"The Lego Movie 2" Ups Storytelling Ante

When Phil Lord and Christopher Miller unleashed “The Lego Movie” in early 2014, not even the most bright-eyed optimist anticipated the splash it would make – a splash almost entirely removed from the toy line in its title. Legos were merely a Trojan horse for the “21 Jump Street” duo’s judiciously political, thoroughly heartwarming tale of everyman Emmet Brickowski and his clash with conformity. Audiences responded in kind. The film didn’t sell out for toys or the beginning of a cinematic universe (even if one happened anyway), only for making us think (not too hard) and laugh (sometimes very hard).

“The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part” surprises in its own way, on its own terms, bringing some surprisingly sophisticated storytelling to the table. “Sky High” and “Trolls” helmer Mike Mitchell directs from a Lord and Miller script, with Chris Pratt and Elizabeth Banks reprising their lead voice acting roles.

This time out Emmet (Pratt) and Lucy aka Wyldstyle (Banks) are met with the threat of a Duplo invasion (as seen at the end of the first movie), which develops into something far more complicated. Live-action interstitials return, more important than before, pitting brother, Finn, against sister, Bianca, in a war for their father’s Lego collection, Bricksburg. The result is a Mad Max-style dystopia, dubbed Apocalypseburg, where the ever-upbeat Emmet lives in denial of the strife around him – until Lucy, Batman (Will Arnett), and others are captured by enigmatic mini-doll Sweet Mayhem.

Finally our protagonist must confront the schism dividing his world.

Pratt pulls double-duty here, also voicing a stubbled action archetype named Rex Dangervest. Rex sounds like a cross between John Wayne and Kurt Russell, his version of a white horse an army of trained Velociraptors (a play on Pratt’s “Jurassic World” character). Together Rex and Emmet set off to save the day; to rescue Lucy and company from shape-shifting alien Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) who assures us through song how not evil she is.

Will Ferrell, who only briefly reprises the voice of President Business, cedes the role of live-action parent to fellow “Saturday Night Live” veteran Maya Rudolph. Her presence is, as always, welcome, her character the center of the impending “Ourmomageddon.”

Refreshingly, the movie is uninterested in leaning too hard on the multicolored mayhem of its predecessor. The emphasis here instead is the narrative, unfolding like origami, several flaps bearing startling story developments. The message is at once accessible and mature, sharp where the first movie was a bit fuzzy, Lord and Miller clearly taking pride in honing their skills as storytellers. (Their firing from “Solo: A Star Wars Story” still seems almost inconceivable.)

“The Second Part” may not deliver as many laughs as part one – and the novelty is inevitably gone – but it is a smooth, substantial sequel, capable of standing on its own as one of the better animated films of the decade. And once again, crucially, it transcends product placement. Future series entries must not lose sight of this.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Good)

Release Date: February 8, 2019
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Director: Mike Mitchell
Screenwriters: Phil Lord, Christopher Miller
Starring: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish
MPAA Rating: PG (for mild action and rude humor)