Film Review: The Lego Movie

“You, still, can change everything.”

The Lego Movie

So it turns out that The Lego Movie is quite interested in hands: hands holding, hands stretching, a hand reached out in friendship.

This is not really surprising, given that it is essentially a 100-minute long advert for a building toy whose lead character is, wait for it, a construction worker. The construction worker is, incidentally, going to Save the World even though he has no special skills whatsoever, because Everyone is Special in kids’ films, and kids’ adverts too.

Sarcasm aside, a lot of people (I don’t remember who they are, unfortunately) have commented on the irony of the fact that the film appears to parody consumer culture (overpriced coffee, songs with no actual musical content, etc.) while actually being a pitch for a product which may be the epitome of consumer culture – what says materialism, after all, better than buying millions of tiny plastic bricks which look pretty much exactly the same as all the other tiny plastic bricks you own? Undoubtedly present though these little ironies are, however, I feel like pointing them out misses the ideological bias of the film: The Lego Movie is just not opposed to stuff per se. It is, in fact, obsessed with stuff, saturated with detail and an awareness of the physical. The film’s central pun, after all, centres around the concretisation of a metaphor: piece de resistance becomes Piece of Resistance, a building block which quite literally resists the action of the Kragle, the Very Very Bad Weapon that will destroy the world otherwise. There are sequences when people’s heads come off, bloodlessly, and speak, because you can detach a Lego figure’s head without irreversible harm to the figure; there’s a scene where Our Hero uses his own body as an axle; the best and most magical characters can look at the world and make something new out of what they see. Sure, the film resists a certain kind of consumer culture, at least superficially, but its focus on surfaces, its insistence that everything, even bodies, can be broken and remade, feels very capitalist indeed – because isn’t that what capitalism is all about, the desire to remake the world using stuff? If you can only use stuff in the right way, the film says, the world is your oyster, and you are also the Most Specialest Person in the World, to boot.

To be fair, this is clever and reasonably interesting thinking – well, certainly cleverer and more nuanced than perhaps might have been expected from an advert. And there is something fascinating in seeing a whole world rendered as stuff, as plastic, in this manner – I tend to be fascinated by miniature worlds, so actually looking at this film was more fun than I thought it would be. But the plot is ultimately hackneyed and disappointing: it wants to be parodic, but errs too far on the side of sentimentality to be really incisive. I have a feeling that the twist related to the Man Upstairs was supposed to be, well, twisty, but it relies rather too much on some obvious parallel-drawing to be very interesting. As a concept, the whole film has some potential; the execution is just rather lukewarm.

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