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Movie Review: The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

Sometimes sequels are lazy cashgrabs, (especially animated sequels– looking at you, Cars movies!) but the followup to the movie everyone thought was going to be terrible but was actually groundbreaking and amazing is almost equally as… um… “awesome.”

I say “almost” because it’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube for the original conceit of the movie: that the Lego toys (and our characters) exist in the real world in a suburban basement somewhere in what was an extended metaphor about capitalism, fascism, consumerism, playing with your toys, and having childlike wonder and fun with them.

Having expended that creativity in the twist ending (and further exploring it in both the Lego Batman and Ninjago movies), the only answer in the sequel is to double down on what else worked so well in the first — humor, songs, childlike anarchy and imagination — and move forward. While this isn’t quite the revelation the first one was, it’s still easily the best movie of 2019 (so far).

Our story begins where the last one ended (literally) with the arrival of Duplo aliens from the “Sistar” system. Now 5 years later, the aliens continue to come and destroy anything that our heroes build in the former metropolis of Bricksburg, which is now a Mad Max style apocalyptic wasteland, complete with broken Statue of Liberty!

However, this doesn’t dampen the spirit of Emmett (Chris Pratt) who continues to think everything is awesome. The more cynical realistic Lucy / “Wyldstyle” (Elizabeth Banks) along with Metalbeard (Nick Offermen), Benny (Spaceship! Charlie Day), UniKitty (Allison Brie), and Batman (Will Arnett) rule over the city protecting it from incursion and destruction. But Emmett starts to have dreams of an upcoming “Mom-ageddon” where all the Legos are put into storage forever.

When one day a mysterious spacewoman named General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) shows up to “invite them all to a wedding,” she kidnaps all of our heroes except Emmett and takes them to the Sistar system. Our optimistic construction worker then has to travel into the great beyond up the staircase and to the new galaxy to rescue them.

On his way he encounters Rex Dangervest (also Chris Pratt in a dual role) whose super awesome spaceship is piloted by Raptors. Rex is super hardcore, which gives him not only “master builder” powers but “master destructor” powers. The two new “vest friends” plan to disrupt the wedding ceremony between Queen Whatevra Wa’Nabi (Taraji P. Henson) and Batman as it is the final sign of the Momageddon.

That plot doesn’t really do the film justice however, because there is so much more going on at every level. The film is infused with joyous songs. The infectious conformity anthem of “Everything Is Awesome” is one-upped by a song literally meant to brainwash our heroes by claiming that “this song’s going to get stuck inside your head.” And it really does.

In “Gotham City Guys,” Queen Whatevra seduces Batman in what is perhaps the funniest sequence in the film for comic fans as she plays on Batman’s insecurities and rivalry with a certain Kryptonian. This is also a good time to mention that Jason Momoa and Gal Gadot also both appear as their DCEU characters in some truly excellent cameos. But don’t worry– Green Lantern is still played by Jonah Hill from the first movie! (What, they were going to get Ryan Reynolds?)

Returning musical champs The Lonely Island also make an appearance singing a song about how cool the credits are– which definitely make you want to sit through the credits. And Queen Whatevra channels evil Disney anthems like “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” “Be Prepared,” and “Mother Knows Best” singing a song all about how she’s definitely definitely definitely not evil, she promises.

What really makes this film work are the multiple layers of meaning. And for this discussion I will have to delve into minor plot spoilers, but not ones which adults wouldn’t see coming from a mile away in a kids movie. Of course as adults we recognize that the “Sistar System” is actually ruled by the sister of the young boy we saw in the first film.

What is actually happening in the war between Bricksburg and her system is sibling rivalry played out large. An older brother feels that his little sister is breaking and stealing his toys (which he’s not wrong about by the way). And a little sister just wants to play Legos with her older brother. Taking in stride the meaning of the first film, we see the son becoming his own father: demanding the conformity to his type of play and excluding those who won’t play along.

And we also have the eponymous Mom of the Momageddon (Maya Rudolph) who is doing what moms everywhere do: if you can’t play nicely with each other, then I’m going to have to take away the source of the conflict (the offending toys). Again, these are minor spoilers, but they’re also pretty clear to adults who read between the lines of the early plot and who are aware of the conceit of the first film. Also, let’s take one moment here and point out how amazing Maya Rudolph is. She is the shining star at the center of this film’s universe, bathing everything in a warm glow at the perfect intersection of awesome, funny, and super serious. She’s the perfect mom.

There’s also deeper message here that emphasizes the original (covert) feminism of the first Lego Movie, even directly pointing out that Lucy was the one who did most of the heroic things but Emmett is still seen as the leader and the hero. But this film is implicitly making the case for opening up the toy box for everyone, and not just everyone in general, but specifically for young girls. It should also be noted that the central players of the Sistar galaxy are also voiced by women of color (Haddish, Beatriz) — another implicit demand for playing with everyone.

Gatekeeping is endemic in our fan culture, and nowhere is it more apparent than among self-professed fans who seem most intent on keeping women out of the fandom. The same mentality also infects the toy aisle of your local favorite big box store, which is still one of the most unnecessarily gender-segregated areas left in America.

The idea that Legos and building sets are only for girls, and therefore we have to create special gendered Legos for them is as silly as it is retrogressive. And yet, Lego has done just that, haven’t they?

The strongest message that we got at the end of the film is simply to play with one another, and allow different forms of play and imagination to work together. Spoiler alert: when the brother and sister stop fighting, they create a beautiful new Utopia for the Lego heroes from both universes to live in.

There’s another great moment near the climax of the third act where “Everything is Awesome” is turned on its head and Lucy starts singing how everything’s not awesome, but it can be if we all work together and put aside differences and misunderstandings. Essentially, it’s a message to not go Hard AF at each other, because all that brings is destruction and unhappiness.

There couldn’t be a better lesson for 2019, and this was made all the more poignant when I saw this film at a critics preview screening the same night as the State of the Union speech. Everything’s not awesome, but there’s a way forward if we can hope and dream of a better world and work to bridge misunderstandings in order to confront the real evils that exist out there.

Note that this isn’t some mealy-mouthed centrist plea for bipartisanship or something of that nature. This is more of a plea to an increasingly fractured left and center who can so easily fall into the traps of purity tests or even engaging in ridiculous activities like re-litigating the 2016 primary.

One of the biggest lessons of this Lego movie is the fight about who started the war between Bricksburg and the aliens. “You started it.” “No you started it.” It’s the oldest, childish argument in the world, and it’s time to move past things like that to help make our world a better place.

The film is also incredibly funny, with jokes coming a mile a minute. You will want to re-watch several times, and maybe see it out of the theater because you are laughing so hard you will miss the next joke. There are beautiful and hilarious Easter eggs and callbacks to the previous film, but nothing that presents a barrier to anyone who didn’t see it.

The character designs and animation also continues to be astounding. Freed of just following the instructions from the first film, so many of the designs are just built on anarchy and imagination which makes them incredibly fun and toyetic. I left the theater and immediately went online to look to see if I could buy a UniKitty battle cat. Luckily I can, along with numerous other sets that I would probably have to take a second mortgage out to be able to afford. There’s also an amazing “Battle Ready Batman and MetalBeard” set for those who might gawk at playing with “girls toys.” (Did you not get the memo?)

The film does bog down a little bit in its second act, but it more than makes up for it with an amazing ending. The spirit and morality and hopefulness of this film make it something that will make you happy and want to play with your toys and hug your kids.

Everything’s not awesome, but it can be if we’ll listen to The Lego Movie 2.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Movie Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

jurassic-world-posterYou can never go home again. But apparently you can keep mining the same basic premise — crazy scientists reinvent dinosaurs, put them in a park, park breaks down, dinos eat people — until you hit bedrock. Or, in the case of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, until you hit magma.

This is perhaps the laziest and most paint-by-numbers of the franchise, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. It is, however, pretty dumb– at least as dumb as its giant rampaging beasts, with plot holes equally as large. Perhaps, like the stegosaurus, it has a brain the size of a walnut and a secondary “brain” in its tail?

But that doesn’t make it not enjoyable. There’s two ways to enjoy this movie– you’re either a 10 year old, or an adult.

For a kid, or someone who can tap into their inner child easily, it’s like a eating a giant bowl of jelly beans doused in Mountain Dew and shoveling it in your mouth like a kid eating cereal watching Saturday morning cartoons. There’s no layers here, no nuance, no deeper meaning. As much as I would like to salute the stinging indictment of the 1% and global military-industrial complex in this film, that’s even more of a reach than I’ll normally make. This is sugar on top of sugar on top of sugar with a dollop of high fructose corn syrup. And that’s it.

For cynical adults, however, this film is more along the lines of going to see a concert of one of your favorite bands from 90’s. Yeah, they’re going to play the hits– all of your favorites– but you notice they don’t quite sound the same any more. They’ve lost a little bit of that verve. And then when they tell you, “And here’s a song off our new album,” you know you can check out for a moment or go grab another drink. This is like that.  (Apologies if you feel I’ve maligned your favorite 90’s band.) But this movie is like the lyrics from 90’s band Gin Blossoms, “If you don’t expect too much from me, you might not be let down.”

Our story– if it matters? and yet it’s also needlessly complicated– is our beloved dinosaurs are in danger. This time the abandoned park on Isla Nublar is in danger from a (very convenient) volcano which threatens to destroy the island. While the world debates whether to let the animals become re-extinct, a fate which returning champ (and drastically underused) Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) explains in what is essentially an extended exposition cameo. Former park manager Claire (Dallas Bryce Howard) is now an animal rights activist working to save the dinos. She is enlisted to help save them and take them to a sanctuary on another private island by eccentric dying billionaire Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) former partner of John Hammond in the dinosaur-making business. To rescue the dinos, they will also need velociraptor wrangler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), as they seem very interested in his raptor buddy Blue.

owen and blue

And this movie spends a lot — a lot — of time with Owen and Blue. It is almost a boy-and-his-dinosaur movie. While this is likely designed to be a selling point, one of the biggest tragedies of this movie is the best character arc of the film is reserved for a dinosaur. That’s ok. We love Blue. He’s great. But this is too much of a good thing. The human characters, however? They’re basically set dressing to move the action scenes along and provide snack-shaped macguffins for the thunder lizards to chase.

And where do they chase them? Well, towards the setup of another obligatory sequel, of course. Sure, there’s bad guys who get chomped, and a few twists and turns about what’s actually going on, but it’s really predictable the same way you’ll never be surprised by a meal at Applebees. They’re also joined on this quest by paleo-veterinarian Zia Rodriguez (Daniella Pineda), computer guy Franklin Webb (Justice Smith), and army guy Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine). And, because it’s a Jurassic Park movie, Dr. Wu (BD Wong) is back, as is obligatory-child-in-peril Lockwood’s granddaughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon).

The action setpieces are dazzling if a bit unharmonious. The first half of the film is a slow build to the rescue from Isla Nublar against the backdrop of an apocalyptic volcano. It’s big dumb action fun that would make Michael Bay blush. Have you ever said, “Hey, what Jurassic Park needs is to have is the dinosaurs attack while lava threatens everyone!” Well, this is your movie. As is The Land Before Time as well as that scene from Fantasia with the dinosaurs set to The Rite of Spring. Enjoy! as an incapacitated Chris Pratt slowly rolls away from molasses-paced lava! (Seriously) Actually, it’s kind of fun. But it is really dumb.

Are you sensing a theme?

You also get a lot of sense of “been there, done that” as you get “characters” who seem to only be there to fit a stereotype or move the story along. Ted Levine (remember when he was the grumpy police captain on Monk? Or Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs?) seems determined to copy bits and pieces of Sean Pertwee and Pete Postlethwaite, but never really becomes anything more than “Army guy who is hunting dinosaurs.” Ditto with Justice Smith, whose only purpose is to be scared and fix the computers.

And then there’s Daniella Pineda, whose character seemed like she might break the mold and actually be interesting. . . and then no. Unsurprising reports have surfaced that a scene was cut “for time” where she reveals she’s a lesbian. This is only unsurprising because major studios seem so unwilling to put anyone who isn’t heterosexual in their major tentpole releases. However, this goes to the broader point– the fact that she’s gay was cut “for time” as opposed to any of the filler “action sequences,” some of which get ridiculous. The film approaches character and development as purely secondary to more overt explosions and dinosaur attacks.

The film’s approach that more is more is on full display as the island is filled with lava and overtaken by toxic gases from the volcano’s pyroclastic flow. There is a moment where they escape from the island and a scene with a sauropod that will break your heart. Or, turn your stomach, depending on how cynically you approach the film. Your mileage may vary. My ten year old cried. My inner ten year old did, too. It’s not quite at the level of “I don’t feel so good Mr. Stark. . . ” but almost.

And that’s the first half of the movie.

The second half of the film is so tonally dissimilar from the first half that it feels like two different films. The second is basically a monster movie with a dinosaur villain that has probably been spoiled if you’ve seen the marketing for this movie, but whom I will not spoil here because it is a nice reveal. The dino isn’t the problem, though, and neither are the cold techno-lab setpieces in the basement of this giant Hearst-Castle-esque estate which gets a cool haunted house vibe (although those are also a bit of a tonal shock as well). The real problem, as is the theme of all Jurassic Park movies, are the humans. Especially the human villains are the least interesting and compelling major franchise villains outside of a Transformers movie we’ve had in a long time. Not compelling, not memorable, and their motivations are just stupid. Toby Jones even tries to show up 2/3 of the way through the movie as an ancillary villain to try to save it. Spoiler alert: he can’t.

There are also pieces here that you want to say are “callbacks” to previous films, but really? They feel almost more like cliches and obligatory fanservice. If you had asked me to make a list of everything that is a staple of Jurassic Park movies, I would give you a list of a dozen or so items. Jurassic World was partially so successful because it played with those tropes. This one just leans into them. Some are done well. Some are done less well.

What’s interesting and fun here isn’t necessarily new. And what’s new and unique isn’t necessarily fun.

The fact that Blue is basically the film’s deuteragonist next to Own Grady is somewhat refreshing. Let’s give them an unreliable dinosaur sidekick! Ok. But it only works so long. You really have to buy the premise to buy this bit.

But the film seems to not understand its basic concept. While Jurassic World embraced the idea that “dinosaurs are boring, so we need to make a hybrid dinosaur– bigger, scarier, more teeth!– to make a new monster” as its sort of meta-concept, they try to do that same concept, but to less effect. The Indominus Rex was new. What they gave us in this movie is a literal mishmash of everything before thinking it would work again.

But nature is unpredictable and can’t be controlled by man. And our filmmakers were so preoccupied with whether or not they could make a sequel that they didn’t ask, ahhh. . . if they should.

It sounds like I’m being harsh to this film. Perhaps I am. But basically this is on the level of a Fast and Furious movie. It’s fun and it’s sugary. But it’s not substantive nor near as interesting as previous installments. It does, however, look great. But so do Fast and Furious movies. In fact, director J. A. Bayona (who previously did great work on A Monster Calls and The Orphanage) has a lot in common with Fast and Furious mainstay Justin Lin. They’re both strong directors with great visual style who know how to balance action and comedy, but most importantly know how to keep a franchise movie moving– as long as it’s in the direction of more! more! more! and to put lots of butts in seats buying giant tubs of popcorn. There are much worse things in this world.

But the end of the film also replays some of Ian Malcolm’s words from the beginning, as though he’s Shakespeare at the end of The Tempest: “O brave new world, That has such [dinosaurs] in it!” But perhaps when embarking on the next (super obligatory) sequel (because this film is destined to make T-Rex sized mountains of cash), they should ask themselves, “Should we?” And unless their ideas exceed recycling the greatest hits of the franchise before, maybe they should wait.

Regardless, if you can leave any cynicism or expectations behind at the concession stand, you’ll likely be smiling most of this movie. It is a lot of fun. The bowl of pure sugar. The 90’s band concert. There are much worse things. And a little escapism with dinosaurs isn’t so bad. But compared to some of the sheer genius we’ve seen the last 4 months in movie theaters, this doesn’t quite measure up.

3 out of 5 stars

Around the Tubes

It’s new comic book day! What’s everyone excited for? What are you getting? Sound off in the commens below!

Here’s some comic news and reviews from around the web in our morning roundup.

Around the Tubes

Newsarama – Chris Pratt’s Cowboy Ninja Viking Gets Release Date – That’s some big competition.

The Outhouse – Karl Urban Confirms is in Talks for Judge Dredd: Mega City One! – Please! Pretty please!

 

Around the Tubes Reviews

The Beat – Uncomfortably Happy

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Begins Photography. New Cast Announced. Mantis Confirmed!

It was announced today by Marvel Studios that principal photography has begin for Marvel‘s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Production is taking place at Pinewood Studios in Atlanta, Georgia. The movie will hit theaters May 5, 2017. The movie is written and directed by James Gunn who directed the first film and along with Nicole Perlman wrote it as well.

Returning are Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Star-Lord; Zoe Saldana as Gamora; Dave Bautista as Drax; Vin Diesel as the voice of Groot; Bradley Cooper as the voice of Rocket; Michael Rooker as Yondu; Karen Gillan as Nebula; and Sean Gunn as Kraglin. Gunn on his Facebook page also confirmed the return of Glenn Close as Nova Prime.

New cast members include Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris Sullivan and Kurt Russell. While it is unknown who most of those individuals will play, Gunn confirmed on Facebook that Klementieff will be playing Mantis a character from the comics who was also an Avenger.

Mantis_confirmation

There’s been speculation that Russell will be playing Peter Quill/Star-Lord’s father. In the comics the character’s dad is J’Sonn a dictator in control of the Spartax Empire. Gunn has said that’s not the case in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

J'Son

Set to the all-new sonic backdrop of Awesome Mixtape #2, “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” continues the team’s adventures as they unravel the mystery of Peter Quill’s true parentage. “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is produced by Marvel Studios’ president, Kevin Feige, with Louis D’Esposito, Victoria Alonso, Jonathan Schwartz, Nik Korda and Stan Lee serving as executive producers.

Director James Gunn’s creative team also includes director of photography Henry Braham; production designer Scott Chambliss; editors Fred Raskin and Craig Wood; three time Oscar-nominated costume designer Judianna Makovsky; Oscar-nominated visual effects supervisor Chris Townsend; stunt coordinator Tommy Harper; co-producer / first assistant director Lars Winther; and six-time Oscar nominee, special effects supervisor Dan Sudick.

Gunn said on Facebook:

Official photography on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has started, and I couldn’t be more stoked.

My favorite movie as a small child was The Strongest Man in the World, so I’m glad to announce that, yes, Kurt Russell has joined our cast and, yes, he is more awesome a dude than I ever could have imagined.

The last few days around here with him and our other new cast members, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, and Chris Sullivan, have been some of the best of my life. I never thought anyone was missing from our island of misfit toys, but now that these folks are here there feels like there was.

Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Sean Gunn, and Glenn Close are all returning.

We’ll have more surprises for you in the coming months. But, for now, this will have to do.

I have to get back to set!

Have a great day, everybody.

Guardians fo the Galaxy Vol. 2

Guardians of the Galaxy Coming to Blu-Ray/DVD on December 9th

We are Groot. Guardians of the Galaxy has been given a Blu-Ray/DVD release date and it’s December 9th! The film which is directed by James Gunn and stars Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Lee Pace, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reily, Glenn Close, Benicio Del Toro, Sean Gunn, Peter Serafinowicz and many more has been dominating the box office with incredible numbers since it’s release in theaters. It has been banking in more than 314 million domestic and making more than 633 million worldwide.

It’s become one of, if not the most, beloved films from Marvel to date. You can’t forget the weeks of I am Groot and We are Groot phrases being uttered over and over again after the film was released in theaters. Now that it’s coming out in December, it’ll be the perfect gift to get the Marvel lover in your life for Christmas! Stocking stuffer perhaps? You can pre-order it at Amazon, DVD or 3D Blu-Ray.

Credit: Marvel

Credit: Marvel

 

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