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Review: Lego Movie 2 is a playful, postmodern romp

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Late-stage capitalism makes a mesmerizing display of its flexibility in The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part — squeezing emotion, laughs, and even a sense of wonder from what is ostensibly an extended toy commercial. The real magic trick here is that kids in the multiplex will eagerly gobble up this elaborate marketing exercise, as will their parents, whose cherished childhood memories probably include Saturday morning toy commercials in themselves. Don't let my Gen X angst and professional cynicism fool you though: This is a sugary, intoxicating, candy-colored romp that will stimulate pleasure centers in even the most resistant brains.

This relentlessly energetic sequel picks up five years after the original smash hit, with the zany citizens of Bricksburg struggling to maintain their unique identity after being overrun by sparkly invaders from the distant and enigmatic "Systar System." These aggressively cheerful and apparently unstoppable intruders have created a crisis of confidence in our blocky heroes, forcing them to adopt "edgy" new personas, and refashion their cozy plastic metropolis into a post-apocalyptic frontier town right out of the Mad Max universe.

While everyone else is busy brooding and getting trendy tats, sweetly optimistic regular guy Emmet (Chris Pratt) keeps plugging away on the plans for his cozy little dream cottage, which he's hopefully building as a happily-ever-after retreat for himself and his gal crush Lucy/Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks). As chipper as he is, even Emmet is troubled by visions of a pending "Ormomageddon" just over the horizon. Those shadowy fears bear fruit when the shapeshifting alien Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi (the giddy voice of Tiffany Haddish) kidnaps our main characters and announces her plans to merge the feuding kingdoms by marrying the committed, tough guy loner Batman (Will Arnett, fresh from his own Batman Lego spin-off movie).

Who can resist this onslaught of sparkly, lovey-dovey cooties? Even the mighty Justice League gets glitter bombed! To the rescue rushes Rex Dangervest (also voiced by Pratt) — a super-cool, raptor-training space pirate and adventurer that is a mash-up of all of Pratt's popular action roles, who opens up the story to a wider world.

As is slowly revealed, the animated shenanigans are mirrored by a live-action plot about the sibling rivalry between brothers Finn (Jadon Sand) and kid sister Bianca (Brooklynn Prince), whose constant arguing leads to the very real threat of parental intervention — which will mean all the Lego people will get banished to eternal limbo in the dreaded storage bins.

Screenwriting team Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have built a mini-empire on the kind of very clever, metatextual deconstructions of genre in films like 21 Jump Street and, most recently, Into the Spider-Verse, but the Lego series may be their most perfect playground. The jumble of pop culture figures at work here not only mimics the way kids actually play with their toys, but allows for ample in-jokes, celebrity cameos, and knowing winks. It also allows for a theme of mutual understanding and collaboration to slip through the flashing lights and pop song earworms.

Is it manipulative? It sure is, but there's such joyful imagination behind this property, you'll love being swindled.

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