Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Lego Movie Review: Everything Really IS Awesome

By Andrew Braid

Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller
Starring: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Will Arnet, Charlie Day, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Liam Neeson, Morgan Freeman
Release Date: February 7, 2014
Presented in 2D and 3D

 The Lego Movie is way, way, waaaaay better than it (probably) has any right to be.
The third feature from dynamic comedy duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller, makers of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (the great first movie, not the "okay, I guess" second movie) and 21 Jump Street (the upcoming sequel to which will be directed by Lord and Miller), The Lego Movie proves truly and definitely a real gift to the Hollywood movie world. Namely, a gift to take properties that sound too dumb to make movies out of (remember back in the day when people were saying "a 21 Jump Street movie? Really?"), turn them on their heads with their personal brand of self-aware, rapid-fire humor (honed way back in the days of Clone High), all while sneaking in some great bits of satire and heart. It's a formula that is now three for three, with Lego being the biggest, the most daring, and (as it turns out) the best movie they've done so far.
It's not just the first good movie of 2014. In a sea of early-year January/February crap-fests, The Lego Movie is the first truly, undeniably great movie so far this year, one that's pretty much guaranteed a Top 10 list reservation.
And yes, I am still talking about The Lego Movie. What of it?
"Hey babe, wanna... hold hands?"

Emmett (Chris Pratt) is an ordinary Lego construction worker who always follows the instructions, goes about his day all happy and smiling and positive just like everyone else, and yet no one really notices him: he just isn't really anything special. But maybe he is- after a chance encounter with the rebellious Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Emmett finds the Piece of Resistance, part of a prophecy to stop the Kragle, the secret ultimate weapon in the possession of evil dictator Lord Business (Will Ferrell). Lord Business has already segregated the wide world of Lego communities (such as the Medieval world, the Old West world, and a bunch of other ones that no one talks about), but in three days' time he plans to use the Kragle and put and end to the world- just in time for Taco Tuesday! It's up to Emmett, now believed to be the Special, to lead the army of Master Builders organized by the wise prophet Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) and stop Lord Business once and for all. Along the way he is joined by Wildstyle's jerkish boyfriend Batman (Will Arnet), once-virile pirate cyborg Metal Beard (Nick Offerman), the perpetually happy and positive Uni-Kitty (Alison Brie), and dozens of cameos that I'd rather not spoil if you don't know about them already.
Whew, there's actually a fair bit of plot in this one. Hope I didn't miss anything.
Oh, one other thing: "SPACESHIP!"- Benny, aka the best character in this movie (who isn't named Batman)

Judging from that above plot description, for the most part the film sounds like exactly what you'd expect to see when a Hollywood studio bankrupt for ideas decides to make a movie based on Lego. All the cameos, a story that centers around a prophecy and "chosen one" that everyone doubts until near the end when the hero proves himself, a message that's all about learning to believe in yourself... it really doesn't sound all that special when you say it out loud like that to somebody. Turns out, however, that's exactly what the movie wants you to think for the first half or so of its running time. When you really get down to it, The Lego Movie is much more clever, insightful and heartfelt than just another fast-paced gag machine. It takes full and complete advantage of the fact that it's set in a world made of and populated by Legos... and everyone there pretty much knows it. It inserts some killer satire about blindly following capitalist consumer culture, while also deconstructing and examining our own pop-culture fixations (most prominently featured in Will Arnet's hilarious take on Batman, everyone's favorite dark and brooding superhero). It doesn't just acknowledge and poke fun at its own story tropes, but actually uses that self-awareness to make the more emotional and heartfelt moments feel genuine because of said self-awareness (need I remind you that is not an easy feat). It doesn't just acknowledge that there's more than one entirely valid way to play and create with Legos, but builds a story around it that- well, honestly I don't want to give that away either.
You can always trust Batman's no-spoiler guarantee. It's the only thing he hates more than criminals and not having parents.

Then again, all that heart and soul doesn't bog it down from still being a fast-paced gag machine, and a consistently hilarious one at that. Lord and Miller have showcased a gift for inserting jokes big and small as frequently and consistently as possible, only ever holding back when absolutely, unavoidably necessary. The Lego Movie pushes that instinct to the utmost extreme (then again, who knows what qualifies as "extreme" for these people), with enough gags per minute that at least one of them is bound to elicit a laugh. And with such a huge cast of stars and comedians, it's the rare comedy where everyone gets their moments to shine, be they It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia's Charlie Day as Spaceman Benny or Community's Alison Brie as Uni-Kitty. Will Ferrell gets ample time to shine as villainous Lord Business, and Liam Neeson's right-hand man Bad Cop is one of the film's biggest comic surprises (especially with his split-personality "Good Cop"). It's bound to be the first animated film in who even knows how long to prove endlessly quotable- believe me, the internet will be flooded with meme posts from this movie by year's end. All of it is brought to life through the film's instantly lovable animation, taking on a unique visual aesthetic all its own- CG animation made to look like creations of stop-motion, convincing the kid in all of us that the little Legos really are coming to life before our eyes. The 3D experience, while not quite a must, is very strong with this one, with Lego lasers firing through the screen, exploding Lego pieces flying about, and 3D hand-holding (because you know we just weren't complete as a society until we had that).
The Lego Movie is an utter joy, the first big movie of 2014 that absolutely and unreservedly deserves your attention. If 21 Jump Street wasn't enough, this will undoubtedly stand as the point where we finally, finally stop doubting these guys when they sign on to something that sounds stupid on paper. Cynicism has its place, and it always will (this is the internet, after all). But sometimes you really do just have to believe.
"I know it sounds like a cat poster, but it's true..."

Final Score: 9.5/10


+ Thoroughly and consistently hilarious
+ A huge, talented voice cast where everyone gets a chance to shine
+ Smart, self-aware and subversive
+ An excellent third act that reveals the true, beating heart behind the film
+ "SPACESHIP!" (Nope, still not getting tired of it)
- They're bound to push their luck with the recently-announced sequel... (which the movie honestly doesn't need, and they simply shouldn't bother making, especially if Lord/Miller don't come back)