I can't remember when I saw the first footage for The Lego Movie (2014), but I do remember thinking to myself that it would be the geekiest, most reference-laden work of 2014. Indeed, if any film tops this one in its insistence on crossing genres and referencing geek cultures from comics, films, books, and, hell, even Legos, then that would be a feat unto itself. As it stands, The Lego Movie is sort of like that friend who beats everyone at Trivial Pursuit every single time because he spends too much time on the Internet or with his nose buried in Netflix or the library stacks (or her, for that matter). And I mean that in a good way. What makes this such a lovable film is the fact that it shows so much love to the communities from which it borrows, not just in terms of the Lego work, where franchised media properties are well represented, but in terms of the worlds from which those properties originate. This is, in point of fact, a film for geeks, and it is a film I think everyone should see, if only to count off all the jokes based on DC characters or pirates or Star Wars or a number of other geeky things. Expect a drinking game upon the DVD release.The Lego Movie follows Emmet, a regular construction worker in a regular town with a regular job and a deep desire to be like everyone else. Indeed, in this ordinary city, everyone is like everyone else. Everyone sings the same happy song ("Everything is Awesome"), enjoys the same television, and goes through life with the same hopes and dreams: to be part of the team that is the city. But when he stumbles upon a mysterious woman searching the ruins of a building, Emmet discovers the Piece of Resistance and learns that he is the Special, tasked with preventing Lord Business from freezing the entire world just as it is with the Cragle (crazy glue with some of the letters missing). With his world thrown into chaos, Emmet must discover who he really is and how to put the world back to rights.
All of this referential humor is supported by a stunning cast of voice actors (and equally stunning and hilarious characters or caricatures). Batman (Will Arnett) is the caricature we've all known and loved, but with a side of emo-EDM artist and frat-douche; it's hard not to find him hilarious, even as we recognize the qualities that make him a horrible person. The clueless Emmet (Chris Pratt) gives solid grounding to the film, as he is the closest character to us -- not a ninja fighter, not a wizard, just a guy lost in a world of craziness (maybe not as much like us after all). Even his boneheaded ideas -- the bunkbed couch -- are fodder for hilarity; they also happen to be important to the plot, which gives depth to the comedic elements. It's too easy to make jokes for the sake of the joke, but to make that joke central to the development of the plot requires some degree of writing skill. Additionally, Morgan Freeman's turn as Vesuvius, a Gandalf-esque figure, adds a certain gravitas to the cast, if only because it's Morgan Freeman playing a silly wizard with crazy light eyes, and Elizabeth Banks' rendition of Wyldstyle, the "love interest" and biggest ass kicker of the film, adds some much needed sass to main cast (the Lego fight scenes are hilarious, by the way). There are even brief appearances from Green Lantern (Jonah Hill), Superman (Channing Tatum -- oddly enough, not dancing without a shirt on), Wonder Woman (Colbie Smulders), and more. Throw in Liam Neeson as Bad Cop/Good Cop, a two-faced (literally) caricature of the classic cliche, and Will Farrell as Lord Business, the high-style, crazed villain, and you have an exceptional comedy cast.
Fundamentally, The Lego Movie is what you'd expect: geeky, ridiculous, cute, and, at times, stark raving mad. When it is all of these things, it is also brilliant, hilarious, and downright lovable. There's so much detail on the screen that one could watch this movie again to see what the creators snuck into the background for us to find. But all of this is partially gutted by the film's underlying "message": namely, that adults should let children be children. This message is facilitated by Emmet's sacrifice, wherein he falls into a swirling vortex and suddenly appears in the real world. There, we learn that this whole story is the elaborate creation of a child, Finn (Jadon Sand), who is acting out a giant metaphor of his father's (Will Farrell) desperate need to control everything, including the Lego "worlds" he constructs in the basement (in the same way adults own train sets, I imagine). There's likewise a message about conformity, which is perfectly facilitated by the nature of Legos: one can follow the prescribed use of each piece (the father) or one can mix and match to invent entirely new things (the son); this is the nature of the Special in the Lego narrative.
My problem with this scene is that, though it is set up through some clever flashes of human hands and so on throughout the film, it utterly destabilizes the "in world" narrative by appearing basically out of nowhere. What should be a movie about Emmet discovering himself and maybe saving the world -- or at least inspiring others to do so -- is instead neutered by this secondary, last-minute exploration of a father and son. Eventually, Emmet returns to the Lego world, after which, we're told that Lord Business is actually "the Special," and that he just needs to stop being evil and use his smarty powers to help the world. And it works. There's no narrative tension. There's no discussion. The film cuts back to the father and the son, and then everything is set to rights again. All of that narrative tension -- Emmet trying to find himself; Wyldstyle trying to save the world; the builders and the Justice League and crazy pirate ships and so on and so forth...all of that is thrown away for these final moments, which tell us that this was never a film about Emmet or Wyldstyle or the Builders or Lord Business; it was always a film about a father and son. In a way, I felt played. These were never the characters I was made to care about, and so to have their narrative supersede the narrative for the rest of the film felt, on the one hand, forced, and, on the other, destabilizing. If not for this small, significant flaw, I think the future of the film franchise to come would be a largely positive one, but now that the door is wide open, I can see the mistakes waiting to consume the characters. It's not the picture I imagined when I first sat in the little theater chair.
Overall, though, I did love the film for all its eccentric humor, ridiculous characters, and general insanity. If it's still in theaters wherever you are and you haven't seen it yet, do yourself a favor and go. You may not agree with my take above; hell, you may even love the film more than I did. Even so, it's a fun film experience; kids will probably love it, but the adults with a solid geek pedigree will love it even more.
|Taco Tuesday is awesome, amaright?|
Overall: 4.375/5 (87.5%)
Inflated Grade: A-
Value: $9.00 (based on a $10.50 max)