This year marks the 30th anniversary of Billy Joel’s No. 1 hit “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” with all those name-dropping references to cultural touchstones:
Brando, “The King and I” and “The Catcher in the Rye”
Moon shot, Woodstock, Watergate, punk rock
Joel’s got nothing on the candy-colored sugar rush of a movie that is “The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part,” with its nonstop parade of pop culture references, famous cameos and inside jokes.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Honest Abe, we’re Back to the Future
Keaton, Bale, Adam West, who did the Batman best?
And that’s just a start.
Directed by Mike Mitchell with a smooth, rapid-fire style; packed with snappy banter and wink-at-the-audience jokes from the almost frighteningly imaginative writing duo of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller; sprinkled with deliberately infectious pop music interludes, and filled with terrific voice performances, “The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part” doesn’t quite match the original’s spark and creativity, but it’s a worthy chapter in the ever-expanding Lego movie universe.
Some five years after “The LEGO Movie” took us by surprise and wowed us with its stunningly original visual style and craft design, and a multi-level plot design worthy of a “Toy Story” movie, the sequel picks up the action where the original landed.
In the live-action “real world,” Finn (Jadon Sand) has been told he has to share his Lego creations with his little sister Bianca (Brooklyn Prince), which sets off seismic changes in the animated Lego world, where we spend nearly all of the movie.
Just when it appeared Everything Would Be and Stay Awesome in the community of Bricksburg, here comes an alien invasion from the deceptively cute, toddler-like Duplo blocks (representing little Bianca invading Finn’s space in the real world).
Zoom! We flash forward five years and see Bricksburg has been transformed into the bleak, dystopian, distinctively Mad Max-looking Apocalypseburg. Everyman hero Emmet (Chris Pratt) remains as upbeat and innocent as ever, while his partner Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) devotes her time to gazing off into the distance and indulging in brooding doomsday narratives about everything and anything, including Emmet bringing her a cup of coffee.
Zap! Another invasion from those pesky interlopers, and this time Gen. Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) kidnaps Lucy and other “LEGO Movie” favorites, including Batman (Will Arnett), Unikitty (Alison Brie), the pirate captain Metal Beard (Nick Offerman) and the spaceship-crazy Benny (Charlie Day).
Emmet springs into action, creating a ship of his own and setting out on a rescue mission to the Systar System (get it?), where the shape-shifting Queen Waterva Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) has designs on marrying Batman and forever changing the dynamic of the Lego universe as we’ve come to know it. Something like that.
One of the things I love about the Lego universe is how the characters have distinctive personalities and engage in all sorts of mind-boggling adventures — and yet they look and move like those fantastically block-shaped, nose-less, clamp-handed, articulated plastic Lego minifigures.
Not to mention the multi-layered storylines, which often seem directed more to the older audience than the little ones, e.g, when Emmet encounters and strikes a brotherly bond with one Rex Dangervest, a mashup of Chris Pratt action hero characters from “Jurassic World,” “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “The Magnificent Seven,” complete with jokes about shedding the baby fat to reveal a ripped, muscular physique.
The Systar System includes dreamy vampires a la the “Twilight” movies and is a seemingly magical and happy place where Superman (Channing Tatum) enjoys mowing his lawn and has become pals with Lex Luthor (Ike Barinholtz), Batman has been transformed into a glitter-clad softie and Queen Watevra Wa-Nabi sings about how her intentions are pure and she’s not a villain, not at all.
We also get the irritatingly effective “Catchy Song,” with the chorus: “This song’s gonna get stuck inside yo’, this song’s gonna get stuck inside yo’, this song’s gonna get stuck inside yo’ head-ead-ead-ead-ead-ead-ead-ead…”
Aw dang! It’s stuck inside my head!!!
Once in a while we return to the live-action world, with mom (Maya Rudolph) telling the siblings if they don’t play well together, they’ll have to box up every single piece of Lego in the house — which would mean utter destruction for the animated world. There’s also some nifty worlds-colliding stuff, as when Emmet finds himself alone, trapped under the washer-dryer (which of course is where many a toy, sock and stray penny will land and will sometimes be stranded for years).
The filmmakers occasionally remind us the animated adventures are reflecting the real-world sibling dynamic, but they never get too heavy-handed with the life-lesson messaging.
Of course, if we come away feeling one is never too old to play with Legos, that’s OK too, because even a clever movie that constantly acknowledges its famous toy roots is still a big giant commercial for said toys.
Which are pretty awesome.
‘The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part’
Warner Bros. Pictures presents a film directed by Mike Mitchell and written by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. Rated PG (for some rude humor). Running time: 93 minutes. Opens Feb. 7 at local theaters.