Previously on The Lego Movie: A young boy’s Lego fantasy playtime is threatened with ruination — utter destruction, I tell you! — by the arrival of his little sister and her pastel Duplo bricks. A fate worse than death! *fade to black*
Five years ago (five? really?) The Lego Movie overcame the lowest possible expectations to thrill us with its wildly inventive visual style, its mashup motifs, and its overall verve and humor. But the treatment of its female characters was all too tired and clichéd: Cool, calm, and capable Wyldstyle clearly should have been its protagonist, but in the infuriating tradition of far too many movies, she was forced to take a back seat to conformist doofus Emmet, who got to be the hero... though, naturally, he couldn’t have done it without her supporting him all the way. (This... is not the kind of Strong Female Character we want, Hollywood dudes.) And then, that ending! The utter disparagement of little girls, of the company of little girls, and of the things little girls love? This left a bad taste in the mouths of a lot of women fans — even those of us who really loved the movie, for the most part. Like me. (The film got a really low score on my Where Are the Women? test.) I cannot even fathom how crushed I’d have been if I were a little girl thrilling to The Lego Movie only to be informed at the very end that my toy-ish fantasies and my imagination were the stuff not of fun and adventure but of horrors, that only the imagination of a boy was worth celebrating. This is the sort of thing we female movie fans are really good at looking past, because if we couldn’t, there’d be very few films for us to love. But we notice it — oh yes we do.
So The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part has a couple of strikes against it from the get-go. First, our expectations are a lot higher than they were for the first movie: we’re no longer dreading a 90-minute toy commercial but something infinitely bigger and smarter and better. Second — at least for some of us, who deserve to be treated with the same geeky esteem as certain others of us — we were waiting for a bit more respect to be paid us.
And what do we get? Early on in The Second Part, as danger strikes and life-or-death exploits are in the offing, someone comments to Wyldstyle (the voice of Elizabeth Banks) — who goes more by her secret identity, Lucy, these days — that it sucks balls (I may be paraphrasing here) that she has been forced to play sidekick to Emmet freakin’ Brickowski (the voice of Chris Pratt). Obviously, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller — who return as screenwriters here (with Matthew Fogel), but not as directors — heard the howls of us angry chicks. Which is good. But the film goes on to once again center Emmet and cast him as the hero! *heaving sigh of disappointment but not surprise*
I was, therefore, a teensy bit cheesed with The Second Part as it unfurled, even as it was immensely clever and snarky about its setting: postapocalyptic, complete with collapsed and half-buried Lego Statue of Liberty (shades of Planet of the Apes) in the land of Emmet and Lucy; that Duplo invasion was no joke. And then it takes the movie a while to figure out where it’s going and what it’s going to be about. Or else the movie is being too sneaky by half in keeping the secrets about where it’s going and what it’s going to be about. Eventually, the shape of what it wants to say reveals itself... and it is, gloriously (and thankfully), a far bigger, much more positive and even downright feminist reaction to how the first film approached girls and women than a throwaway line about how Lucy was sidelined.
The joys of The Second Part are — eventually — many and manifold, in a way that is far too spoileriffic to get into too many details about. (I think I will need to do one of my in-depth Spoiler Alert posts about this one... after I see it again.) Of course there are many delightful pop-culture references, to everything from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Stargate and Back to the Future; there’s even more than a frisson of the best of what Toy Story has to say about our fantasy lives and our playthings, too. But this sequel is wittier and far more subversive than its original, in a way that digs deeper into how fandom elevates certain types of male characters and glorifies certain negative aspects of cinematic male heroes.
It doesn’t ruin the movie to note that Emmet — for whom not even the apocalypse can crush his good mood — just wants a quiet life in a little cottage with Lucy, even if it must be in a desertified afterscape, and that much of the action revolves around his interactions with classic bad boy Rex Dangervest. Rex helps Emmet with the task of rescuing Lucy and others from the fiendish talons of Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (the voice of Tiffany Haddish) and her enforcer, General Mayhem (the voice of Stephanie Beatriz), of, *ahem,* the evil Sistar System. And that kind of sucks — what, another movie about how a man has to rescue a woman? *groan* But if The Second Part is about anything at all, it is about smashing tropes of toxic masculinity that infuse far too many movies. Even if it takes a bit too long to get there.
The Lego Movie 2 subverts many expectations — I like how the bit about Duplo glitter vomit suggests that little girls like gross stuff, too, just like little boys do — but mostly it asks us to reconsider that the absolute foundation of most action movies, the qualities that have been considered essential to a (male) action hero, are maybe not so essential after all. That maybe “sweet, innocent, kind” Emmet is more appealing than the likes of Rex. If centering Emmet was necessary to knock down such a fundamental trope, well, okay then, said the angry feminist film critic, grudgingly.
But next time, General Mayhem had better be the hero.
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