti made up of assorted trivia, callbacks and footnotes. (It's a harlequin form of that termite art the critic Manny Farber delighted in: nothing but small stuff, as made comically clear in those live-action interludes where the figurines suddenly find themselves dwarfed by the signifiers of the real world.) Every viewer will pull their own handful of highlights from this latest grab bag. Your correspondent's would include Tiffany Haddish (as Watevra Wa'Nabi, queen of the Sistah System) whinnying like a horse, cameos from Bruce Willis and Abraham Lincoln, and the completely leftfield Elliott Smith joke, the first of its kind in a U-rated feature; younger viewers will doubtless be captivated by the Duplo candy hearts (no matter that they contain explosive charges) and glitter-puking stars. The first movie revealed some deceptively controlled plotting upon breaking into the real world: there was a masterplan in play, even as the filmmakers reconfigured their universes every few minutes. The second proves a little more out-of-the-box - dependent on a dream Emmet has coming true - but still succeeds in squeezing in a call for peaceful, constructive co-existence alongside a warning about the dangers of toxic masculinity, as our good-natured hero falls under the sway of intergalactic alpha-bro Rex Dangervest. It would perhaps be too much of a push to see in our hero's hi-vis jacket the reflection of the gilets jaunes, but with this second iteration, the series can officially lay claim to the best Batman 21st century cinema has given us - and without any hint of the usual DC strain.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is now showing in cinemas nationwide.

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