(Video on Demand, January 2015) At this point, following the successful streak from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, 21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie and now 22 Jump Street, who isn’t impressed by writer/director Christopher Miller and Phil Lord’s ability to take on the most hopeless projects and turn them into gold? No one expected anything good from TV adaptation 21 Jump Street, and yet they delivered a fairly successful crime comedy. Nobody expected anything from 22 Jump Street, and here they are, delivering not only another successful crime comedy, but one that comments upon the clichés of the genre, and indulges into a lot of meta-commentary on movie sequels. It’s surprisingly effective, playing off our knowledge of the characters and the genre they’re working within. Some of the best moments of the film come from seeing characters react to each other, with Ice Cube being integral to two of the movie’s funniest comic set-pieces. Meanwhile, Jonah Hill is more or less up to his usual persona, while Channing Tatum continues to impress with his comic persona. The end-credit montage by itself is practically worth the time watching the entire film. While occasionally vulgar and easy and cheap, there’s quite a bit more running under the motor than most typical sequels, and it’s that extra effort that makes the film so endearing. And while good enough should be left alone, meaning that there’s no need for a 23 Jump Street, it’s going to resist seeing what Miller/Lord have in mind when it inevitably arrives.
(On Cable TV, December 2014) There are so many ways this movie should have been awful. Toy tie-ins usually don’t do very well. The temptation to just turn out just a quick kid-level adventure must have been tremendous. The third act jumps the fourth wall with gleeful abandon. The very idea of a movie based on Lego is rife with pitfalls. That only serves to make The Lego Movie feel all the more amazing: Not only does it deliver a hugely enjoyable action/comedy/fable, it does so while understanding, on a deep level, both the frantic sugar-rush of creation (for those who play with Lego) and the nostalgic appeal of those very same bricks (for those who played a lot with them and for some reason have stopped.) The intricately clever script somehow manages to serve a straight-up adventure with cynical snark and heartfelt sentiment. It’s quite an accomplishment, and it happens at approximately one joke every three seconds. The third-act conceptual breakthrough (brick-through?) is insanely risky but pays off in spades, heightening the stakes raised thus far and transforming The Lego Movie into something far grander than the sum of its pieces. The visual density of the film (computer-animated to mimic stop-motion) is terrifying, at times even overwhelming: this is a film that will warrant a second viewing, preferably in high definition. After Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and 21 Jump Street, this is the third time that writer/directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have managed to create something exceptional out of unpromising elements, and I’m hearing great things about 22 Jump Street as well: time to put those two on a must-watch list. As for The Lego Movie, it builds a sense of giddy enjoyment rarely found at the movies –a sure sign that it’s aimed straight at my year’s-best list.
(Second Viewing, in 3D, On Blu-Ray, January 2017) My list of movies to see for the first time is so long that I rarely re-watch anything these days, but I was willing to make an exception for The Lego Movie due to a number of reasons: I thought it was an instant classic upon first viewing; I ended my Lego “Dark ages” over the past year and am now reacquainted with the tactile experience of the bricks; and I managed to get my hands on a 3D blu-ray version of the movie. Seeing it again two years later, I’m still amazed at the results. The film can be re-watched with as much fun and sentiment — the density of visual details and the clean narrative act work in the film’s favour, and knowing a lot more about Lego had me appreciating details that I had missed before (such as the inclusion of Technic elements and much of the build techniques). The father/child dynamic also struck me more deeply, echoing various philosophies of Lego in my household. The Lego Movie is also remarkable in that watching it in 3D actually makes a positive difference: Despite my overall dislike of 3D as a gimmick, there is something very tactile about watching Lego bricks moving around in three dimension that brings the experience closer to the experience of playing with bricks. Even the small imperfections of the digital Lego pieces seem heightened by the 3D, and it goes without saying that the film becomes awe-inspiring when it moves through its gigantic virtual sets in three dimensions. (Unless I’m mistaken, the 3D Blu-Ray plays at 60fps on my 3D television, which also added to the quasi-tactile experience.) I can’t imagine re-watching most of the movies I see a second time, but I can see myself carving out a third viewing of The Lego Movie before long.
(Third viewing, On 3D Blu-ray, April 2018) I don’t voluntarily see movies three times in four years, but The Lego Movie is an exception in many ways: Obviously enough it’s a kid’s film at a time when I’ve got a kid nearby; but it’s also a great movie with high rewatchability value: the joke density is insanely high, its visual density means that there’s always something to see on-screen, and it is structured in such a way that it unlocks more jokes and more thematic material the more you know about Lego. I’ve gone from Dark-Ages lapsed Lego fan to full-fledged AFOL in the past three years, and this third viewing of the movie works even better considering that I get more of the jokes, that I know more about Lego techniques and history, and that the film’s central conflict reflects this household’s ongoing debate about Lego: instructions or creation; display or play; reality or fantasy? Watching it in 3D isn’t just a useless gimmick here: The film is dynamic enough to justify the added 3D effect, and it makes for a great family experience to go “wow!” at once at some three-dimensional special effect. We may even make watching this film a yearly event.