‘The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part’ is an early contender for best movie of the year

This past Saturday I was talking to my mom on the phone. She was in Florida visiting my grandma, and they were trying to decide what movie to go see that evening. The two movies they were considering were Cold War, a polish black-and-white romance, and They Shall Not Grow Old, a documentary about World War I. They weren’t really sold on either one as a fun way to spend a Saturday night.

So when my mom asked for my input, I suggested The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part instead. My recommendation was laden with caveats. “I mean, the jokes are super fast and the animation is kind of frantic, but I think you might like it,” I told my mom. I assured my grandma that she would not be missing crucial plot knowledge having not see the original Lego Movie.

Perhaps not surprisingly at all, this recommendation did not pan out well. My mom and my grandma, both smart people and astute movie-watchers, couldn’t follow what was happening at all. My grandma fell asleep pretty early into the movie, and they left shortly thereafter.

This is all to say that The Lego Movie 2 is not for everyone. It seems like it might not even be for most people: the film took in almost $25 million less than it was projected to this past weekend. But for those who can handle its dizzying animation and unrelenting humor, it’s an absolute treasure well worth seeing.

Part of the reason I at least had hope my grandma would enjoy The Lego Movie 2 as much as I did was its ability to feel both totally new and completely in debt to its classic comedic influences. It plays like a Mel Brooks movie on ecstasy, a connection that sounds ludicrous but is the most accurate comparison I can fathom.

This blend is the unique voice of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the writers behind The Lego Movie 2. The duo directed The Lego Movie and the 21 Jump Street franchise and produced Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the closest visual comparison for Lego with its bright flashing purples and blues and non-stop one-liners. Their brand is consistent: hyper-fast, self-aware, pop culture-driven comedy. In The Lego Movie 2 the references are gleefully obvious: nods to Mad Max, Die Hard, and Twilight stand out, among many others. The nature of Lego toys’ franchise absorption allows Lord and Miller to revel in these cultural allusions more than anything else they’ve made.

What makes their films, and particularly the Lego Movie franchise, so special is that these pop culture indulgences are never what drive Lord and Miller’s stories. They are unique storytellers, and while the jokes had me laughing out loud in the theater more than most movies are able to, there’s also an undeniable heart at the center of it all.

Take film critic Josh Larsen’s review of 2014’s The Lego Movie, which currently stands as my favorite comedy of the decade. He calls the film a “celebration of creative community as a compromise between suffocating order and individualistic anarchy,” and compares the animated movie to the likes of film legends Jacques Tati and Charlie Chaplin. Lord himself has called it “an anti-totalitarian film for children.” These lofty ideas aren’t incidental: they are the core of The Lego Movie, and the sequel has just as many thoughts on its mind about gender, masculinity, heroism, and how to get along in a world where everything is decidedly not awesome. The Lego Movie franchise is perhaps my favorite mainstream political allegory for the Trump Era. If the 2014 original was forethinking about how susceptible we are to social manipulation and the emotional fragility at the root of that susceptibility, then the 2019 sequel is forethinking in how we must start to reconsider the rules holding up our bonkers world.

The solution The Lego Movie 2 delivers is empathy, and although the emotional payoff doesn’t quite reach the heights of the original, it gets pretty damn close. This comes from (minor spoiler) the turn to the real world that was such a shock in the original, less surprising this time around but was no less emotionally resonant. The power of The Lego Movie 2 also comes in the animated portions of the film, particularly in Elizabeth Banks’s empathic voice work.

I went into The Lego Movie 2 with relatively low expectations - how could the sequel match the greatness of the original? — but came away beaming. It has just everything the original had (inventive animation, high-speed jokes, emotional payoff), and even some touches the original lacked (two divine Tiffany Haddish musical numbers). I still think The Lego Movie is the better film, but I don’t feel an iota of the apparent Lego fatigue that flattened the sequel at the box office. I might not recommend it to your grandmother, but if you can keep up with the chaotic imagination of Lord and Miller, I encourage you to see my favorite movie of the year thus far.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part: 4 stars