by Callum Petch (Screened: @jackanderson, Twitter: @CallumPetch)
So I have been kindly informed that I can’t leave my review of The Lego Movie at just the deck up there, which is a shame. Not because I’m lazy, well not this time anyway, but because you deserve to see The Lego Movie blind. You deserve to go in knowing what the trailers have shown you and absolutely nothing else. Surprise isn’t the selling point of the film, although there are several that are best not even being alluded to, but it’s the kind of experience that is best when you haven’t been told more than the bare minimum. That way, the best jokes (which are not in the trailers), the best cameos, the best action sequences and the humongous heart beating at its centre are able to be deployed at full force. I have no doubt in my mind that this would still be exceptional even if I had had every single facet of the film spoiled, but my purposeful lack of prior exposure to the film only enhanced the experience and I want the same thing to happen to you.
So, The Lego Movie is exceptional. Stop reading this review and go and see it immediately. You deserve to know nothing more about it than that. IF you want to know slightly more than that glowing recommendation, then stick around but don’t come complaining to me if you guess the film’s various “gotcha!” moments from the review proper, OK? OK.
So, our story follows Emmett (Chris Pratt) who is an ordinary guy obsessed with fitting in and following the crowd and the instructions to a tee, so much so that he lacks a personality of his own and kind of blends into the background of everyone’s lives. All that changes when he stumbles upon the Piece of Resistance and inadvertently becomes The Chosen One who, with the help of a believing action girl named Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), a sagely and all-knowing mentor-figure named Vitruvias (Morgan Freeman) and a whole group of Master Builders, must take down the evil Lord Business (Will Ferrell) before he ends the Lego universe forever and, yes, this does all sound very familiar, doesn’t it?
Rest assured, there is a very, very good reason why you’ve heard The Lego Movie’s setup a million times before but the film also takes advantage of the generic setup to heighten its surprises. But even outside of its sharp left turns, this is still one crazily inventive movie. The title is not a misnomer or a catch-all phrase, The Lego Movie is about Lego and the nature of Lego and every facet of the film is informed by Lego and the creativity that Lego can unleash in any person. Lego, as many who played with it when they were young kids like myself can attest, is all about taking generic constructions and playing around with those pieces to create something wholly unexpected and far greater than the initial product sounded on paper and that ethos drives both the film’s creative process and its main conflict, although to go further as to why would be to spoil and, as stated previously, I would really rather not do that.
The action scenes are, consequently, brilliant, building the whole building aspect into them as a key cornerstone. Vehicles switch at a moment’s notice from motorcycles to police cars to helicopters, for example, and that kind of unpredictability lends the film’s many action beats a sense of excitement because they almost never go how one would expect. Hell, the simple act of Wyldstyle fighting her way through a horde of evil robot minions is enlivened considerably by the film’s willingness to take full advantage of its cast being Lego figurines; dismemberment and physics-defying feats of physical wonder are the order of the day and groin attacks are often of the literal “fling them at your opponent” variety. The beats and reasons for the action sequences themselves aren’t original in the slightest (there’s the chase scene, the second chase scene, the defending the home-world/escaping the home-world scene, the assault on the villain’s base scene and the final all-out climactic battle), but the content populating them is the closest approximation to a kid playing with toys that I have seen in forever.
On that note: the animation. No, the film is not animated in stop-motion but any disappointment you may feel in regards to that revelationwill be dispelled the very second that you lay eyes on the thing in motion. Put simply: this is a labour of pure love. I have not seen a film that has this much going on in its animation... ever. In every single frame of this film, there are about 12 different things going on that are worth paying attention to, but it’s never overly busy. There may be 12 different things vying for your undivided attention, but the film makes sure to keep the primary action front and centre at all times; everything else is merely a freeze-frame bonus for the DVD/Blu-Ray release. I almost guarantee that, when you come out of the film, you will want to go straight back in just to see if there are any visual gags that you missed in each scene. Because there will be. A lot.
As for the more technical aspects, the animation style is divided between extremely smooth and fluid clear CG, akin to that of prior animated Lego films, and stiff, blocky, jerky CG done in the style of stop-motion Legos, with occasional diversions into comically low-fi special effects and sometimes both of the above being done at the same time (like a stop-motion style sea and a clear-CG plane flying over it) or being alternated within the same scene. The two styles don’t particularly jar, though, predominately thanks to the fluid CG being kept to a minimum and mainly being deployed during slower, more emotional scenes to increase its effectiveness. But the roughness, the precise roughness, of it all creates charm in spades and a unique personality that easily sets it apart from the 900 other animated films who are still trying to mimic Pixar’s animation style almost two decades after it revolutionised the industry.
And the attention to detail! Oh, man! You may not even notice it much of the time, but the level of detail put into the animation is almost insane. Characters permanently move like real Lego figurines and never make a pose that you couldn’t replicate with one yourself. Light streaks off of characters and highlights or de-emphasises elements of their being in the exact same way a high-quality live-action film would. You can even sometimes even see thumbprints on them, as if a child really has just been manipulating them the whole time! I could go on, but I have already spent three paragraphs on the quality of the animation and that should tell you all you need to know. This is one of the best looking animated films I have ever seen and every single person who worked on the animation, no matter how major or minor their role was, should be proud of what they have accomplished. It is sensational.
To say that The Lego Movie delivers gags in a rapid-fire manner would be to undersell the speed and power with which it delivers gags. Put simply, this film is relentless in its mission to make the viewer laugh. Set-ups and punch-lines are doled out like they’re the only ammunition the film has against an endless converging zombie horde. There are big laugh-out-loud moments that are barely a nanosecond removed from even bigger laugh-out-loud moments and character dynamics are expertly played for maximum comedic effect, along with the expected physical comedy (Emmett’s attempt at a rousing speech gets a shark thrown at him that cries like a dolphin, in the one hysterical blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gag that I am willing to share with you). Essentially, take the utterly hysterical joke-telling style of writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s prior cult animated sitcomClone High and mash it up with the extreme rapid-fire delivery of prime Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker or Mel Brooks and you’re in the ballpark.
I do, however, have a feeling that the film’s final 20-or-so minutes will prove divisive for many viewers, as the film’s plot takes a sharp left-turn and, as a result, brings the subtext that underpins the film into the foreground and turns it into straight text. It’s not as an abrupt a left turn as that sounds, it’s the kind of plot development that’s surprising but also makes absolutely perfect sense and isn’t that much of a leap from where the film already was, but I still get the feeling that it will turn off certain viewers. Myself? I loved it. I felt it was the perfect exclamation point on what the film had constantly threatened to do, provided a deep emotional underpinning that, whilst not exactly lacking from the prior 80 minutes, made the finale soar that much higher and touched the inner kid in me so hard that it managed to draw tears from me. Again, your mileage may vary on it, but I have no doubt that it’s going to blow a new generation of moviegoers minds in the same way that Frozen’s big final third twist did, if nothing else.
Aaaand... yep, I’m done. I am done talking about The Lego Movie. Oh, I would love to talk more about this film. I really would. I would love to talk about how this film’s portrayal of Batman is actually the best deconstructive parody of grown-ups co-opting children’s source material for their own ends that I can recall. I would love to talk about the underlying themes of the film that imbue it with a razor-sharp satirical edge. I would love to explain why the film’s secret comedic weapon is actually 1980’s-Something Space Guy or, in fact, list off any 20 of the best jokes that my brain can recall more than 24 hours after seeing it. I would love to talk about the high quality of the voice acting, or the brilliant cameos or, quite frankly, anything beyond surface level depth... but I can’t. Because I want you to see The Lego Movie for yourself without some arsehole like myself spoiling even a second of the experience beforehand. Hell, I already feel guilty about alluding to the finale in the absolute vaguest possible manner because I had no idea the film was actually going to go there; I only did so because I kinda have to for the review!
Instead, I am just going to end this review by telling you to go and see The Lego Movie right the hell now. I guarantee, scout’s honour and everything, that even if this year turns out far better than it’s looking on paper (and it really isn’t looking too great) you will still callThe Lego Movie one of the best films of the year when it closes. I’d say that I have no idea how Phil Lord and Christopher Miller keep doing it, but, quite frankly, the only way that they will surprise me at this point is if 22 Jump Street sucks.