Movie Review: ‘The Lego Movie 2’ Has Some More Valuable Lessons to Teach Us With Bright Colors and Peppy Songs

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

Starring: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish, Stephanie Beatriz, Charlie Day, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman

Director: Mike Mitchell

Running Time: 107 Minutes

Rating: PG for Traumatizing Lego Destruction

Release Date: February 8, 2019

Where does a sequel go after the original makes such a definitive statement? This is the conundrum facing The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part. (That subtitle is infinitely unnecessary, but not indicative of the movie’s humor as a whole, and also this title would have looked rather naked without a subtitle.) 2015’s first part summed up in cinematic form the whole ethos of the iconic Danish building blocks: in a world that often favors rigidity and conformity, you cannot give up on your individuality, because everyone can be and is special. Childlike imagination and wonder are what fueled The Lego Movie to be as successful as it was. Those values will get you pretty far in life. So why do any more statements need to be made?

It turns out that while The Lego Movie offers a philosophy with wide-ranging applicability, it is not quite a grand unified theory that covers absolutely everything. It spoke to the power of a singular creative vision, but The Second Part demonstrates how collaboration is equally vital. Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) and his Lego friends are now living in the wasteland Apocalypseburg, because in the human world that is controlling them, a little sister has invaded the playspace of her big brother. So Emmet, Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett), and company head out to broker a peace with some differently designed block-creatures. This leads to permanent bachelor Batman becoming engaged to a sparkly shape-shifter voiced by Tiffany Haddish, while Superman (Channing Tatum) lives happily alongside General Zod in a Stepford-esque perfect suburb.

Sizing up the situation, Emmet believes that his mission is to free his friends from the brainwashing of strangers. But while it may seem that all is not what it seems, it turns out that that particular mystery trope is not being played as straight as you might expect. The Lego Movie taught us to be skeptical about a constantly smiling world insisting that everything is awesome, but it also taught us that awesomeness sometimes really is awesome if it has genuine feeling behind it. The candy-coated invading milieu of The Second Part initially appears to be fundamentally suspicious. But sometimes a bright, peppy outer layer is only covering a bright and rewarding core. Sometimes a catchy song that jams itself right in your head is so buoyant that you’re happy it’s stuck there. Belief in yourself is important, but don’t forget to be open-minded about everyone else.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part is Recommended If You Like: The Lego Movie and its spin-offs, Playing with your siblings

Grade: 4 out of 5 Catchy Songs

This Is a Movie Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

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CREDIT: Universal Studios and Amblin Entertainment, Inc.
and Legendary Pictures Productions, LLC.

I give Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom 3 out of 5 Eruptions:

This Is a Movie Review: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2’ Fulfills Its Blockbuster Duty

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This post was originally published on News Cult in May 2017.

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Michael Rooker, Karen Gillan, Pom Klementieff, Elizabeth Debicki, Kurt Russell

Director: James Gunn

Running Time: 136 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Space Opera Whiz Bang and Discussions About the Facts of Life

Release Date: May 5, 2017

As fun as this era of Marvel-ous moviemaking can be, a corporate agenda gets in the way of originality. But it is not necessarily the blueprint of interconnected universes that mandates that every superhero movie must end with a fight for the survival of the planet. That is simply this genre’s instinct. If you want to avoid it, you have to fight it. And expanding the setting to multiple galaxies is not the way to do so. That just raises the stakes. Instead of just Earth, it is the fate of the entire universe that hangs in the balance. Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 cannot help but be a part of this exhausting pattern, but it does what it can by rendering this gigantic fight as personal as possible.

When Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) long-lost papa Ego (Kurt Russell) shows up, Quill suspects that the reunion is a little too perfect. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) convinces him to give his dad a chance, assuring him that if treachery is afoot, killing him is always an option. So they, alongside Drax (Dave Bautista) and Ego’s empathic companion Mantis (Pom Klementieff) head off to Ego’s home planet. It looks like an idyllic utopia, but eventually it is revealed that Ego is the planet, and his intentions with his son may not be so aboveboard. The threat of universal apocalypse thereby feels intimate because it depends upon how Quill will or will not be manipulated.

Meanwhile, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) are holding down the fort elsewhere and forming unlikely, but satisfying, alliances with Yondu (Michael Rooker) and Nebula (Karen Gillan). They must deal with an onslaught from a new race of aliens that I do not feel like getting into. They are probably here because they will factor significantly into future Marvel Cinematic Universe installments, but for now, they are a distraction from the main conflict. I am not opposed in principle to splitting up the main crew. Rocket and Groot, after all, have a delightful C-3PO/R2-D2-style repartee wherever they go. They can do their own thing, it just does not need to be so extensive when the main thrust is already so all-encompassing.

While vol. 2 does fall prey to sequel bloat, the Guardians crew is reliable enough for their adventures to have a pretty high floor. The banter is top-notch, fueled as it is by intergalactic culture clash. Gamora attempts to comfort Quill by referencing his attachment to a certain beloved-by-Germans celebrity, but she totally botches the details. Quill later fires back with a Cheers analogy of their relationship that is adorably confused. Drax demonstrates how his race is quite open about discussing sexual matters with a colorful description of his parents’ experiences. This is all helped along by Mantis’ empathic abilities, in which she can feel others’ emotions and thus open up the dams holding back honesty. The pinnacle of all this sharing is Baby Groot’s opinion on hats (which does not even need Mantis’ prompting).

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2 is Recommended If You Like: “I am Groot.” “I am Groot?” “I AMMM GROOOOOOOT!”

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Sweet Sounds of the Seventies

This Is a Movie Review: Passengers

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This post was originally published on News Cult in December 2016.

Starring: Chris Pratt, Jennifer Lawrence, Michael Sheen

Director: Morten Tyldum

Running Time: 116 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Pratt Butt and J-Law Sideboob

Release Date: December 21, 2016

WARNING: This review is SPOILER-heavy.

The first 30 minutes or so of Passengers is not exactly what you have seen advertised in the trailers. That is surely on purpose, because it is not the sort of thing that pops in whizbang mainstream cinema. The ads might lead you to believe that Jim Preston (Chris Pratt) and Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence) wake up simultaneously 90 years too soon from their faulty hibernation pods, but in fact, Jim is all by his lonesome for about a year. Thus the film kicks off with Pratt knocking about in Homeless Lumberjack Chic.

Personally, I would be happy to watch 2 hours of this. There is plenty of hilarity in Jim’s interactions with a spaceship programmed to promise a bright future, which play like a horror satire of cultish weekend resorts. Jim however turns to despair, with only Android Bartender Michael Sheen keeping him from sliding into complete insanity. Robot companions make so many things bearable.

This particular robot companion, however, is not built to solve Jim’s dilemma. So when he discovers Aurora, he believes he has found the human connection to shake him back to life … this despite really only having her looks to establish an attraction. But I get it – sometimes a photo of a rando has struck my fancy, leading me to wonder, “What is the mystery behind this person?” The film also tries to suggest that Jim is won over by Aurora’s writing, but the words of hers we are privy to are rather banal – that nagging movie shortcoming in which a supposed expert’s works are not particularly impressive.

The more pressing issue is the ethical quandary regarding the appropriateness of Jim waking Aurora up. While his motives are presented as primarily selfish, they are not without justification. The ship is critically malfunctioning, and he does not have access to any of the areas that would allow him to fix it. Nor can he wake up any crew members, as he does not have access to their hibernation pods either. But from Aurora’s perspective, this is a huge violation of her agency. There is a chance to play this as a horror movie about the loss of control, and Lawrence is all ready to go to that vein of darkness, but she is granted precious little time to do so.

Passengers climaxes as Titanic in Space, which is to say: those who made the spaceship had the hubris to claim that there is no way it can possibly fail. The A.I. running the ship is categorically unable to process any malfunction. This is at least the third promising premise this film has at its disposal but also the least interestingly executed. The action moves along briskly, but it is overly methodical and flavorless, too concerned with just getting from Point A to Point B.

Despite its shortcomings, I generally enjoyed Passengers. Part of that is surely due to the magnetism of Pratt and Lawrence (and the slyness of Sheen). But even moreso, I am amused by the off-kilter dialogue, in which absurdly large numbers like “8 quadrillion dollars” are bandied about like they’re nothing. (Why are there such big numbers? Because, it’s THE FUTURE!) Then there are the indelible neologisms like “Ultimate Geographical Suicide.” The flaws of Passengers are unavoidable, but so are its irrepressible bursts of personality.

Passengers is Recommended If You LikeTitanic minus all the extras and supporting cast crossed with the post-apocalypse

The First 30 Minutes of Passengers Are Recommended If You Like: The pilot episode of The Last Man on Earth

Grade: 3 out of 5 Space Basketball Pickup Games