‘A fucking movie about LEGO?’ was my reaction the first time I heard about plans for a film based on the foot-destroying playthings of my youth. What could you possibly come up with, I thought, while Hollywood’s recent track record of children’s toys adaptations loomed menacingly in my head. I initially wrote the thing off ahead of time while waiting for Her to come out, but the overwhelming praise that greeted it when the reviews came in finally got my attention, and while killing the rush hour in Marble Arch after a Student Pride event I stopped in at the ODEON and finally surrendered myself to a £13 (seriously, fuck London prices) toy advert. A hundred minutes later I found myself desperately fighting the urge to prostrate myself before the screen and offer a drawn out, blubbering plea for atonement for ever doubting my new lord and saviour. This thing is amazing, possibly the best film I’ve seen this year (currently fighting it out with 12 Years a Slave). Where to start?
First, I think, the plot. The LEGO movie is the story of Emmet, an ordinary construction worker living in the bright and happy dystopian paradise of Bricksburg, a city run by the tyrannical Lord Business (whose name resulted in Fox News declaring the film communist propaganda) who discovers one day that he is ‘the Special’, the prophecised saviour of the resistance (led by Morgan Freeman as not-Gandalf (who himself makes a cameo at one point)) against the evil dictatorship. If this sounds like the premise of pretty much every kids film ever, that’s because it is, but the filmmakers (Phil Lord and Christopher Miller) have taken the generic formula and pushed it to the point of parody. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more self-aware film that didn’t have the cast speaking directly to the audience, and its willingess to take the absolute piss out of itself is one of its greatest assets. Emmet is the chosen one because he is literally the least interesting, least creative person in existence and his status as a blank slate is what makes him ‘the Special’. The entire chosen one concept is itself put through the self-aware wringer later (which I won’t spoil) and the film’s eventual messages about individuality and imagination genuinely come through, although they’re perhaps not quite as developed as they could be.
Despite the focus on Emmet the film is really an ensemble piece with a surprisingly large and varied cast for its 100 minute runtime who mostly have their own character arcs, although a few do kind of just flit by without much impact (Unikitty comes to mind). As well as Emmet you have Wildstyle (basically Trinity if she was Lego and dating Batman), the aforementioned not-Gandalf, Lord Business’ right hand man Good Cop/Bad Cop (whose head swivels between the two) and Metal Beard, a pirate who seems to have appropriated a 40K dreadnought from somewhere after losing his body in a prior raid on Lord Business’ headquarters. The endless cameos from hundreds of other characters who turn up throughout the film do occasionally feel like ‘and here’s another set of toys, kids!’ but for the most part they are genuinely funny and entertaining (a recurring bit of Green Lantern fanboying after Superman like a love-sick puppy is both hilarious and will no doubt ensure that Hal Jordan is never taken seriously again). Batman himself is great as an absolutely pitch-perfect parody of the growly-voiced serious Batman of the Nolan films, and I can’t help but feel that this is yet another nail in the ever more secure coffin lid of Batman vs Superman’s attempt to be taken seriously in a couple of years.
The film’s action scenes, of which there are many, are another principal strength of the film. Before it’s release I was honestly expecting just another generic kids flick but where the characters happened to resemble lego people, but this movie absolutely makes use of the possibilities of a universe where everything can be rearranged in an instant, and delivers action that is both amazing to watch and could have been dreamt up by an eight year old – ‘They’re in the wild west and then the robot cops show up with laser guns and blow up the saloon but the good guys escape on their car which turns into a plane but they get shot down and land on a train and the bad guy lands his car on the train and is about to run them over when the train goes into a ravine and then batman shows up in a jet and-‘ The sheer inventiveness is one of the film’s greatest strengths, constantly building new and bizarre setpieces to dazzle us with, to the point where even plot developments that would have seemed utterly contrived otherwise just feel like another part of the film’s anarchic and incredibly fun sensibility.
And that’s really the thing with The Lego Movie, it is a hell of a lot of fun. The movie delivers it’s jokes at a speed and rapidity that would Airplane jealous, and the plot manages to be both genuinely compelling and like something that came from the mind of a small child. It does all get a bit weird toward the end when [NAME REDACTED] shows up but it just holds itself together and ends in a satisfying and heartwarming way. In the end, it’s a movie that really earns the right to leave you with a song titled: