Five years after the release of The LEGO Movie, everything is definitely not awesome.

That is perhaps the smartest thing about the film’s new sequel, The LEGO Movie 2: The Second PartWhen it reprises the painfully catchy theme song from the first film, it does so while ever-upbeat Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt) marches through the apocalyptic wasteland that used to be his hometown of Bricksburg. These days, it looks more like a playset from Mad Max: Fury Road. 

Acknowledging the less-than-awesome state of the world in 2019 allows LEGO 2 to question the existence of a cheerfully subversive animated comedy in our modern hellscape. When the film eventually arrives at an answer, it’s actually a pretty uplifting one, and overall The LEGO Movie 2 is a pretty satisfying return to the high-energy, joke-heavy world of living LEGO toys, even if the sequel never quite matches the ephemeral magic or satirical bite of the original.

That could have something to do with a slight change of creative team. The first film’s writers and directors, Phil Lord and Chris Miller, returned to co-write and produce The Second Part, but they passed the sequel’s directing chair to several different men, including Chris McKay (who wound up directing The LEGO Batman Movie instead) and Rob Schrab, before Mike Mitchell took over the gig for good. Despite Lord and Miller's involvement behind the scenes, The Second Part doesn’t have quite the same spark of imagination — or snap on its jokes — particularly in the early scenes which set up a premise that feels a lot thinner than the first LEGO Movie’s.

Warner Bros. Pictures

This time, five years after the events of the original film, Emmet and his best pal Lucy (Elizabeth Banks) live in the ruins of Bricksburg, which was destroyed by alien invaders from the “Systar System.” Then Lucy and the rest of Emmet’s LEGO buddies — including Benny the astronaut (Charlie Day), aggressively cutesy Unikitty (Alison Brie), and dark and brooding Batman (Will Arnett) — are kidnapped by the alien General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) and brought to the ruler of the Systar System, an amorphous blob of blocks called Queen Watevra Wa’Nabi (Tiffany Haddish) to participate in a mysterious “matrimonial ceremony.” Emmet fears, thanks to some spooky dreams, this ceremony could bring about “ourmomigeddon” for the entire LEGO Cinematic Universe, so he builds himself a rocket ship to follow them.

The cutesy references to sisters and moms allude to a mystery that won’t carry much suspense for anyone who’s seen the first LEGO Movie, which built to a legit surprise when it turned out the events of the film were all playing out in a kid’s massive LEGO set. That film’s story doubled as a metaphor for encouraging kids to play with their toys however they wanted. While LEGO 2 cleverly extends that build-what-you-want ethos to kids’ identities — essentially giving girls license to play with pirates and superheroes and boys the ok to glitter it up if that’s what they want — all of the stuff in the real-world frame story has a lot less shock this time around. The movie tries its best to mask the exact motivations behind the wedding with little success. It’s obvious where things are going from the very first scene.

Warner Bros. Pictures

Arnett’s impossibly gloomy Batman remains a delight — his hilarious duet with Haddish’s character is LEGO 2’s comedic highpoint — although it’s tough to go from a whole movie of his antics to sporadic appearances. There’s a joke in LEGO 2 about how Emmet was the “Special” who saved the world in the first movie despite the fact Banks’ Lucy was really the one who did all the work, but even if the filmmakers were more self-aware about the strange gender roles at work in Bricksburg, they still basically repeated them here. Once again, Emmet’s the one who gets the most screen time and focus, as he tries to become a more manly hero with guidance from a spacefaring LEGO named Rex Dangervest (also voiced by Pratt, doing a winking impression of his Guardians of the Galaxy co-star Kurt Russell).

Throughout, The LEGO Movie 2 is very cute and very sweet. There was that part of me, though, that kept thinking about the first LEGO Movie, and how much of a genuine Hollywood aberration it seemed — if not a flat-out miracle. The Second Part is fine, but even its title suggests it’s more cog in the machine than disrupter. The scene I keep coming back to is the one where Emmet tries to remind the residents of Bricksburg that, in the wake of the first movie, everyone is special now. Nobody’s buying it, and to be perfectly honest, after The Second Part I’m not sure I am either.

Additional Thoughts:

-The animation is way more detailed this time around. I enjoyed staring at the different LEGO figures, and admiring all the work that went into making them look old; scuff marks, chipped paint, subtle stains. And that’s before Emmet and company head into outer space and the images get really trippy and surreal. This is a very fun movie to look at.

-There are less surprise cameos from pop culture LEGOs than the LEGO Movie, but there’s one, from a certain water-based hero, that made me howl with laughter.

-The Lonely Island’s song over the closing credits is incredible.

Gallery — Great Movies That Became Not-So-Great Franchises: