The Lego Movie (2014)

★★★★

Directors: Phil Lord & Chris Miller

Release Date: February 7th, 2014 (US); February 14th, 2014

(UK) Genre: Animation; Action; Comedy

Starring: Chris Pratt, Will Ferrell, Elizabeth Banks, Morgan Freeman

“Everything is awesome!”

Everything is also chaotic, bonkers and pretty hilarious too. The Lego Movie doesn’t hold back. It cracks the obvious gags when they’re hovering around. There’s a lot of shouting, screeching and wailing, and that’s not just from the children watching in the same screening as you. Engines are set to full-throttle from the off and remain that way. What’s left then, is this gigantic ball of merriment that sees it origins in a whole host of previous box office-busting successes, but one that also conjures up a few smart quips of its own. Truly abiding by its ‘Universal’ rating, The Lego Movie builds on the colourfulness, catchy riffs and outright pandemonium aimed at the young’uns, and ends up also divulging a witty, often reminiscent backbone for the oldies. So yes, everything is awesome.

Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt) is a middling construction worker who blends into his job and surrounding world as much as the next Lego figure. He abides by the bustling code of Lego life, a step-by-step process meticulously ticked off by everyone, a job designed to assist progress, and an anthem heralding President Business’s (Will Ferrell) seemingly glorious society. On the periphery though, there’s a menace, an evil at work. President Business has devious intentions, with sights set on using the ‘Kragle’ to glue the world motionless. Only the MasterBuilder can stop him, and maybe Emmet isn’t as ordinary as first perceived.

Unlike the mechanical and simple block-by-block creation style, The Lego Movie manages to deliver a well-rounded story with unimaginable scope. We’re bumbling around a fairly stagnant period of animation on the big screen, a time far removed from the Lion King’s and Shrek’s of cinema, films that combined humour and joy with underlying strands declaring positive living. The Lego Movie teeters on the verge of getting back there. For all its energetic prowess and funny moments, the film motions along a deeper, more satirical platform. One that denounces a lack of intuition and promotes difference. President Business — aptly named — embodies the proverbial symbol of power-hungry, corrupt domination. The addictive song “Everything is Awesome”, sung everyday all-day by the civilians of Bricksburg, is a means to an end for the evil overlord. It’s catchy for a reason, constructed by President Business to brainwash the masses. Yet there are those aware few fighting against the autocratic system, a misfit band of special, talented Lego warriors. This narrative works; it has meaning, evokes emotion and demands investment, even amongst all the surface madness and hilarity. The film trumpets variety against monotony and should be admired and applauded for doing so, perhaps even more so than for its many other accomplishments. Having said all that, it is interesting to consider how much authenticity this prevalent notion of non-corporate domination holds, when you take into account the film’s basis: a multinational, mega-encompassing, money-gorging branded toy.

Snappy comedy is one of the films main triumphs. A lot of the time you find yourself laughing not just on the back of current pop culture references (when Batman refers to Bruce Wayne as a “cool guy”), but also at the expense of historic political blunders — voting machines, for example. The gags are constant, relentless even, but their respective foundations are juggled around allowing a freshness to circulate throughout the film’s progression. On the odd occasion that a consistently fielded joke does become wearisome, writer and director duo Chris Miller and Phil Lord work hastily to replace staleness with another funny wisecrack, and very often that wisecrack is another jaw ache-er.

The dialogue is an audible sea of movie-innuendos, for the experienced and the novice. Aside from bountiful puns and hidden humours rewarded to tickle the quick-eyed (“Bob’s Kabob” is outstanding), we also get hilarious Star Wars absurdities and are showered with a number of popular superheroes — at one point proceedings take on a very Avengers’ Battle-of-New-York-like manifestation, with portals and whizzing machinery aplenty. Batman plays a significant role all through the film, and is probably the only running joke that slightly wears towards the end, which is a shame because Will Arnett does a tremendous job with the raspy Bat-voice, even if you’re throwing honey at the screen by the time the credits roll.

In fact, all of the voice-acting sounds terrific. Chris Pratt provides that exuberant bravado as Emmet, one that gradually pitches more assuredly as the film progresses. Emmet strikingly resembles another animated hero, Flick, both in characterisation and story arc. Similar to the A Bug’s Life protagonist, Emmet is an over-eager-yet-normal guy who possesses the willpower to do the extraordinary. Much like Flick, his apparently crazy, useless ideas are those that turn out to be crucial and imperative — the double-decker couch, for instance. On the contrary to Flick though, who was originally a spanner in the ant hole, Emmet tends to blend into his surroundings and therefore must ascend more than an echelon of innovation to save the day. Elizabeth Banks is zesty and strong as the voice of Wyldstyle, Emmet’s partner-in-heinous-prevention, a wickedness perfectly sounded loud and nastily by Will Ferrell as President Business. Liam Neeson is arguably the best of the lot though, his distinct raspiness toned down (or up) a tad to combat any Batman correlations. Neeson voices Bad Cop/Good Cop, but mainly Bad Cop, and provides a fair helping of humour as the Lego police officer carrying out President Business’s gluey work. A whole host of other names — from Morgan Freeman to Jonah Hill, and Channing Tatum to Cobie Smulders — add their choral airwaves to the very fun and easy-listening vocal front.

Visually, for the most part, the film succeeds too. It runs into a bit of a problem as events set sail across before diving under water. Up until this point, we’re fully engrossed in Lego-land where everything is constructed wonderfully of Lego pieces. The landscape accommodates those ever-noticeable spherical cogs, ready as always to ground an attached brick (a notion that goes over nobody’s head). Water, then, also runs and sprays as Lego parts, until the crew of saviours find themselves underneath the substance which then turns into a non-Lego, standard computer-animated sea. It’s a bit odd, and for a moment removes the viewer from the plastic world. In all fairness though, that’s nit-picking at its crudest and as a whole, the visual output explodes with colour, fluidity and life.

Based on a toy that encourages creativity and imagination, The Lego Movie upholds and listens to its own traditions rather than decimating them (à la the poor-tasting Transformers franchise). The film is controlled, uncontrolled chaos, a rapidly advancing and visually accomplished offering that sparks life into the animation genre. For over an hour and a half you won’t be able to keep the smile off your face, unless it’s to exhale another round of laughter.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues (2013)

★★

Director: Adam McKay

Release Date: December 18th, 2013 (UK & US)

Genre: Comedy

Starring: Will Ferrell, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, David Koechner, Christina Applegate

The screen flashes suddenly with the vintage-looking figure of Ron Burgundy nestled behind his giant news desk. The anchor begins reciting a number of promotional plugs for Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, a diatribe that fails on the whole to pack a humorous punch. Why an advertisement for the second instalment of Anchorman is playing before a screening of the second instalment of Anchorman is a mystery on its own, however the likeness of the promo in comparison to the film itself is unfortunately similar. Burgundy and his cohorts’ reunion is only occasionally funny, certainly not funnier than its overrated predecessor, and definitely not funny enough.

After many years anchoring together on a prestigious New York news station, Ron Burgundy (Will Ferrell) and wife Veronica Cornerstone (Christina Applegate) are separated after she is promoted and he fired. This causes friction between the pair, primarily due to Ron’s massive ego, and is the catalyst for the demise of their relationship. Ron finds himself cast away from the news industry until approached to anchor at the premier 24-hour news station, GNN, in tandem with Brick (Steve Carell), Fantana (Paul Rudd) and Champ (David Koechner).

As the wise man once said, “Sooo…”

The band are back together and tonally it’s a lot more of the same, only we’ve seen and heard most of it before. Whereas the first Anchorman film is renowned for its multiple catchphrases which seem to be rehashed by fans more often than the days of the week come around, Anchorman 2 is filled with a lot of loud noises. For some reason, director Adam McKay decides to go with high-pitched squeals and abrasive shouting rather than well executed gags. Some of these are pretty funny — Steve Carell gets the best loud noises, and the best lines — but after half an hour the screeching and wailing becomes tiring and unimaginative, with each instance feeling increasingly like a cop-out. Perhaps the pressure to deliver more iconic “I’m in a glass case of emotion” moments played on the minds of Ferrell and McKay, who co-wrote the film together, and this comes across at times as the script feels like it has been written by someone putting their anxiety to paper… literally. There are a few genuinely funny moments (Carell talking about a shadow and doing the weather) but these are overshadowed by the boring stuff. I’m not a massive fan of the first film, and it’s entirely conceivable that the over-dramatic style of comedy on show in Anchorman 2 is exactly what fans of Anchorman want, but it’s simply not enough.

More frustrating than the lack of the laughs present is the seemingly absent general direction of proceedings, and more specifically, a great satirical opportunity missed. The film jumps around a lot — we go from wife and kid to making bets with other anchors to doing 24-hour news to ice-skating to lighthouses — and, even with the two-hour runtime (which is too long for this kind of comedy), events feel crammed together and rushed. Focus is placed elsewhere when it should be streamlined towards delving into Burgundy’s antics whilst working on a constantly broadcasting news station. We only fleet around the topic of how non-news becomes desired news (“It’s total crap and they can’t stop watching”) when this should make up the majority of the story. Reporting non-news is a very current problem and surrounds mainstream media today as much as it did during the inception of rolling news, therefore further exploration into the subject would have been relevant, funnier and ultimately justified. Less relenting racism, more smart satire please — saying “black” twelve times in a row isn’t all the hilarious anyway.

Although Ferrell is the star of the show by many accounts, Steve Carell outshines the lead and everybody else here much like he did the first time around. Carell is very funny inside and outside the movies, and his off-the-cuff, spontaneous comedy really works in the Anchorman setting. The character he plays, Brick Tamland, is probably the easiest to laugh at because he emits aimless stupidity often, but Carell ensures Brick doesn’t become a parody of the man we watched in the previous instalment (which sort of happens to Burgundy). Paul Rudd who, alongside Carell, is one of my favourite comedy actors, can’t overcome the dreary material his pretty naff character Brian Fantana is given, which is a shame. In regards to Ferrell, he is okay as Burgundy although his performance feels too much like Will Ferrell playing Ron Burgundy when it should appear far more natural. The scenes between him and his son come across as very dated, and lines such as “I hurt my pee-pee” are eye-rolling. That being said, Ferrell can sing to a shark every day for the next 40 years and I’ll probably laugh on each occasion.

Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is not horrible, but it certainly is a disappointing outing given the heaps of accompanying hype. After half an hour it was difficult to process anything other than reliving the excellence of Blackfish, and by the end it was a struggle to comprehend anything other than wondering how much money was wasted on pointless cameos. The legend may have continued, but the comedy couldn’t quite keep up.

Hey Ron, maybe it’s time to call it a Burgun-day.

The Campaign (2012)

★★

Director: Jay Roach

Release Date: August 10th, 2012 (US); September 28th, 2012 (UK)

Genre: Comedy

Starring: Will Ferrell, Zach Galifianakis, Jason Sudeikis

Released in the midst of the 2012 Presidential Election in the United States, The Campaign struggles to reach the lofty heights set by Jay Roach’s previous work. More often than not the jokes are without any real substance and by the time the credits finish rolling, the film has cemented its place as a forgettable one.

The Campaign follows the naive Marty Huggins’ introduction into politics as he is propelled into the normally competition-scarce race for election in North Carolina’s 14th District. His opponent, Cam Brady, has spent the previous four terms as congressman of the district due to nobody running against him. However, two corrupt businessman use Brady’s involvement in an indecent incident to install Huggins into the race, with their motives less than noble and their focus solely on using Huggins to strike a profit-blazing deal with a Chinese company.

The film is at its best and funniest when it gets the political satire elements right (pointing out how far politicians will go to expose each other, for example), but too often these attempts fall flat and instead come across more like parody sketches on politics. When the events begin to enter the parody realm, the film veers dangerously close to Meet The Spartans and Epic Movie territory (although not quite as bad as either of those). This is unfortunate as the few times the writing does work the film is very funny, particularly with the added bonus of Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis who are fully versed in successfully delivering humour with the correct material put before them.

Another problem The Campaign encounters is that there is no clear character to root for (perhaps this an intentional attempt to mirror real life election battles). From the get-go it is clear that the villain of the piece is intended to be Cam Brady (Ferrell’s character). Brady comes across as a cocky, chauvinistic jerk, and Ferrell plays the role to a T. With the introduction of Galifianakis’ Marty Huggins, it is clear that the simple tourism director is set to be the sympathetic character. Brady is obnoxious, often degrading Huggins and taking advantage of the political newcomer’s nativity. However, the film does not even reach the half-way mark before the roles begin to reverse and Brady becomes the brunt of all of the jokes. The influential businessmen we see at the beginning of the film are clearly the puppeteers who are in need some sort of comeuppance, but they do not appear on-screen often enough to develop their nastiness and be paraded as the bad guys — must the audience rely on what they know from previous films of similar ilk to decipher who is playing what role? The Campaign sorts itself out in the end, but by then it is too late as the two main characters are not really worth caring about.

It is not all bad news though. As mentioned beforehand, Roach and the writers — Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell — do hit the correct notes on a number of occasions and the film does conjure up a couple of genuinely humorous moments. Ferrell and Galifianakis play off of each other well enough, but neither really seem to be completely committed 100 percent to the cause. In fact, Ferrell’s Brady holds a number of similar characteristics to those of his much-loved Anchorman character, Ron Burgundy. However the difference between the two is clear — Burgundy is given both the time and the correct narrative to evolve and become something more than just an egotistical news anchor, whereas Brady must suffice with punching babies and being a horrible father. Galifianakis is essentially playing the same role he has played since starring in The Hangover. It is not that the role is not funny, rather it is just not funny the fifth time around.

The Campaign suffers from one or two glaring problems, namely a weak script and non-existent character roles. Nothing really sticks out: the performances are nothing special, the laughs are few and far between and story is over-played and without inspiration. With that being said, Roach, Henchy and Harwell do get the balance of discreet-yet-understandable humour correct on a few occasions and the film is better for it. Perhaps Roach should have cast Rick Santorum in the role of Marty Huggins — at least then there would have been a consistent cause for laughter.

Credit: Telstar Media
Credit: Telstar Media