What if Lord Business was the hero all along? In The Lego Movie, Lord Business is the villainous presence in the story, who fights for status quo in the fascist realm of Bricksburg. He’s also revealed to be a middle-aged man who prizes a vast and well-kept Lego set collection with which he does not want his children playing. The meta-twist of that first movie is that Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt), the lovable and kind mini-figure protagonist, is a stand-in for the man’s young son who just wants to imaginatively mix and match Lego bricks. The man learns to share his toys with his son and comes to realize that keeping his memories trapped in amber is nothing compared to creating new ones with his son. Thanks, Lego! Cross-generational consumer markets are the best.
But what if Lord Business, with his magnificently sorted bricks and meticulously constructed realms of various Lego themes, was in fact the only one left standing when the bricks settled and the son figured out he could just play with video games? What if, truly, Lord Business is the one who understood what makes Lego special, who felt the same emotions that catapulted The Lego Movie to a record-setting box-office take half a decade ago. What if, truly, Lord Business was the hero?
The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part (hereafter TLM2) only drives that point home by being an incredibly bland film that tries to use the patented Lego-style animation to tell a generic story that never truly feels like anything but a mediocre Toy Story movie.
I’ve never really enjoyed Phil Lord and Christopher Miller as writers. Their Jump Street movies struck me as cynical and mean-spirited, and the first Lego Movie felt forced and insincere, an act of brand management that never understood the nature of the nostalgia it weaponized. TLM2 took a half-decade to produce, with a script from the original writers but direction by Mike Mitchell of Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo and Trolls fame. It picks up from the cliffhanger of the first movie, which saw the introduction of Duplo toys to Bricksburg — toys belonging to the son’s sister. Pretty much straight out of Toy Story, just like everything else here.
Nothing about the movie — the themes, the action, the story — make it special to Lego or what Lego means to the audience. This is the same fundamental problem as The Lego Batman Movie and The Lego Ninjago Movie. On the surface, The Lego Movie was popular because it emphasized Legos as a cross-generational toy experience. Fine. I don’t agree with that reading, not entirely, because Lego simply isn’t that anymore. That’s what the first film markets. That’s what Lego wants you to feel. But it’s not true.
I’m an admitted adult fan of Lego sets and I regularly buy sets on deep discount once they’ve gathered cobwebs on big-box store shelves for six months. Themes like Bionicle and Star Wars floated the line through the 2000s after it almost went bankrupt, but Bionicle died two inglorious deaths due to low sales (RIP, Bionicle), and even the Star Wars license is waning in popularity as the big sets that defined it become prohibitively expensive for kids to purchase and play with (the most recent Millennium Falcon retailed for $160). The Lego Batman Movie wave of sets also gathered dust. The cost of producing Legos is only going up, which creates a situation where kids can’t afford to buy and play with them — or more accurately, parents can’t really afford to buy and play with them. Not in the way The Lego Movie celebrates. Because fundamentally, The Lego Movie presented a world where Legos would always be there, available to fathers, sons and grandsons. That’s the fantasy of Lord Business. Because he fucking loves Legos. He works long hours at a difficult job and likes to come home to a world he can construct and control. Even the end of the movie works to reinforces his love of Legos. He never really has to listen to his son. He just includes him.
My dad taught me how to golf. I like playing golf. I love playing with Legos. The Lego Movie was made for our memories of Lego, not the sad reality that the toy company’s time as the king of the pack is quickly waning as kids move on to easily available video games that create the same kind of building fun, with the added bonus of infinite resources and possibilities. I still golf sometimes. I can and will teach my son to golf. Golf will never mean the same thing to him that it does to me, just as it doesn’t mean the same thing to me as it does my dad. Maybe it won’t mean anything to my son at all. To complete the Lego analogy, maybe by the time my son is old enough, there simply won’t be any affordable ways for him to play golf. Times change.
The Lego Movie was made for Lord Business, positing Lego as a brand that will always be there and always be meaningful. Honestly, that’s not a bad hook for the movie. It was emotionally resonant. It keyed in on feelings the audience enjoyed having unlocked. It was somewhat clever.
TLM2 just lacks any of that. It has no conviction. No purpose. Lord and Miller name their new realms the “siStar system” and “Queen Watevr a Wa-Nabi.” Starts and ends quickly. They never just let the wordplay exist without constantly patting themselves on the back about it The new cast members, including Tiffany Haddish and Stephanie Beatriz, are fine. Haddish has the one good musical number of the film. Maybe the biggest surprise is Chris Pratt’s dual role as Rex Dangervest, which is basically just Pratt doing his best Kurt Russell impersonation of a character who combines his popular Marvel and Jurassic Park characters. It gets old after a while, particularly when the twist behind the character is revealed and makes no real sense. Do you remember when the first movie featured a hall of licensed characters all poking fun at one another, or when Batman rode in the Millenium Falcon? Nothing of that sort in TLM2. Maybe it was licensing issues?
They bring back all the original lego-brand characters you loved (?) from the first movie to tell a story about the son growing into adolescence and learning to share creatively with his younger sister. The messages are jumbled. Lord & Miller tell their story with constant exposition, emotional undercutting, incessant self-referential jokes and, most fatally, frequent flashes into the “real world” beyond the Lego characters’ perception of reality. Clumsy, repetitive, meaningless. Flashing into the “real world” worked for the first movie as a nice surprise but creates jarring narrative quandaries here that never emotionally pay off. Nobody cares about these kids.
That’s because ultimately, we all secretly empathized with Lord Business anyway.