The LEGO® Movie 2 review

THE LEGO MOVIE 2

Director : Mike Mitchell
Cast : Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Arnett, Tiffany Haddish, Stephanie Beatriz, Alison Brie, Nick Offerman, Charlie Day, Richard Ayoade, Maya Rudolph, Will Ferrell, Jadon Sand, Brooklyn Prince, Noel Fielding
Genre : Animation/Adventure/Fantasy
Run Time : 1 h 47 mins
Opens : 7 February 2019
Rating : PG

It’s been five years since The LEGO® Movie was released, defying expectations by being a movie made to sell toys that was about so much more than just selling toys. In the meantime, the spin-offs The LEGO Batman Movie and The LEGO Ninjago Movie have graced the big screens, but The LEGO Movie 2 has plenty to live up to.

The LEGO Movie ended with Bricksburg being invaded by aliens from the Systar System. Five years later, Bricksburg has become ravaged by repeated alien invasions, and is now the wasteland Apocalypseburg. Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) is still his cheery self, while the other denizens of Apocalypseburg, including Lucy (Elizabeth Banks), Batman (Will Arnett), Unikitty (Alison Brie) and Metalbeard (Nick Offerman) have become hardened road warriors.

The latest invasion is led by General Sweet Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz), who captures Lucy, Batman, Unikitty, Metalbeard and Benny the 1980-something Space Guy (Charlie Day). Mayhem takes them back to the shape-shifting alien queen of the Systar System, Watevra Wa-Nabi (Tiffany Haddish). Emmet travels to outer space to save his friends, and along the way meets Rex Dangervest (also Pratt), a super-cool spacefaring explorer and crime-fighter who is everything Emmet has ever wanted to be. Lucy suspects that Watevra harbours malice, thinking she has brainwashed the others, but there’s more to this conflict than first appears.

The LEGO Movie was a beautifully-made animated film that explored surprisingly sophisticated ideas, benefitting from the gleeful but good-hearted anarchy that Phil Lord and Christopher Miller bring to their projects. The duo remains onboard as screenwriters for the sequel but pass the director’s chair on to Mike Mitchell. The LEGO Movie 2 is an excellent continuation of the first movie’s plot, delivering a different message from the first film but one that’s also clever and slyly subversive.

The first film ended with the revelation that there was a human world beyond the LEGO world and that the film’s story sprung from the imagination of a young boy named Finn (Jadon Sand). Finn’s sister Bianca (Brooklyn Prince) wants to play with him, with her contribution to Finn’s story represented as an alien invasion. This metatextual knowledge informs the audiences’ interpretation of the story, which comments on gendered toys. Toys are generally marketed to boys one way and to girls another way, and there’s a perception that boys and girls play with toys in different ways.

The LEGO Movie 2 also deals with growing up, taking advantage of the five-year gap between films. The desire to be perceived as tough, cool and well, grown-up is reflected in Emmet’s awe at his newfound ally Rex. Emmet’s cheerful optimism is often taken as naivete; he wishes that he could be tougher and cooler because he thinks that’s what Lucy wants of him. The movie comments on masculinity in an astute way – there are some parallels between Emmet and Hiccup, the protagonist of the How to Train Your Dragon Movies, in that both are not traditionally badass heroes. The LEGO Movie 2 addresses why it’s important that Emmet retains the essence of who he is.

Just like in the first film, there’s the sense of imagination running amok without the movie feeling like a mess. There’s a straightforward narrative trajectory and a twist or two towards the end, but there’s a joke every other minute and the film constantly feels alive. The innumerable pop culture references feel organic rather than mechanically slotted in. The animation by Animal Logic is just as dynamic and eye-catching as in the previous LEGO movies. The photo-realistic CGI animation creates the illusion of stop-motion animation and makes each LEGO brick and element feel tactile.

The returning cast is a joy to hear. From Alison Brie’s mix of innocence and rage as Unikitty to Charlie Day’s unbridled, single-minded enthusiasm as Benny, these are eminently loveable characters. Pratt shines in a dual role, with Rex Dangervest riffing on other Pratt roles including Star-Lord from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Owen Grady from the Jurassic World movies and Joshua Faraday from the Magnificent Seven remake (with a possible nod towards Cowboy Ninja Viking, still in development).

Lucy’s character is shaded in a little more, with the indication that her cool, rebellious exterior is an affectation. Will Arnett’s portrayal of Batman as a self-obsessed loner continues to be amusing, with Batman’s own complex figuring heavily into the plot of this film.

Tiffany Haddish is a hot commodity in the movie business after the success of Girls Trip, lending plenty of personality to Watevra, a mercurial force of nature. Stephanie Beatriz voicing a LEGO character is especially rich because she got her signature eyebrow scar from tripping on a LEGO brick at age 10.

The LEGO Movie 2 hits the sweet spot of being a family film that isn’t condescending to kids and isn’t pandering to adults. There’s something for everybody, and it doesn’t feel forced. There’s surprising poignancy to the message at its heart, but it’s also consistently funny and lively. Because it’s a sequel, it doesn’t have the explosive freshness of the first film, but it’s a satisfying and intelligent follow-up that has plenty to offer.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Zoolander 2

For F*** Magazine

ZOOLANDER 2

Director : Ben Stiller
Cast : Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Penélope Cruz, Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen, Cyrus Arnold, Sting, Christine Taylor, Olivia Munn, Benedict Cumberbatch, Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, Billy Zane
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 102 mins
Opens : 3 March 2016
Rating : NC16 (Sexual References)

It’s been 15 years since we last saw Derek Zoolander (Stiller) strut his male supermodel stuff. Does that Blue Steel still offer the same structural support? Personal tragedy has driven Zoolander into hiding. A terrible accident that claimed the life of Zoolander’s wife Matilda (Taylor) also damaged the face of Zoolander’s friend and fellow model Hansel McDonald (Wilson), additionally damaging the pair’s friendship. Interpol Fashion agent Valencia Valentina (Cruz) is investigating a string of assassinations in which the pop star victims snap pre-death selfies that match Zoolander’s trademark “Blue Steel” expression. In Rome, she ropes in Derek and Hansel to assist her. The duo is in Italy as the guests of avant garde designer Alexanya Atoz (Wiig) and are hoping to make a comeback on the runway. Zoolander discovers that his estranged son Derek Jr. (Arnold), residing at an orphanage in Rome, is the target of an ancient conspiracy and that Zoolander’s long-time nemesis Jacobim Mugatu (Ferrell), now locked away in maximum security fashion prison, has a hand in this evil plot.


            2001’s Zoolanderhas attained semi-cult status in that it’s too widely known among mainstream filmgoers to be an actual cult movie, but is still sufficiently oddball in its sensibilities. People still quote the catchphrases and attempt the Blue Steel pout. There has been demand for a sequel, but not “tear down the studio gates” levels of demand. As unlikely a comparison it may be, Zoolander 2 reminds this reviewer of 300: Rise of an Empire and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. To put things in perspective, the DVD of Zoolander has Stiller in character narrating how an interactive DVD menu works. With Zoolander 2, it’s more of the same, but ends up being too little too late. Most involved seem to be committed to the silliness, but the vibe that Stiller has switched on “autopilot” mode is hard to shake. It turns out that the flashy production values and a veritable conga line of celebrities making guest appearances serve to distract from the lack of any real invention or comic energy, which is a little sad to realise.

            We have nothing against stupidity in general and if a comedy wants to go all-out, full-tilt dumb in the name of entertainment, we’re all for it. However, it’s been repeatedly proven that one gets more mileage with wit, rather than witlessness, as fuel in the comedy gas tank. Zoolander 2 is not completely unfunny and there are attempts, however half-hearted, at satire – a “completely biodegradable” boutique hotel boasting “farm to table wi-fi” pokes fun at hipster sensibilities. Benedict Cumberbatch’s cameo as the androgynous, unclassifiable modelling sensation known as “All” dares to step on a few toes and laugh in the face of political correctness, but it lacks the same impact that Robert Downey Jr. in blackface had in Stiller’s Tropic Thunder. Tropic Thunder had something to say about Hollywood’s excesses while being outrageous and funny. With Zoolander 2, it seems like “when unable to write joke, default to cameo” was the mandate carved on the production office wall.

            Director/star/co-writer/co-producer Stiller has repeatedly made us wonder “is it still a vanity project if the person whose vanity it serves repeatedly makes a fool of himself?” Short answer: yes. Those who were charmed by Zoolander’s profound lack of intelligence the first go-round will likely be fine with Stiller’s reprisal of the role, seeing how he snaps back into it with such ease. Wilson’s performance lacks energy, but perhaps that can be explained away as Hansel’s more laid-back demeanour. The Oscar-winning Cruz is not exactly known for her slapstick comedy chops, but she gamely tackles the part of the eye candy cop on a mission, displaying sexy confidence in spades as she embraces the silliness. Ferrell has to share scenery-chewing duties with Wiig, who devises an unintelligible, non-specifically European accent for her character.

            If you’re up for a game of “name the cameo” with a group of pals, Zoolander 2 will be a rewarding experience. Otherwise, it’s close enough to the original but too engineered and lacking in spontaneity to reach any heights of humour. When the jokes (zoo)land, they land, but when they don’t, they flop out of the screen with a deafening, awkward thud. This time, the Magnum’s chamber is half empty, and a couple of the remaining rounds are blanks. Still, when it comes to comedies running on unadulterated stupidity, we’ll take this over those painful Friedberg and Seltzer ‘parody’ movies (Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans, Disaster Movie et al) any day of the week.




Summary: If it’s wanton shenanigans and famous faces you’re after, Zoolander 2 has got you covered. But when it comes to actually inspired humour, this sequel comes up disappointingly short.

RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong
           

Daddy’s Home

For F*** Magazine

DADDY’S HOME

Director : Sean Anders, John Morris
Cast : Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini, Scarlett Estevez, Owen Vaccaro, Hannibal Buress, Paul Scheer, Thomas Haden Church
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 1 hr 36 mins
Opens : 31 December 2015
Rating : PG13 (Some Sexual References)

Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg throw down in a showdown of paternal proportions in this comedy. Ferrell plays radio station exec Brad Whitaker, new husband to Sara (Cardellini) and stepfather to her children, Megan (Estevez) and Dylan (Vaccaro). Brad is having trouble connecting with his stepchildren and just when he feels he’s making progress, a spanner is throw into the works when Dusty Mayron (Wahlberg) sidles up out of nowhere. Dusty is Sara’s ex-husband and the biological father of Megan and Dylan. Rugged, capable and charismatic, Dusty’s presence is immediately an immense threat to Brad. As Dusty upstages Brad in every aspect and attempts to win Sara back, the two dads engage in a fierce battle for fatherly supremacy, regardless of the collateral damage left in their wake.

            There’s something about Will Ferrell’s comic personality that makes him an ideal candidate for films focused on one-upmanship, as evidenced by Step Brothers, Blades of Glory and The Campaign. Here, Ferrell’s opponent is his co-star from The Other Guys, Mark Wahlberg. The buddy cop send-up showed that the duo have chemistry, but the results here are lacklustre. More often than not, Daddy’s Home opts for heavily gag-based humour rather than jokes that flow naturally out of character development. Most of the comedy is derived from Ferrell humiliating himself, whether it’s losing control of a souped-up motorcycle, being electrocuted by power lines or getting drunk at a basketball game, all designed primarily to be put in the trailer – which they are.

            The film does have its moments, seeing as Ferrell is often innately funny independent of extenuating circumstances. The role of the pompous, passive-aggressive tough guy who’s both overtly manly and is a master manipulator does play more to Wahlberg’s strengths than any number of straight-ahead action hero roles he’s done. Unfortunately, most of the situations that arise are contrived and the conflicts are overblown. There are set-pieces that are so outlandish they are wont to pull the audience out of the film entirely. It also gets repetitive – Brad does something, Dusty proves he’s far better, then Brad makes a fool of himself trying to beat Dusty. Cardellini’s Sara is the stock level-headed woman who stands in the corner and shakes her head as the guys are busy falling on their faces. It’s also unfortunate that Daddy’s Home trucks out the “all women ever think about is having babies” trope.

            In order to get us more invested in this spectacularly childish “battle of the dads”, the kids could have done with a lot more characterisation. Both Estevez and Vaccaro give somewhat stilted performances, but the writing’s to blame as well – Dylan is picked on and is in need of a strong male role model while Megan is something of a sociopath. They never come across as actual kids. The opening credits unfold over a series of drawings Megan has made of their family, all of which depict unseemly calamities befalling her stepdad. That’s disturbing more than it is funny, and her behaviour doesn’t get explored.



            Daddy’s Homealso serves up silly side characters with Thomas Haden Church as Brad’s boss at a smooth jazz radio station and Hannibal Buress as a handyman who believes Brad harbours racist attitudes towards him. After a while, it’s pretty clear that this doesn’t take place in the real world, despite references to The Princess Bride and Frozen. There is some joy to be derived from seeing funny actors commit to over-the-top material and the climactic comic set piece at a school dance cleverly pays off an earlier joke. However, it’s often just too broad and there’s a scene where a fertility doctor played by Bobby Cannavale gives Brad a check-up, which is wholly cringe-worthy and juvenile. While not as egregious an offender as, say, most of Adam Sandler’s recent output, the film also lazily falls back on celebrity cameos for laughs. And yes, there are half-hearted stabs at pathos and everyone will have learnt a valuable lesson or two, so the various near-death experiences Brad endures aren’t in vain.

Summary: While Ferrell and Wahlberg are often funny, Daddy’s Home indulges in too much broad silliness and exaggerated sight gags for us to get invested in this duel of the dads.

RATING: 2.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong