[Review] - The Lego Movie

I freely admit that, when it was announced, I bemoaned the Lego Movie. In the wake of films like GI Joe, Transformers, and Battleship, I, like most saw a Lego movie as nothing more than another transparent attempt to synergised the easily profitable children's movie demographic with toy sales. Then, they announced that Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the minds behind Clone High, 21 Jump Street, and the first (and brilliant) Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs were going to write and direct. Thus all fears were assuaged. These are men that are able to bring an intelligent form of absurdity to even the blandest of concepts, and elevate what would be, in the hands of any other, empty and trite into the sublime and invigorating. They have continued their streak with The Lego Movie, an utter success on nearly every level.

Everything is awesome.

Hit the jump for the brief review, which contains spoilers that have pigs.

Right off the bat, let's establish that the Lego Movie is The Matrix. At the base level, the plot is a standard Chosen One scenario, which puts Emmett in the same ranks as Luke Skywalker, Neo, and Bastian. What knocks it firmly into Matrix territory is when a mystical, deep voiced black man and a femme fatale in black leather show up to teach him what he needs, in order to become The Special. What Lord and Miller bring to this most cliched set up is complete awareness. By embracing the standards of convention, they are able to constantly undermine them. They also reaffirm the same tropes, with their own particular brand of delivery, which means the audience is comforted by the old familiar in a shiny new package. And, they give it a third act that makes everything that preceded it both completely brilliant and gives the wild, cartoonish absurdity a perfectly logical explanation. A second viewing of the film doesn't detract from the gags, but makes you realize how structured everything was around the core concept that is revealed by film's end (which we'll get to).

At one point during the production, one site reported that the Lego Movie stars everyone the internet loves, and that is the most perfect description of the cast I can think of. Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Nick Offerman, Alison Brie (both nearly unrecognizable in their vocal affectations), Charlie Day, Liam Neeson, and Morgan Freeman (in full mockery of the gravitas-dependent roles he usually takes) star, and there isn't a dud in the bunch. It also boasts a ton of cameos, though the best is undoubtedly Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill (a phrase I never expected to say) as Superman and Green Lantern. Between them, and Arnett's film stealing supporting role as Batman, I would hope that Warner Bros might see the appeal of a Lego DC movie, especially if they keep having problems getting their live action Justice League off the ground. Like Cloudy, the cast treats the script with respect. The worst thing that could have happened is for the acting to embrace the same level of absurdity as the writing, and devolve into unwatchable hamminess. The correct way to play something this over the top is to undersell the performance, to have the characters react with absolute seriousness, which makes everything that much funnier.

The plot is basic, because Lord and Miller are more interested in characters first, and gags second. The plot is there only to serve those two masters. Emmett is just another anonymous Lego figure who, after accidentally finding himself attached to the Piece of Resistance, is told that he alone can stop President Business from permanently fusing all Lego bricks together (the movie's use of real world objects as mystical relics is one of the highlights of the film, and is great foreshadowing). His heroic journey takes him across several of the known realms of the Lego world, each conforming to a historic Lego brand (while leaving many for use in potential sequels, and getting in a great jab against the crappier sets they've released over the years). The message does get a bit muddled, as Emmett teaches his fellow Master Builders that working together towards a shared goal can result in more productive results, but the thesis of the film is clearly that individuality and non conformity is to be prized and embraced. As presented in the film, they are competing concepts, considering that one is actualized by mechanical tendrils of doom, and the other by childhood innocence.

Technically, the film is one of the most ambitious and good looking animated films in years. Combining stop frame animation (courtesy of Robot Chicken's Chris McKay) and the standard issue CGI, the Lego world feels as real as a world made out of Lego can. The fire and water effects are especially eye catching (the numerous explosions next failed to look impeccable, especially when followed by Lego smoke), while the movements of the figures makes one wish that Lego arms had ball joints at their shoulders. Unlike some of the Lego video games, the movie succeeds in looking as though it were made of real Lego (because it occasionally is) rather than just adopting an aesthetic feel. And anyone familiar with the toys is left to marvel at the usage of some pieces to achieve a certain look or effect. And be a little bummed out that no set I could make would look half as good as some of their set pieces.

Now to the ending. If you've not seen the film, stop reading now, do yourself the best favour you could, and go to a matinee today.

Did you see it? Good, huh? Isn't that song addictive?

What makes the movie truly work is how the live action reveal is handled. The film, to that point, is heavy on cliche and tired, overdone tropes. Because that is exactly how a child would play. A kid who had watched movies would incorporate those stories into his play. The Man Upstairs might not let his kids play with his toys, but he's clearly letting them watch the right movies. That whole sequence was a harsh statement to the secondary audience, the nostalgia drive adults who collect toys well past the "recommended age." The folks who keep toys in their original packages, and in display cases, and never give themselves over to the unrestrained joy of play, that becomes socially unacceptable around the preteens. It might be a complex interlocking building system, but they are toys. To call them any different is attempting to justify your own embarrassment. It's the same kind of hiding behind perceived maturity that sees comics be sold as "graphic novels." To full appreciate them, sets need to mingle, the imagination needs to drive creation and if you are going to play, play dammit. That's what the filmmakers have done, and two months into the new calendar, and we've already got a contender for best film of the year.

And one hell of an earworm of a song.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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