You’ve seen this all before — it’s Toy Story meets The Matrix — just not done in Legos.
I’m “biast” (con): the trailers didn’t thrill me
I have played with the source material (and I love it)
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
It’s like the opposite of Lucy-with-the-football with filmmakers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller and me. This is the third time they’ve taunted me by dangling something so apparently crapariffic before my geeky yet ever optimistic movie-lovin’ eyes, and then failed to make me utterly despise what they did with it. First was Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, adapted from a very very short children’s picture book, and how do you plump that up into a decent flick? Yet they made magic. Then was 21 Jump Street, adapted from a very good but very dated TV show I loved that they populated with actors I couldn’t stand — and in the case of one of them, I use the term “actor” only in its most generous meaning. Yet they made movie magic again.
These guys made me not hate Channing Tatum (at least in that one movie). This continues to be astonishing to me.
Now it’s The Lego Movie. It’s plastic interlocking bricks and little tiny yellow people with no expressions on their faces. Sometimes it’s characters and vehicles and objects shoehorned into the weird brick world from across the pop-culture spectrum. It’s toys that have been plasticized from movies — not originally, but that seems to be the focus today — and then remade into a movie. It’s like if you made some instant coffee, then froze it and chopped it up into ice chips, then tried to make fresh coffee from it. That doesn’t work. I mean, those Lego video games are surprisingly awesome, but there’s no way in hell this could work as a movie.
This works as a movie.
(But Lord and Miller’s next movie, 22 Jump Street, is still sure to suck.)
That said: I’m hearing, across the Net, a lot of fanboy orgasming over The Lego Movie, and I can’t get that excited here. I can’t quite say that Lord and Miller — and their cowriters, Dan and Kevin Hageman — managed to squeeze an “original” story out of some plastic bricks, because this is basically Toy Story meets The Matrix, with a bit of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Idiocracy tossed in for flavor. True, it’s kind of amazing that anyone could get all those influences to play nicely in one story and still keep it coherent — even significant — but you’ve seen this all before.
Just not done with Legos.
And The Lego Movie is some extraordinary eye candy, created from (apparently) actual Legos, for the most part, and animated using them. Lego-animated fire and Lego-animated water is some of the coolest, cleverest, most geekily ticklish stuff I’ve seen onscreen in a while. It’s crammed with so much detail that zooms by too quickly — it’s going to be fun to explore this one in slo-mo once it’s available to watch at home.
The city where construction worker Emmet lives is a visual marvel… and a thematic marvel as well. The bricks line up all neat and square and regular, and so do the people. There are instructions to be followed, proper ways to do things — everything from a guy’s morning routine to the building up and crashing down of structures in this city that seems to be Emmet’s job. The most popular pop song, “Everything Is Awesome!,” is a horrifically catchy ode conformity. The most popular TV show is– well, a PG version of Idiocracy’s Ow My Balls. And in a world of bland sameness, Emmet (the voice of Chris Pratt: Delivery Man, Her) is a marvel of boring forgettableness. He is most definitely not the Master Builder he is mistaken for by Wyldstyle (the voice of Elizabeth Banks: The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Movie 43), who has been seeking an object called the Piece of Resistance that can be wielded only by The Special. Yup, she’s pretty much The Matrix’s Trinity, and she hoped that she herself would turn out to be The Special, and now she thinks it’s Emmet, for reasons you will have to see the movie to discover.
It’s sad to me that an accidental message of The Lego Movie is that no matter how brilliant and brave and accomplished you are — as Wyldstyle is here — you can be upstaged by a bland boring untalented dude such as Emmet who’s merely in the right place for the wrong reasons at the right time. But I can forgive that, because the larger message is “Color outside the lines,” and it is transmitted with a lot of verve and humor. For we learn much about this brick universe as Wyldstyle takes Emmet on a journey to prevent President Business (the voice of Will Ferrell: Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, The Internship), who is secretly the superevil supervillain Lord Business, from doing something very big and very bad. The Special will use the Piece of Resistance to stop the bad thing, and it is presumed that only a Master Builder can achieve this, because Master Builders literally circumvent the rules by not following The Instructions — which are actually a thing: Emmet carries them around with him to help him get through his day. The journey takes Wyldstyle and Emmet into other realms outside his city — an Old West realm; a medieval fantasy realm — and yet this is only the beginning of the layered cleverness of Lord and Miller’s bricky vision here.
They have made a toy-based, practically-a-commercial movie, see, about interlocking bricks that come in themed sets, and said, Fuck sets. Mix them up. Use the Batman minifig in the Old West world. (Batman is here. He is voiced by Will Arnett [Men in Black III, Despicable Me], he is Wyldstyle’s boyfriend, and he has the best Batman theme song ever.) Use the pieces from the robot set and the pirate set and create something out of your own imagination. Don’t follow the picture on the box — follow the picture in your mind.
It’s a little bit sad that anyone — adult or child — needs to be told this. And I can’t decide yet if it’s unintentionally ironic that a flick that grabs ideas and tropes from all over the pop-culture spectrum is ultimately about mixing and matching to create your own brand of fun, or if it’s being deliberately postmeta about it. This may be the best Lego movie possible, but it’s still an advertisement, however smart and ingenious, for — and this is ironic — its own Lego Movie themed Lego sets. Perhaps Hollywood could take a bit of its own advice from here on out, stop following its own rigid, confining Instructions, and start coloring outside the lines.