Tag Archives: Taraji P. Henson

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: Ralph Breaks the Internet

ralph breaks the internetRalph Breaks the Internet may not be as good as the original, but it still has the same heart that its predecessor did. It takes a while to find its bearings, but when it lays in to making fun of internet culture and fellow Disney properties, it becomes an amazing thing to watch. And down deep, there’s a great story about friendship… and insecurities.

It’s been 6 years since the events of our first film, and everything is exactly as we last saw it. Wreck-It Ralph (John C Reilly) and Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) are still best friends. But while Ralph is enjoying the routine of his life, Vanellope wants more. She’s tired of racing around the same tracks over and over. And so, when Wi-Fi is installed in the arcade, Ralph and Vanellope find themselves scouring the internet for a part to fix the Sugar Rush game.

Of course, then they find themselves without the money to purchase what they need and find themselves at the mercy of the very strange economy of the internet. This is where the film takes off as they visit various locales trying to make some money. This includes a Grand Theft Auto / Twisted Metal type online racing game, where they encounter a racer played to perfection by Gal Gadot. I know this is weird to say about a 30-something and a 10-year old, but you really sort of ‘ship her with Vanellope. Friendship, of course! *wink*

Speaking of great new characters, we also get to meet “Yes,” (Taraji P Henson) the algorithm behind a Buzzfeed/YouTube type site. The film endlessly skewers internet trends and viral videos, which not only makes for a lot of fun but also some wry commentary on what it is we do for entertainment online.

But the absolute breakout scene of the film (Minor spoiler, but an early version of this scene was shown at Comic Con, so this shouldn’t be news to anyone) is Vanellope learning that she is now one of the Disney princesses.  Not only is this the best scene in the film, but they went to the lengths of getting as many of the original voice actors for each of the Disney princesses as possible. It’s also a great commentary on the tropes of Princessdom. Oh, and while in the Disney area, they make fun of Star Wars. A lot. It’s perfect.

What ends up working the most about this film is that it is driven by these two characters who we as the audience can see are drifting apart and want different things. We also see them making bad choices in how they communicate with one another about their wants and insecurities, which makes them drift even further apart. it’s a great introspection on friends and friendship and friends drifting apart.

The only downside of this is I’m not sure kids will buy into this message. It feels much more like an adult conversation about insecurities and why it’s hard to maintain adult friendships, whereas kids just make friends because they’re into the same stuff and in close proximity to one another.

The other downside of the film is it’s not clear if this will keep the same classic vibe that the original Wreck-It Ralph did. By being very comfortably retro, it set itself apart as being sort of a film placed outside of time: thanks to nostalgia for classic 8-but arcade games, it already has a classic feel before it’s even made.

This film trades in that classic vibe for such current and prescient content/memes as Fortnite dances, and it’s unclear what cultural impact (if any?) this will have several years from now. Then again, you might have said the same thing about Q-bert or Street Fighter, and we still have all of those characters in Wreck-It Ralph.

One thing writer-director Rich Moore knows is comedy. As a veteran of The Simpsons and writer/director of some of its most classic early episodes (“Homer vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment” is a personal favorite), he knows how to bring giant belly-laughs and smart satire. All of that is served up here in giant Thanksgiving-sized helpings.

The only problem is the film takes 20 to 30 minutes explaining its newly revised premise until the funny really kicks in. Sequels usually can forgo some basic exposition and cut to the chase, but this has to reset its basic premise before wackiness can ensue. And it doesn’t really hit its stride until that scene where we’re making fun of Disney princesses. It hits that climax about 2/3 of the way through, and rarely approaches the same heights again. It’s really unfortunate, but at the same time, it’s hard to remember a better single scene of any animated film in the past several years. Those five minutes are worth the price of admission alone.

The original Wreck-It Ralph works so well because of its giant heart.

When Ralph embraces that he’s a bad guy and is willing to use his badness to save his new, weird, glitchy friend, we all shed a tiny tear. It’s a beautiful story about broken people finding each other and being ok with not being “perfect” according to everyone else’s standards.

Ralph Breaks the Internet might break your funny bone, but not your heart. It’s missing some of that beautiful magic of the first, but it’s sure to be a crowd-pleaser for families looking for a great time in theaters over the holiday season.

Here’s hoping Disney will green-light a third film where they just make fun of Disney properties.

3.75 out of 5 stars

PS- Be aware there are two after-credits scenes, but neither is a must-see. However, at least one provides more of the meta-humor poking fun at the film and its marketing. They’re worth sticking around to suck the extra marrow out of the film, but if your little kids have to run to the potty and can’t hold it much longer, you won’t miss too much. This isn’t the MCU. . . yet.  Wait a minute. . . Here’s a pitch: Ralph Wrecks the MCU— IN 2024! Crossover with Marvel vs. Capcom! Make it a team-up with Deadpool. BRILLIANT!!! Rich Moore– call me.