By Chris Nashawaty
January 26, 2019 at 05:00 PM EST
Warner Bros. Pictures

Being a father of 5-year-old twins in a rainy part of the country means that you clock a lot of time indoors suffering through mediocre animated movies like The Boss Baby and Cars 3. Maybe that’s why I’ve always regarded Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s The Lego Movie as a godsend. When this absurdly meta, helter-skelter-paced candy-colored confection first hit theaters in 2014, it was clear within the first five minutes that this wouldn’t be just another cynical kiddie-toy upsell delivery system that we’ve all come to expect from corporate America. It was actually sophisticated and… smart. It was the rare kids’ film that managed to be as funny to grown-ups as it was to its pint-size target audience.

Now, five long years later, Emmett (Chris Pratt), Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett), and the rest of the Bricksburg gang are finally back. And speaking as someone who’s now (rather happily) sat through the original at least a hundred times, it’s not a moment too soon. The good news is that the eagerly awaited follow-up, The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, is still leagues better than most of the blandly diverting animated fodder that Hollywood serves up to young viewers (and their clock-watching chaperones) every few weeks. Still, and this was kind of inevitable, as hilarious and caffeinated and packed with rat-a-tat throwaway Airplane!-style one-liners as it is, it doesn’t match the novelty and sugar-rush heights of the first Lego Movie. Maybe it couldn’t.

This time around, everything is no longer awesome. Five years after the events of the first film, the eternally sunny Emmet and his pals face a new threat far greater (but less funny) than Will Ferrell’s Lord Business and his tube of Krazy Glue. Their world has become a post-apocalyptic Mad Max wasteland full of cyborgs and sewer babies. And just when it seems like things can’t get worse, along comes a new threat in the form of chunky, Starburst-colored Lego Duplo figures invading from outer space, armed with baby-sister voices and a desire to destroy everything our heroes try to rebuild. Not even Lego versions of DC’s stable of superheroes (and their inside-joke swipes at crosstown rival Marvel) can save the day. Meanwhile, the brooding Lucy broods, the narcissistic Batman is still full of himself, and Emmet gets a swaggering new role model in the form of Rex Dangervest (also Pratt), who teaches him how to grow up, stop being naïve, and start becoming heroic in time to save everything he continues to believe can be awesome. Naturally, there will be a lesson attached to all this at the end.

The busy, short-attention-span plot pits the downtrodden rebels of Bricksburg against an alien Duplo queen (Tiffany Haddish) and her sherbet-colored minions, which, like the first movie, end up mirroring a real-world movie-outside-the-movie clash between a young boy and his little sister who can’t seem to play nicely together (their put-upon mom is played by Maya Rudolph). But that device doesn’t have the same dimension-shifting resonance the second time around. Although, a cameo by a Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lego figure and a vent-crawling Bruce Willis in Die Hard call-back gag are inspired touches. Everything you probably loved about the first Lego Movie is here. And your kids (and my kids) will gobble it up with an ear-to-ear smile on their faces. But as entertaining as The Lego Movie 2 ends up being — and let’s be clear, it’s still better than 99 percent of its competition — there’s something missing: that white-hot spark of insane creativity and out-of-the-box novelty that made the first Lego Movie such an unexpected, revolutionary surprise. Everything is still awesome. Just a little bit less so. B

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