Over the course of my time analyzing film —and mainly getting angry at films made for children— I’ve come to accept the fact that Hollywood is no stranger to curses. You’ve got things like the Superman curse, where it seems like any actor cast to play the Man of Steel has their career go up in flames after doing so. You’ve also got something like the Poltergeist curse, where the cast of the original films was marred by death and despair under mysterious circumstances to the point where some have asserted that the entire set of actors were paranormally marked for death. In recent years, however, I’ve come across what may be a new Hollywood hex that is sweeping the nation.
The Lord-Miller Curse.
Named after renowned writer/director duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller, this new curse (as I’ve come to define it) has a tendency to occur when the two create a surprise smash-hit (for instance, 2009’s Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs or 2014’s The LEGO Movie). This inevitably leads to a sequel getting greenlit. At that point, if Chris and Phil don’t return to direct (or serve some major function), then it’s all but doomed to be a major downgrade from the original. It’s how you get stuck with movies like Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, Solo: A Star Wars Story (where the duo were kicked out of the production midway, leading to a microcosmic version of the curse), and The LEGO Ninjago Movie. Sequels where the gap in quality between it and the prior film are wide enough to pull a cruise ship through.
This leads us to The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part. Released February 8, 2019 as the FOURTH entry in the Warner Bros’ theatrical LEGO franchise, the question of the hour for this film was simple: Had the Lord-Miller Curse claimed another victim?
2 PRATTS 2 FURIOUS
In The Second Part, it’s been five years since we last left off with Emmet (Chris Pratt) and company in the aftermath of TAKOS Tuesday, and, to quote the film itself, the world has become a “heckish” place. With simple-minded DUPLO invaders constantly robbing our heroes of resources and smashing any lines of defense to literal pieces, the citizens of Apocalypseburg have hardened themselves into battle-ready warriors cynical at the idea of everything being awesome.…except for Emmet, who’s more than eager to see the world as a perpetual bunny slope rather than a Fury Road. All he wants to do is settle down with Lucy/Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), but that’s interrupted when a mysterious alien threat captures her and the rest of the gang (all reprising their roles from part one), forcing Emmet to venture out into space to find them. While Lucy and the others are seemingly trapped in the malleable plastic clutches of Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), Emmet teams up with the dashing cowboy/archaeologist/spaceman/raptor trainer Rex Dangervest (voiced by franchise newcomer and Hollywood unknown Chris Pratt) to put a stop to the wicked queen’s evil plans and help Emmet toughen up. With the shadow of a prophesied “Armommageddon” threatening to end the LEGO world as we know it and both sides of the conflict reaching a fever pitch, secrets are revealed, alliances are forged and Emmet’s going to have to learn that getting tough and growing up is more than just child’s play.
It’s undeniable that, like with many of the movies I’ve covered prior, the decks were partially stacked against this film. Most notable in this regard were Lord and Miller’s increasing detachment from the film and the people hired to fill their shoes. At first, the two were expected to write and direct the project. Then, it was announced that Lord and Miller were stepping down to only write the film, passing the reins of director to comedian and Scud: The Disposable Assassin creator Rob Schrab…who was then replaced by Mike Mitchell, known for directing various Dreamworks projects (Trolls being the most relevant example) and Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo of all things. At this point, writer Matt Fogel was bought on to help rework the story, and–
…It’s confusing, to say the least. What matters is that Lord and Miller’s involvement with The LEGO Movie 2 was unclear until it was confirmed that they had written the screenplay. While this confirmation was a comfort, the process that went on behind it left a certain air of doubt regarding the quality and cohesiveness of what would be the final product.
INTO THE SISTER-VERSE
It’s an utter relief, however, to say that my fears were rendered completely null and void…almost. The level of writing on display, especially after the will-they-won’t-they routine regarding Lord and Miller’s involvement with the movie and multiple director replacements, somehow miraculously recaptures the kinetic energy of the first movie’s brand of comedy. Of course, that isn’t to say that the prior two installments weren’t able to stand in the same light, but it’s like the difference between a hand-crafted roast beef dinner and a Hungry-Man microwave meal. This isn’t to insult LEGO Batman or LEGO Ninjago (admittedly, the metaphor is more apt for the latter over the former), but after years of eating an imitation foodstuff that cannot help but remind you of how the real thing SHOULD taste, it’s a relief to know that the cooks behind that first meal still know their way around a kitchen.
However, there are moments in the film that cannot help but feel somewhat excessive, even in comparison to the first film, and the most glaring example is The Second Part’s primary hook: The Systar System, where everything is a musical. Now, this is nowhere near as alarming in action as it sounds on paper, but when the musical numbers start to pop up, I felt like they could potentially offset the mile-a-minute pacing the film had up until these points. The sequences definitely justify their places in the film, especially in regards to utilizing Haddish’s vocal range and the infinitely fluid nature of Queen Watevra’s body to produce eye-popping results that beg to be seen in 3D. However, it’s also at these moments that the film feels less like The LEGO Movie and more like Dreamworks’ Trolls…which is fitting, given the director’s resume.
Outside of that (and a few extremely minor nitpicks, aside from some gags that feel occasionally at odds with the tonal shifts throughout the film), I honestly don’t have anything negative to say about the film. The animation manages to take the pre-defined theatrical LEGO style that the first established and make it feel fresh again. The vocal cast is on their A-game, especially with Pratt’s double duty as both Emmet and Rex, and the music lives up to the first’s ear-wormingly addictive score and tracklist. All in all, there’s really only one word to describe it all…
The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part is awesome. Pure awesome. Maybe not exactly quite on the same level as the original LEGO Movie, but it feels less like it’s chasing the glory days of the original and more like it’s trying to carve out its own unique identity both apart from and alongside its predecessor. Much like the subconscious sibling rivalry at the core of this film, it’d be easy to definitively say which film is better than the other and end the conflict as such. However, if The Second Part proves anything, it’s this:
The Lord-Miller Curse has been broken, and everything is awesome again.
Featured Image: LEGO
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