'The Lego Movie 2' Is One Long Dunk on Chris Pratt
This post contains spoilers for The Lego Movie 2.
When The Lego Movie premiered back in 2014, Chris Pratt was still Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation. Yes, he was months away from being known as Chris Pratt, Buff As Shit Movie Star in Guardians of the Galaxy, but most people still knew him as the dopey, chubby, Pawnee shoe-shiner with a heart of gold. At that point, he seemed like an unlikely heir to the throne of the next great action hero. It seemed almost equally unlikely that a movie based on block toys would be both a hit and a creative success. But then The Lego Movie was actually... great?
Written and directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller -- the guys who have a reputation for turning seeming cash grabs into comic gold -- The Lego Movie was innovative, self-referential, and became the fifth-highest grossing movie of that year. It starred Pratt as Emmet Brickowski, an optimistic brick who learns it's okay to break out of the box in order to save the universe. It was the jolly, jovial, naïve Pratt we were used to. Later that summer, he'd debut the jacked out Star-Lord in the first Guardians, and the year after, he'd become the new face of Jurassic World, training raptors and ushering the franchise into its new soulless era.
Now, with the newly released The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, the public perception of Pratt has changed again. He's fallen several spots on lists of the best Hollywood Chrises. He's known more for earnest Instagram posts about his farm and his diet than he is for hilariously dirty outtakes. Instead of just ignoring this, the new Lego installment has decided to acknowledge it, and in doing so, dunks on Pratt's transformation and all it represents.
To explain The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part -- written by Lord and Miller and directed by Mike Mitchell -- we need to back up and remember that its predecessor ends with the revelation that the Lego universe exists in the basement of a suburban home. The evil "Lord Business" is actually a controlling dad who believes Legos should be constructed in an organized fashion. The spark of the plot is instigated by his young son Finn (Jadon Sand) who just want to have fun. In the sequel, there's a third player: The kid's sister, Bianca (Brooklynn Prince), who has her own ideas of what playtime should be, which involves glitter and pop songs.
Of course, that's the real world: In the animated one, our friends like Emmet, his pal Wyldstyle, AKA Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), and Batman (Will Arnett) are living in a Mad Max-style apocalyptic hellscape created in the wake of the arrival of their disarmingly adorable invaders. One day, they are visited by a messenger who captures their leaders -- basically everyone of note except Emmet -- and takes them to the Systar System. (Sound it out: "Sister System.") There, the shapeshifting queen (Tiffany Haddish) wants to hold a matrimonial ceremony. She insists over song that she's not evil, but Lucy remains suspicious, immune to the charms of makeovers and fun tunes. Meanwhile, the left behind Emmet sets out to save his friends. Along the way, he's met by Rex Danger (also voiced by Chris Pratt), a self-described "chiseled" adventurer who rides in a spaceship full of raptors. Rex is everything Emmet wants to be. He's also 100% a riff on New Chris Pratt with all of his macho bluster. Rex offers to help with the rescue mission.
The Lego Movie 2 ups the ante on the first hit with its elaborate setup and eye-popping new characters. It adds more music, nearly hitting full blown musical status, including the self-explanatory "Catchy Song," a worthy earworm to follow up "Everything Is Awesome." You can probably see the big plot twist coming from a mile away, but even so, Miller and Lord maintain the to-the-bone cleverness of the dialogue. It's metatextual without being Deadpool-level obnoxious, cute without being cloying.
Ultimately, it's no surprise that the Systar System denizens aren't really the bad guys. If a movie in 2019 came out with the regressive statement that "little sisters suck," that would take us back a few years in kid's entertainment. Bianca's just trying to get her brother to play with her, and stop a war that would lead to an armageddon ("our-mom-ageddon") that would cause parental interference. The pop music isn't bad! It's fun! The glitter isn't nefarious! It's just glitter!
The real bad guy is Rex, who is actually Emmet from the future. In his timeline, he was slighted by the Systar System crew, and went back in time to enact his revenge. He's what happens if men grow consumed by what some ideal of manhood is supposed to look like. He's a warning to Finn that he should be nice to his sister or he'll turn out a woman-hating jerk. And, yes, he's a vision of present-day Chris Pratt.
A star sending up his own image is nothing new, but a star casting his current public persona as an unequivocal villain representative of a larger social ill is a more curious phenomenon. It feels like sly -- or maybe not so sly -- work on behalf of Lord and Miller, recognizing that their star maybe hasn't changed for the better. The message of The Lego Movie 2 might as well be: "You don't have to be a dinosaur man who negs women to be cool."
But even so, Rex drags down the rest of the movie. Especially before the reveal that he's the bad guy, the scenes between him and Emmet lack the spark that the scenes in the Systar System have. Perhaps it's just that Rex's whole deal -- and in turn, Pratt's -- isn't all that compelling. The Lego Movie 2 undercuts it with glee, but that's predicated on the idea anyone finds him interesting. But, hey, at least there's a fabulous end credits song, featuring Beck, Robyn, and The Lonely Island.