The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

Release: Friday, February 8, 2019

→Theater

Written by: the Lord Philip; Christopher, a distinguished member of the Miller clan

Directed by: someone of indeterminate skill (Mike Mitchell)

Cough. It’snotasgoodasthefirst. Cough.

Excuse me. The weather lately, I’m definitely under it — while also being totally over it. It was in the 60s last Friday, mere days after a cold snap introduced single digit temps, and now here we are again dealing with snow’s annoying cousins, hail and sleet. This streak of wild weather might explain the modest crowd that I experienced The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part with on opening night. Or have audiences just moved on? Remember the first one came out five years ago, and while there was more to come it took three years before those obligatory spin-offs came about (The Lego Batman Movie, another hit, and The Lego Ninjago Movie, not so much — both released in 2017). Is Lego Movie fatigue a real thing? Are we spoilt for choice? Whatever the reason, the release of Lego 2 feels much less of an event, the kind of Big Deal I would have anticipated given the success of that first film.

The classic crew return in Mike Mitchell’s space opera adventure, with Chris Pratt earnest and naive as ever as hero Emmet Brickowski, Elizabeth Banks more dark and brooding as Wyldstyle/Lucy, Will Arnett even more baritone-voiced as “The Man of Bats,” Alison Brie reliably Unikitty, Charlie Day as Spaceman Benny and Nick Offerman full-metal-bearded as the . . . pirate . . . guy. Away from them we are introduced to a handful of new personalities, some of them as memorable as any of the preexisting ones. And while the specifics of the plot are entirely different the basic shape of the story is retained, the animated characters and action foregrounded against a live-action environment where those plot developments emulate what is happening in a child’s imagination. No, the set-up isn’t as fresh a second time around but I still find it to be one of the great strengths of this franchise, and even as Lego 2 returns to the surface more often it does it to great effect.

After standing up to the all-powerful Lord Business/The Man Upstairs (Will Ferrell) in the first movie, Emmet feels quite optimistic about the future, despite present-day Bricksburg (now called Apocalypseburg) looking like a Mad Max/Blade Runner wasteland where everything is far from awesome. An inter-racial war between Legos and Duplos have ravaged the land and turned the good Bricksburgians into hardened plastic cynics. Yet amidst this abyss of humanity Emmet has gone ahead and built a little house for him and Lucy to carry out their lives in, and it has everything, including a double-decker porch swing and a Toaster Room.

When General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz), the leader of the Duplo invaders and hench-woman of the “not evil” Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), pays a visit to the people of Bricksburg, now confined to a fall-out shelter á la Star Wars: The Last Jedi, she abducts Lucy and a few other unfortunates, coercing them to take part in a wedding ceremony in the far-away Systar System. Emmet, with little support from his peers — not even Lucy, who is yearning for a more mature, less naive Emmet given the times in which they live — determines it is his duty to save them. Along the way he meets a badass named Rex Dangervest (also voiced by Chris Pratt), who will help Emmett not only become “more badass” but as well prevent the impending plastic nuptials that will bring about “Our-Mom-Ageddon.”

Plot and themes suffice, but that’s really all they do. They fail to wow. We deal with familiar notions of dealing with change and staying true to one’s identity in the face of societal/peer pressure. What is new, however, is the deconstruction of action hero tropes. Is being “The Badass” all that it’s cracked up to be? Emmet, ever the underdog, is challenged both by his past actions and his present conflict. It is suggested he took a disproportionate amount of credit as “The Special,” when Lucy did as much if not more of the ass-kicking. In the present the essence of who he is becomes tested — can he become this more serious, more assertive, less frequently pushed-over Lego piece Lucy wants him to be? What happens when he succeeds at that?

The answers to those questions and a few more may well lie in the egotistic Rex Dangervest, a fun new character who showcases everything that is inherently silly about icons of machismo like Harrison Ford and Bruce Willis. In fact his very existence is a parody of Chris Pratt’s own career, whether taking aim at that stupid thing he did with the raptors in Jurassic World or poking fun of his potential casting as Indiana Jones — all of which being material more geared towards the adult chaperones in attendance.  It seems unlikely kids are going to get many of those references, never mind comprehend the time traveling twist that is rather convoluted to say the least.

Beyond that, Lego 2 makes a conscientious effort to balance the perspective, making the female characters just as integral to the emotional core of the narrative, whether that be on the macro — the real-world drama depicted as a sibling squabble, with Finn (Jadon Sand) not wanting to play nice with his younger sister Bianca (Brooklynn Prince), who’s gotten into Legos herself and wants to do her own thing with them — or the micro level, Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi presenting a shape-shifting femme fatale who turns out to be more than what meets the eye — her “Not Evil” song suggesting she may well be an aspiring Masked Singer contestant. And let us not forget who it is that has inspired Emmet to change.

The release of The Lego Movie back in 2014 was a hugely nostalgic ride for this former Lego enthusiast. I was reminded not just of my obsession with the building blocks but as well the genius of Pixar’s Toy Story. It may not be the most accurate comparison given that the characters technically have less autonomy in the Lego universe. Unlike in Toy Story where the movie happens in the absence of the humans, here the characters are wholly reliant upon human interaction and manipulation — which, incidentally, is what makes Lego 2‘s grand finale so incongruous; I won’t say anything more, but suffice to say it really doesn’t make sense. Still, the very concept of a child’s play things coming to life and given such personality struck me as kind of profound.

Lego 2 clearly aspires to be a Toy Story 2 but unfortunately it is not that movie. In fairness, what sequel is? It takes a similar tact in expanding the canvas, taking the action into outer space, but ultimately it’s unable to escape the shadow of its more successful older brother. That’s most obvious in its attempt to create another ear bug in the form of “The Catchy Song,” a tune that ironically turns out to be nowhere near as catchy as “Everything is Awesome.” It’s a poppy jingle more than an actual song, and its fleetingness tends to sum up the experience as a whole.

“I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss.”

Recommendation: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part delivers more of what fans should have expected but it cannot overcome a sense of been-there-done-that. That the law of diminishing returns applies even to the brilliantly quick witted Christopher Miller and Phil Lord (and the guys at Animal Logic who provide the animation) just goes to show how difficult it is to improve upon an already strong foundation. Even if Lego 2 is a step down, it once again will reward older viewers while keeping the little ones busy with the hectic action and bright colors. Despite the flaws it is still worthy of being seen in a theater. 

Rated: PG

Running Time: 106 mins.

Quoted: “I ain’t Selina Kyle. I ain’t no Vicki Vale. I was never into you even when you were Christian Bale.”

“I’m more of a Keaton guy myself.”

“Oh, I loved him in Beetlejuice!”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Release: Friday, December 14, 2018

→Theater

Written by: Phil Lord; Rodney Rothman

Directed by: Bob Persichetti; Peter Ramsey; Rodney Rothman

A Review from the Perspective of a Spider-Newb

A cornucopia of visual delights that rivals the best of Pixar and Studio Ghibli, two of the giants in the world of animation, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse has taken Sony Pictures Animation to a whole new level. The combination of painstakingly hand-drawn and slick computer-generated imagery is something you can’t help but marvel at. All of the little stylistic flares — splitting the screen into panels, the employment of thought bubbles and of lightning bolts indicating a Spidey sense tingling, the minutiae of lighting textures — work in concert to make the viewer feel like they have “walked right into a comic book.” And then of course there’s a sense of timeliness. The recent passing of Spider-Man co-creator Stan Lee adds poignancy to what is already clearly an ode to a legacy. The rich detail and emotional resonance makes Into the Spider-Verse the cinematic equivalent of a mother’s handwoven quilt.

I’ll say it once and I’ll probably say it several more times before we’re done here: I can’t get over how good this movie looks. The visual language contributes so much to the film’s energetic personality and individuality. Yet what’s maybe most surprising about Into the Spider-Verse is how fresh and engaging this yet-again origins story feels. Its self-aware and occasionally self-deprecatory humor, courtesy of Phil Lord — the brilliantly quick-witted writer/producer of high-octane adventures such as The Lego Movie and 22 Jump Street — helped me buy back in. This is only like the 167th time we have seen an ordinary kid get bitten by a special spider but only the first in which we have been able to laugh along with those involved at how many big-screen iterations of the web-slinger there have been in recent years. More to the point, this is the first time we have seen someone other than the iconically average Peter Parker become Spider-Man.

Yes, of all those versions that have preceded it Into the Spider-Verse is the most inclusive one yet. The film offers seven Spideys for the price of one and while comics readers will be getting the most value from their dollar as they pluck out all the myriad Easter eggs hidden inside, the story graciously makes room for Spider-Newbs, taking the idea of an ordinary individual gaining unusual abilities and extrapolating that to the general populace. That any one of us holds the potential to become Spider-Man is a conceit juicy with possibility. It also seems a logistical nightmare from a writing standpoint. How will all these characters coexist within one story? Is it even one story? How many and which villains do we go with? How many Mary Janes? (Sorry for the spoiler, but there can only ever be one of those.)

In bringing this ambitious project to life, three different filmmakers are charged with directing, with Peter Ramsey handling the action sequences, Rodney Rothman overseeing the comedic aspects, and Bob Persichetti supplying what Lord describes as the “poetry” of the story. Indeed this is a real team effort, with the writers (Lord, alongside Rothman and a whole host of credited character developers) fixating upon the emotional maturation of a new Spidey-in-the-making, one Miles Morales (Dope‘s very own Shameik Moore), a New York kid of Afro-Puerto Rican descent trying his best to please his cop dad, Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry) and mom, Rio Morales (Luna Lauren Velez), a nurse. He attends a private boarding school where his parents hope he will aim for great heights. Oh, the irony. He has a close friend in his Uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) who encourages Miles to keep pursuing his artistic passions, frequently taking him to a subway station where he graffitis beautiful expressions onto the otherwise lifeless walls.

When a ridiculously rotund baddie named Wilson Fisk, a.k.a. Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), attempts to use a particle accelerator to access alternate dimensions for personal reasons that won’t be revealed here, beings from those other worlds are inadvertently thrust into ours. This opens up a quasi-anthological narrative that brings in different Spider-People to inform the central conflict — Miles’ inability to own his newfound . . . well, abilities. Multiple character arcs are provided along the way, each different Spider-Person explaining how they won the mutated-genetics lottery, all while Miles’ internal struggle — that oft-referenced grappling with power and responsibility — remains front-and-center. More impressive is the way all of it unfolds at a breakneck pace without ever becoming convoluted and difficult to keep up with.

What really perpetuates the flow of the narrative is this revolving door of different characters. There is always something new to latch on to, like swinging through the corridors of Manhattan from building to building. Chris Pine is in as the one-and-only Peter Parker, and while the role is small he does something we haven’t seen Peter do in any of the live-action adaptations. Jake Johnson’s Peter B. Parker, by contrast, is an over-the-hill, jaded crime fighter whose sweatpants-and-protruding-gut look suggests he isn’t overly concerned with image these days. He is perfectly charming in all of his 9-5 day job blasé. Then we have Hailee Steinfeld taking up the mantle of Gwen Stacy and while her trust issues are a cliché the actress/singer makes her reservations not only believable but emotionally satisfying when it comes to the main protagonist’s development.

From there it gets a little more obscure, with SNL’s John Mulaney lending his voice to Spider-Ham/Peter Porker (and here is a perfect example of my ignorance; how dare I limit my imagination of what Spider-Man can be to just human beings) while Nicolas Cage, of all people, becomes Spider-Man Noir. Last and most definitely least interesting (again, to me) is Kimiko Glenn’s Peni Parker, a Japanese incarnation who apparently made her Marvel Comics début only a few years ago in Edge of Spider-Verse #5 (2014). She’s got some weird robot-machine thing named SP//dr with which she telepathically communicates and uses to properly engage with the enemy — a device that also apparently links her to the ominous OsCorp.

There are familiar faces and characters scattered throughout as well. The older, more cynical Spider-Man’s Aunt May (Lily Tomlin) has a pretty important part to play as the many Spideys set about trying to find a way back to their own worlds while Miles tries ever more desperately to prevent Kingpin from destroying New York and, on a more personal level, help his father overcome his anti-Spidey bias. Secondary villains appear in the form of Doc Ock/Olivia Octavius (Kathryn Hann adding a female twist on Alfred Molina’s interpretation from Spider-Man 2), and Prowler, whose unmasked identity is best left masked in writing.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is sure to have long legs at the box office, and it deserves them. Whether this is the epitome of what comic book movies should feel like and be about is something that can be debated until the cows come home. For this outsider, this is just one of the most consistently enjoyable and immersive experiences I have had in 2018 and in a year in which I have had to absorb the blows of Infinity War, endure the cold loneliness of being First Man and try to survive the completely unknown in (my personal favorite) Annihilation, that is some accomplishment.

“I think, therefore I am . . . Spider-Man?”

Recommendation: Into the Spider-Verse has it all: an incredible visual spectacle, a streamlined but hardly contrived narrative with a big heart and a great sense of humor, a villain with a compelling motive, a heartbreaking plot-twist and an emotive soundtrack. Best of all, the multiverse doesn’t require an intimate knowledge of what is canonical and what isn’t for you to really get inside it. I don’t know if this is literally “the best Spider-Man movie ever made,” but I am fairly confident it is one of the best movies I have seen this year. Your move, Marvel.

Rated: PG

Running Time: 117 mins.

Quoted: “That’s all it is Miles, a leap of faith.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com