Sunday, 13 July 2014

The Lego Movie (2014)



The Lego Movie (2014)
Directed by Phil Lord & Christopher Miller; Starring Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks

Rating: 5/5

What we’ve got here is a fantastic film, which could genuinely be enjoyed by anyone. That might be an obvious thing to say, but The Lego Movie might be the closest we’ve come to the elusive story which explores realistic, down to earth problems while being completely off the wall and swarming with magic robots. And there are plenty of robots.

Ironically, for a film based on a lucrative product owned by a giant corporation, The Lego Movie appears to bite the hand that feeds it and actually deconstructs (here come the puns) the corporate world. Who cares if the film will probably make a killing in tie-in Lego sets and video games? At least they decided to tell a compelling and engaging story instead of just palming us off with a heartless cash-in or an overblown explosion-fest.

Similarly, it feels like it’s far too easy these days for film makers to knock out a bunch of cheap CGI movies every year, at the expense of the increasingly neglected but labour intensive art of stop-motion. It’s understandable why this route has been taken, and there are a few gems in the cascade, but outside of Pixar, CGI films are not something I routinely seek out.

Apparently 90% of The Lego Movie was CGI, and a little bit of stop motion, but apart from the facial expressions and fluid movements which would seriously push the limitations of a plastic Lego man, you could easily have convinced me that it was the other way around. Everything looks like it’s made from Lego, even the oceans and the explosions.

It’s both sobering to have reached a point where the two become almost indistinguishable and satisfying to see CGI being used to make a great film which works as both a satire of modern consumerism and an exploration of that age-old Lego dilemma: should one build according to the instructions, or just smash everything into a big pile and build whatever.

Our main man is Emmett (Chris Pratt), your generic Lego man, right down to his classic Lego smiley face. He’s a construction worker living in a huge Lego city, who has very few ideas of his own. He follows his instructions, smiles and waves to everyone he meets, pays through the nose for coffee on the way to work and does whatever the vaguely Orwellian government says is the right thing to do.

In a typical narrative fashion, events kick off after a chance encounter with funky punk girl Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks) who is a member of the resistance. Emmett is dragged along for the ride and passes through the masquerade, leaving the regulated order of the big city and discovering the crazy and colourful potential of Lego in the world of the master builders, exiled lords of creative construction who believe Emmett to be the chosen one to bring balance to the force and end the days of instruction-based oppression. The trouble is he’s never had an original thought in his life.

The film is rounded out with a great cast of characters and some cracking cameos, both showcasing some solid vocal talent. The enemy and instigator of the repressive order is a suitably zany Will Ferrell hamming it up as the Lego universe’s ‘President Business’ who is assisted by the conflicted split-personality of his chief enforcer Good Cop/Bad Cop. voiced by Liam Neeson at his Irish tough guy best. 

With a wry nod to his frequent typecasting, Morgan Freeman plays a wise old sage and among the cameos are Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum (from directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller’s other movie of the moment, 22 Jump Street).

The film really embodies the spirit of Lego, and as such is a huge nostalgia trip for anyone who’s ever encountered the stuff. Once they leave the city, the characters traverse the length and breadth of the Lego-verse, making their way through the many themes Lego has released over the years, providing settings as diverse as western, medieval and pirate.

There are some tender and serious moments, but most of it is a merciless but affectionate parody of whatever transpires, be it city life, epic destiny, overblown villainy or blockbuster action. Everything’s funny and a little wacky, riding easily and successfully on the inherent humour that comes with having everything made out of Lego.

There are even nods to unpopular, ill-conceived, or just plain random Lego themes, and references small and large to various other franchise tie-ins (Star Wars, Harry Potter, Superheroes, etc.) showcasing the kind of mad-cap crossovers you can cook up when you have the licence. By this token, Batman himself (Will Arnett) along with a character from the classic 1980s Space theme (Charlie Day) are major players in the plot. 

The ending, which I won’t spoil, does get a little schmaltzy, but it’s forgivable. Otherwise, nothing disappoints, and everything one might want or expect from a Lego movie is delivered in spades. Oh yes, and I managed to get through an entire review of this film without using the word ‘awesome’. Dang. Good soundtrack, though.

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