The LEGO Movie was a surprise hit—no one expected an obvious and crass commercial ploy like this would ever work—which, naturally, started a franchise. 2017 saw two LEGO spin-offs, The LEGO Batman Movie and The LEGO Ninjago movie, which was an up-and-down experience. Batman did fine, but Ninjago underperformed (despite being Very Cute). Now, The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part is here to continue the mainline franchise, only it underwhelmed on its opening weekend. It bagged $34 million, enough to open at number one, but that is well below even the softest expectations. Despite getting off to a strong start, the LEGO franchise is proving to be a mixed bag, and The Second Part doesn’t really build confidence in its long-term future. It’s perfectly fine, but it can’t quite recapture the delightful joy—or surprise—of the first movie.
Chris Pratt returns as the voice of Emmet, a gung-ho cheerful dope who is the last optimistic person in Bricksburg, now known as Apocalypseburg after a five-year incursion from the Systar System. Really, this is result of human child Finn (Jadon Sand) having his LEGO sets overrun by his sister Bianca’s (Brooklynn Prince) Duplo set. The residents of Apocalypseburg are now hardened Fury Road-style warriors—Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) is rocking a steampunk look, Princess Unikitty (Alison Brie) has gone permanently red, and Benny (Charlie Day) has a metal arm. Apocalypseburg makes for a lot of cute visual gags and references.
The action really gets going when a collection of minifigs get sucked into the Systar System, where ruler Queen Watevra Wa’nabi (Tiffany Haddish) wants to marry Batman (Will Arnett, still the best Batman going). Emmet sets off to save his friends and on the way encounters Rex Dangervest, also voiced by Pratt and an amalgamation of his franchise-hero roles. Rex Dangervest is a good joke, and comes off like a really complex Parks & Rec gag that would have happened had that show continued to run through Pratt’s super-stardom. But Rex Dangervest does not play as well as Arnett’s gravel-voiced riff on Batman did in the first movie, which is where the franchise erosion first starts to show.
It’s not that The Second Part isn’t enjoyable, or that it is actually bad. It is enjoyable and it is not bad. But it’s a little less engaging—at least for adults, kids in the audience were eating it up—and feels a bit more rote than the first movie. Maybe that’s the inevitable fate of a movie that throws in everything and the kitchen sink on the first go. The LEGO Movie held nothing back, which leaves little for the second movie to do. All the favorites from the first movie are back, including Channing Tatum as Superman and Jonah Hill as the desperate-to-be-friends Green Lantern, but half of that joke working was the surprise of the voice casting. Now that the surprise is gone, the schtick wears a little thin.
Which is how best to describe The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part—worn a little thin. It’s still a nice diversion, but without the surprise element of the first film, it feels less special and unique. And that is inevitable, you can’t recapture that lightning in a bottle. So now the question is, what are we doing with this franchise? The first movie worked because it had a go-for-broke sensibility which leaves little left to do on the humor front, and also it was enormously surprising that a LEGO movie was good at all. Now that we expect these movies to be good, and can’t really be surprised by them, what are they for? Based on The Second Part, they are for wacky, colorful kid distractions. I’m not sure the adult appeal of The LEGO Movie extends past the first one. Now it feels solidly in the realm of children. Which is fine, and probably explains the box office decline.