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The Lego Movie 2 returns with a purpose

Smart sequel full of jubilant energy and cynicism-free writing
Lego 2
The first Lego Movie raked in $470 million at the box office and was nominated for an Academy Award.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part. Directed by Mike Mitchell. Featuring Chris Pratt and Elizabeth Banks. Rating: 8 (out of 10)

It’s been five years since the original Lego movie was released, roughly the length of time it has taken the average viewer to get “Everything Is Awesome” out of their heads.

Charges of blatant commercialism – a feature film based on a toy brand? – preceded the film’s release, and expectations were low for the 2014 film. But The Lego Movie raked in $470 million at the box office and was nominated for an Academy Award. The Danish-based Lego Group saw profits jump by 25 per cent in 2015 over the previous year. Awesome indeed.

The film was cute and clever, with an unexpectedly detailed block world, retro-fresh stop-motion style animation and enough witty one-liners to satisfy everyone. It set the bar high for a sequel. But with Phil Lord and Christopher Miller writing once again, number two is pretty darned great

Alas, everything is less than awesome five years later in Bricksburg, which has been leveled by an apocalypse and faces invasion from a foreign foe. (And no, “build a giant Lego wall!” is not a proposed solution to the problem.) Emmet Brickowski (voiced by Chris Pratt), our everyman hero from the first film, is unfazed by his new situation in this desert wasteland and is perky as ever, much to the annoyance of Wyldstyle, a.k.a. Lucy (Elizabeth Banks).

Ever the pragmatist, Lucy encourages Emmet to “man up” in this tough, barren new world: “Times have changed and you need to change with them,” she counsels. Oops, too late. Lucy and a few of Emmet’s friends are kidnapped by General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and taken to the Systar System far, far away.

It’s up to Emmet and his doppelganger Rex Dangervest (Pratt, doing double duty) to save the day. Rex is a hybrid of Pratt’s Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World characters (complete with raptor friends), and he’s way cooler than Emmet. He has stubble!

All makes sense if you remember where the last film left off, with a human dad (Will Ferrell) telling his son that he needs to share and start playing Lego with his sister. And so driving the plot is no small amount of girl power, from the self-sure confidence of Wyldstyle/Lucy to the clever ways in which the human little sister (played by Brooklynn Prince of The Florida Project) inserts herself into the imaginative play. The result is a whole new girl universe expanding, led by the shape-shifting Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) and populated by kick-ass characters like Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Haddish performs “Catchy Song”, an earworm that will haunt your dreams if it isn’t obliterated by the “Super Cool” closing sequence, which is fab. She joins a mostly returning cast of characters, among them Batman (Will Arnett), Superman and the Green Lantern (Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, who starred in Lord and Miller’s 21 Jump Street), and Abe Lincoln (Will Forte). And fan favourite Unikitty (Alison Brie) is back, along with her new rage spirit animal Ultrakatty.

Alfred Pennyworth, Batman’s butler, is played by Ralph Fiennes. Jason Momoa shows up as his Aquaman figurine in one of the funniest moments in the sequel. Tied for funniest is Batman’s singing homage to the many incarnations of Batman before him, from Adam West to Ben Affleck. Playing spot-the-movie-star is as much fun for the big kids as the plot itself.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is directed by Mike Mitchell, who helmed another likable film based on a toy brand: Trolls. You can’t help but smile by the jubilant energy and cynicism-free writing on offer, and appreciate that this is a sequel with a purpose. The idea of telling the story from the perspective of the toys is a conceit done before in the Toy Story franchise but perfected here with the smart Lego world-real world crossover, and it offers up a surprising amount of heart along with all the laughs.