Friday, February 7, 2014

The Lego Movie

Review by Pete Roche


Everything is awesome in the LEGO universe—especially when you’re part of a team.

But evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell) isn’t a fan of teams, fun, or randomness.  Masquerading as the CEO of a mega-corporation by day, Business overlooks the mini-figure denizens of Bricksberg from atop his dizzily tall skyscraper and sets about imposing rigid order across the fictitious LEGO land.

Emmett (Chris Pratt) is an irritatingly cheerful, rule-abiding LEGO citizen / consumer who buys the right things (overpriced coffee), watches inane TV shows (like “Where’s My Pants”) and listens to pedestrian music in a pitiful, aw shucks effort to conform.  He’d love to actually belong to something—to be part of one of these teams everyone keeps singing about—but he’s so downright ordinary and average that not even his construction site coworkers remember who he is from day to day.  Emmett’s too invisible even to tease, and too dim to fathom that soon his desperation to fit in will set him free.  His awareness of being ostracized becomes the key that will unlock strange, wonderful doors and transform him from a blithering nobody caught in an Orwellian nightmare into the “most interesting and extraordinary” person ever, alive for the first time in a waking dream of endless possibilities.


Or so people start telling him. 

When feisty female shadow-warrior Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) mistakes Emmett for an emissary long prophesized to usurp Lord Business and restore harmony, she unwittingly triggers a chain of outrageous events that thrusts her and Emmett in the crosshairs of Business’ fiendish plot—but brings out the best in our plastic protagonists. 

Business dispatches robot skeleton armies into the various LEGO worlds (Old West, Medieval Times, etc.) to keep the mini-figures in check until he can unleash his diabolical super-weapon—the mysterious KRAGLE device—during an adhesive-laden apocalypse he dubs “Taco Tuesday.”  Acting as muscle for the villain is the no-nonsense Bad Cop (Liam Neeson), whose sunglassed lawman (shades of THX-1138 and TERMINATOR 2) likewise mistakes Emmett for a Luke Skywalker-like savior.  But lurking beneath Bad Cop’s gruff exterior (and on the reverse side of his spinning yellow head) is a meek—if seldom seen—Good Cop, whose childlike innocence is tested.  

Convinced Emmett is their man, sagely Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) gathers a legion of LEGO “master builders” to witness the historic call-to-arms.  In attendance are LEGO-standbys 1980’s Space Guy (Charlie Day), Green Ninjago, and assorted characters licensed from the HARRY POTTER, THE LORD OF THE RINGS, and DC COMICS canons.  Guests confuse bearded movie wizards Dumbledore and Gandalf, and Superman (Channing Tatum) can’t seem to shake his irritating tagalong, Green Lantern (Jonah Hill).  Cyborg / pirate Metalbeard (Nick Offerman) swears revenge on Business, whose mechanical minions rendered him a hodgepodge of prosthetic parts some time ago. 

Abe Lincoln and William Shakespeare also make roll call; we didn’t even know those guys had LEGO counterparts. 

Emmett (who hasn’t any big ideas or talent for grandiose speechifying) is summarily dismissed—just as Business’ army descends upon the rainbow-world inhabited by bubbly pink Uni-Kitty (Alison Brie) and her LEGO animal pals and reduces it to its constituent brick blocks.  The remnants of Cloud Cuckoo plop into a LEGO sea (the “water” comprised of thousands of tiny CGI-generated discs), where exiles Emmett, Wyldstyle, and Vitruvius weigh their options for rebellion.  Hope arrives in the form of the brooding black Batman (Will Arnett), whose romantic history with Wyldstyle puts him at odds with the doting Emmett.

Having disappointed Vitruvius and annoyed Bats with his apparent uselessness, Emmett literally—if accidentally—begins using his head to turn the tables on Lord Business.  Given a lift by some surprise STAR WARS guests (voiced, we suspect, by the original players), Emmett and the gang go gallivanting through the LEGO universe (and outside of it) to rescue their captured comrades, battle Business, and prevent the KRAGLE from freezing LEGO land in a perpetual state of false “perfection.” 

Directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (the guys behind CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS and 21 JUMP STREET films) THE LEGO MOVIE is a mirthful, lighthearted romp through an imaginary world inhabited by the famous figurines LEGO introduced in the late 1970’s—and which have enjoyed a tremendous resurgence thanks to their recent appearances in films (THE ADVENTURES OF CLUTCH POWERS) and video games (LEGO BATMAN, LEGO INDIANA JONES).  It’s colorful and kinetic enough for youngsters, but peppered with plenty of throwback pop culture gags and retro-references for moms and dads.  My 9-year old son didn’t get what I was laughing at half the time, and I laughed a lot.    

Freeman’s aged soothsayer moonlights as a blind piano player, and Neeson is terrific as the temperamental two-face cop (who kicks and throws so many chairs you’ll probably miss one or two).  Banks’ riot grrl is repeatedly harangued over her silly nickname—“’Wyldstyle?’ Are you like, a D.J. or something?”—and Arnett’s dour, gravel-throated Batman is an amusing knockoff of Christian Bale’s DARK KNIGHT crusader. 

The film’s “master builders” have the power to efficiently assemble just about anything (buildings, vehicles, devices) from found LEGO objects, whose respective parts numbers they see hovering nearby.  When Emmett realizes his destiny and earns “master builder” status himself, his vision and abilities become enhanced accordingly, a la THE MATRIX, rendering his “The Special” a LEGO MOVIE analog of Neo’s messianic “The One.”  Bennie the Space Guy spends the entire adventure itching to built a spaceship—out of anything, for any reason—only to see his creations crushed and his dreams dashed (until the climax, anyway).  Conversely, Wyldstyle—a Trinity doppelganger—has already spent too much time blessed / cursed with extrasensory perception and relies on Emmett’s simpleton for emotional grounding. 

Taken as a whole, the hundred-minute computer-based cartoon is a celluloid salute to the power of imagination and tribute to the joy of unfettered, free-spirited playtime.  Even kids will pick up that fastidious, greedy Lord Business is emblematic of everything wrong with capitalism; a tyrant whose drive to suppress others and permanently affix his own twisted template of structure on the world will remind them (and us) of the authority figures we regularly encounter throughout our lives, and against whom we struggle for independence and self-determination.

It’s a tickle-inducing winner worth checking out—and revisiting on disc at home.  3 out of 4 stars.        



2 comments:

  1. There have been a few LEGO-based direct-to-video features that are spun off from the LEGO videogames (one of them, HEROES UNITED, is that Batman-Superman-Justice League teamup that all you fanboys get orgasms over. Is this theatrical feature measurably better than those marketing stunts?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Now Chip Karpus tells me THE LEGO MOVIE has a somewhat predictable surprise ending. Is that that Legos turn out to be made from people? Seen that one.

    ReplyDelete

We approve all legitimate comments. However, comments that include links to irrelevant commercial websites and/or websites dealing with illegal or inappropriate content will be marked as spam.