17 February 2014

Movie Review: The LEGO Movie


The LEGO Movie
2014, 100mins, U
Director (s): Phil Lord, Chris Miller
Writer (s): Dan Hageman, Phil Lord, Chris Miller, Kevin Hageman 
Cast includes: Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman, Will Ferrell, Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Charlie Day
UK Release Date: 14th February 2014 

If you've seen either “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” or “21 Jump Street” you know the film-makers Chris Miller and Phil Lord specialise in the dud concept; taking a seemingly unworkable idea and reforming it as subversive, joyous mainstream cinema. This talent will likely never be underlined more stringently than with “The LEGO Movie”, a pitch that should send shivers down the spine of any self-respecting cinephile. It makes what Paramount did with “Transformers” look subtle by comparison.  Yet, despite the crushing capitalist overtures such a title suggests, in the hands of Lord and Miller the endeavour is an absolute hoot, rounded out with appreciative anti-conformist sentiment. The film is gorgeously animated, but what really elevates “LEGO” is the third act and its superbly mounted stirrings of childhood whimsy and nostalgia, complete with some of the most confidently edited world-hopping you’re liable to encounter in a multiplex this year.

A happy resident of Bricksberg, Emmet (Chris Pratt) is an upbeat but hopeless construction worker, reverent to “the instructions” when it comes to selecting his music, culinary and general lifestyle choices. He’s content to follow the rulings of President Business (Will Ferrell) like a hapless puppy, leading to a life of uninspiring ritual. Business isn’t all he seems however, intent on freezing the world using an adhesive super weapon. Spearing the movement against Business are the “Master Builders”, a race of superior beings, marked out by their imaginative resourcefulness, led by wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman in very game form) and his sidekick Wildstyle (Elizabeth Banks).  Together they are searching for both the Piece of Resistance and the chosen person pre-ordained to wield it, nicknamed “The Special”. Only upon discovery of these can Business be thwarted, which brings the unlikely figure of Emmet to Vitruvius’ attention.

It would be incorrect to say that “The LEGO Movie” never functions as an advertisement, but it’s definitely to a less egregious extent than initially expected. The film is incredibly vibrant and visually inventive; the world constructed using only LEGO; the toy utilised to compose all manner of environments and weird characters. In “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” Miller and Lord convinced as strong world-builders, using zany touches to register a hyper real but lived in fantasy universe. The challenge is even greater with “LEGO” but the duo rise to the occasion, inhabiting several realms with dynamic designs and staggering scope, all realised using detail magnifying 3D. Simply observing “The LEGO Movie” and its meticulously structured vistas is a joy, which naturally given their dependency on the titular product means the picture can’t entirely escape its commercial origins. The movie looks awesome; so in turn does the toy. You might even say that the enhanced artistry of “The LEGO Movie” feeds the desires of corporate strategy more prosperously than any cynical hack job ever could.

Much of what makes the film special stems from more traditional family oriented materials though, namely the sincerity of its messages and liveliness of characterisation. The list of talents involved with bringing the project to life is extensive, so it’s probably just best to skate over the highlights. Pratt, Banks and Freeman all deserve props for likably goofy vocal turns, although the scene-stealers emerge from the wings (That’s a Bat-Pun). Will Arnett has fun impersonating Christian Bale’s po-faced Dark Knight, whilst as the aptly named Good-Cop/Bad-Cop Liam Neeson does Manic and hugely funny work. Will Ferrell is Will Ferrell (although he shines during the finale), which isn’t a bad thing given that his brand of irreverent comedy is such a dapper fit with the tone Lord and Miller emit. “The LEGO Movie” attempts quite a lot during its runtime, committing to anti-establishment outlook, whilst tastefully retaining a sense of acceptance for the wider world. The film strives to celebrate both individuality and teamwork, a tough note to eloquently hit, but one which it ultimately straddles with endearing emotion. The final throws of the film, set over two very different screen locales, are charming and resonant in equal measure. Certainly it’s exciting to watch two relatively green film-makers handle the split perspectives with such editorial and space-savvy dexterity.

“The LEGO Movie” has a depth and underlying maturity one would associate most tangibly with upper-tier Pixar; its more jovial elements also calling favourable comparison to the same crop of pictures. “The LEGO Movie” is stocked with universally appropriate comedy, some of it visual, most of it acerbic but nearly all of it highly amusing. Lord and Miller are students of the strange, and that plays refreshingly in their comedic aspirations, a cocktail of bizarre and even occasionally dark gags. It’s an aesthetic that should appeal to any audience member with an operational funny-bone, and what’s more sequences are layered with clever jokes, meaning that rewatches aren’t just advisable, but almost necessary. With so many comedies struggling to provide a modicum of laughter these days, it’s welcome to find one that has enough to support multiple viewings.

The final act is a revelation, not just technically, but in its ability to blend convicted human consciousness with the plastic characters. It’s a slice of cinema that transports not just physically but also on a more profound level, recalling the undiluted passions and urges that dictate the thinking of a child. It’s a pure and unabashedly lovely note on which to crescendo such a memorable adventure, bolstered by diverting bursts of upmarket frolicking. “The LEGO Movie” definitely can’t claim to be utterly devoid of monetarily driven hooey, but it gets as close to jettisoning Western philosophy as any flick boasting such a title ever could.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2014


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