Five years after its release, it remains impressive that The LEGO Movie managed to rise above its explicitly mercenary origins and distract viewers from an attempt to sell more toys. Some of this goodwill was surely generated by universal warm feelings towards the plastic Danish bricks, reminiscent of the wistfulness that greeted 2018’s Mr. Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor. In the intervening years, those warm feelings have been tested with two other LEGO movies and now a direct sequel. The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part has the challenge of a stretched nostalgia, losing the meta surprise of its predecessor, and needing to build upon the madcap animation and comedy. With masterminds Phil Lord and Chris Miller out of the director’s chair in place of Mike Mitchell, the magic in this film isn’t fully replicated, as if several pages have been ripped out of the manual by an errant foot or a reckless younger sibling. The finished kit can still be achieved, but the builder is less confident it’s going to hold up.
Everyone’s favorite intergalactic trophy hunter, the Predator, shouldn’t be a difficult creature to build a movie around, but there’s somehow only been a single strong film about one of them and a string of mediocre follow-ups. Shane Black continues this tradition with The Predator, yet another entry that can’t measure up to the original. Having previously spent time in the jungle, the inner city, and a planetary game reserve, Black considers where the series hasn’t been yet and settles on suburbia, an environment that allows him and his impressive cast to hunt and be hunted on unimpressive grounds. The Predator doesn’t need to be bursting with ideas as the root premise is so simple, but this film lacks anything novel and the ideas it does have are terrible.
DC takes a big swing at Marvel with Aquaman by throwing everything possible at them in one tsunami of spectacle. The grandiosity of a shark vs giant crab clash of thousands, interrupted by no less than a leviathan voiced by Julie Andrews, exists alongside a fight for a fantastical throne, a revenge quest, a brief sojourn into an undersea horror flick, and a surprisingly earnest romance between a lighthouse keeper and an ocean queen played by Nicole Kidman. Director James Wan goes for the gusto in Aquaman, providing the movie equivalent of a joke dense half-hour sitcom: if you don’t like one massive setpiece, wait a few minutes for the next one.
Adam McKay’s semi-comedic plumbing of the depths of the 2000’s continues with Vice, a biopic about Dick Cheney that, while it spans his entire adult life, wouldn’t exist without the pinnacle of Cheney’s career at the beginning of the 21st century. Like McKay’s previous film, The Big Short, the writer/director employs diversionary sketches and meta fourth-wall breakages to tell his story, but the primary difference between Vice and The Big Short is a lack of interest in explanation. Scenes of The Big Short were given over to the inner workings of the arcane financial instruments that nearly destroyed the global economy. There weren’t villains as much as there were systems erected by large groups of humans who were less malevolent and more short-sighted and irrationally optimistic. Vice, on the other hand, has villains, none moreso than the man at its center, and it has little interest in finding a way into his actions beyond a lust for power and control. McKay also makes the mistake of not watching any of the most successful biopics from the last decade or so, films that took a single episode from a prominent person’s life and adapted that as opposed to clumsily cramming decades of experiences into a couple hours. In both The Big Short and his interviews surrounding the film, McKay was able to communicate that he understood a root cause of the financial crisis. Vice doesn’t have that feeling about Cheney or about political corruption in general, subbing out genuine curiosity for that hilarious time the vice president shot a hunting buddy in the face.
Random projects from the MMC Universe.