'Lego Movie 2': Everything's not awesome, but friends make it better
I loved "The Lego Movie," and I liked "The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part." That about covers it.
The first one enjoyed the advantage of surprise. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, writers-directors of genuine wit and bouncing-atom invention, created such a natural flow for their 2014 joke barrage, and such a high-velocity rhythm for the action scenes, the results zoomed straight past 95 percent of recent animated feature filmmaking.
In Emmet, the chipper construction worker voiced by Chris Pratt, they had the perfect grounding wire. And there was that awesomely insidious song, "Everything is Awesome," celebrating brain-rotting conformist groupthink with a smile.
Emmet's sense of self-worth is tested, severely, in "Lego Movie 2."
The innocent-looking Lego Duplo characters introduced at the end of the first movie turn into invading space aliens in the sequel. Under siege, the town has morphed into "Apocalypseburg," two roads down and to the right of "Mad Max: Thunder Road."
This scorched-earth plot development reflects the uneasy alliance of the film's live-action characters, who pop in and out "Lego Movie 2." Brother Finn (Jaden Sand, five years and a voice change later) and his sister, Bianca (Brooklynn Prince of "The Florida Project"). The kids must learn to collaborate and enjoy each other's differing mashup instincts so that Emmet, Wyldstyle aka Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) and company can once again know peace while opening up their world to newcomers.
The newcomers do look like trouble. Rulers of the "Systar" star system kidnap Lucy, the "Man of Bats" (Will Arnett, exploring new depths of narcissism and insecurity as the caped crusader), Unikitty (Alison Brie, very funny in rage mode, especially on the subject of raisins) and space guy Benny (Charlie Day). The Systar queen, blessed with the fantastically punny name Watevra Wa'Nabi (Tiffany Haddish), wants the Man of Bats for company. Batman's flattered, but ...
In this exceptionally well-cast ensemble, Pratt also voices a second character, Rex Dangervest, conceived by Lord and Miller as a mixture of every action hit Pratt himself has starred in lately, from "Jurassic World" to "Guardians of the Galaxy." (One of the better notions: giving Rex's dinosaur cohorts subtitled dialogue.) Emmet sees Rex as everything he wants to be and what Lucy has hinted at desiring herself: a tough guy, with stubble and an advanced degree in brooding.
Nobody utters the word "toxic" or "masculinity" in "Lego Movie 2," but that's what it's about: the dangers of what good-natured boys often become, in part thanks to everything they know from the movies.
The tornado of movie references has its wearying side. The sequel throws one too many bones to parental types (Adam West gags), though I loved the throwaway nod to an "unlicensed knockoff" Lego character, Larry Poppins.
There's a reason people are responding so strongly to the end credits sequence, scored to the song "Super Cool," which is all about the coolness of end credits. An earlier song, a vicious little earworm titled "Catchy Song," makes its point, bluntly. But it's the last few minutes of "Lego Movie 2," shifting to a more relaxed rhythm, that stays with you. After so much digital-visual mania, it's a relief to simply watch animated approximations of old-school Lego contraptions for a while.
Lord and Miller are two of a small handful of Hollywood screenwriters whose style is instantly identifiable. They're adept at flicking a dozen jokes in different directions in the same minute of screen time. If "Lego Movie 2" tries too much, and gets lost in its own messages about familial cooperation, that's the price of their brand of invention.
There's another kind of branding going on, of course. As a certain 9-year-old said to me on the way out: "I wonder what the Lego sets for this one are like?"
'THE LEGO MOVIE 2: THE SECOND PART'
MPAA rating: PG (for some rude humor)
Running time: 1:46