Everything Is Awesome: The LEGO Movie
When was the last time you left the theater, infected by the boundless joy of the movie you just watched?
Maybe what happened when the credits began rolling on the rollicking, charming, and fun LEGO movie was that the last of the Oscar doldrums had been washed away. Spring thaw. No existential despair prompted by floating soundlessly into the void of outer space. No more mandates to keep your crew safe from pirates who have resorted to piracy in order to feed their families. No more crises of postmodernity embodied in the sultriest of Siris and the lonely, isolated, red-blooded human beings thirsting for true companionship.
What we have here is a quest story. The quintessential quest story. We have a construction worker Lego minifigure prophesied to save the universe from evil tyrant, Lord Business.
The term “kids’ movie” has become so porous as to be utterly meaningless. Rewatching Disney classics as adults has become a pastime of Millennials the world over, and subsequent viewings of Shrek reveal subtext that had flown stratospherically over our heads as children. The LEGO Movie abounds in subtext, but strips it of cynicism. It is self-aware enough to dare you to catch all the Matrix references (I stopped at 72) and to know that what it posits (the movie’s anthem is a Tegan and Sara song featuring The Lonely Island and is not in the least annoying) is utterly ridiculous. But people having this much fun are gravity, and resistance is futile.
Chris Pratt, who voices our protagonist construction worker, and Elizabeth Banks, who will bring Matrix-lovers a healthy nostalgia for Trinity, Liam Neeson, who plays a TV trope magnificently deconstructed, Morgan Freeman, in the Morgan Freeman-est of roles, and a veritable bounty of other remarkable voice actors take you on a ride it seems they are enjoying just as much as you are. The LEGO movie is an epic and ambitious celebration of creativity and fun and the joy to be had in making up your own stories.
It is a bit like watching yourself play with Legos.
A Particular Set of Skills: Non-Stop
The modern American badass is an Irishman.
Somewhere in there, he was Zeus, Aslan too. But the Liam Neeson we all know and love punches wolves. He’s dismantled an Albanian human trafficking ring in Paris. He’s dismantled an Albanian human trafficking ring in Istanbul. He is also the only person who could mess with “The Batmans.” Just ask Key and Peele.
A trailer for Kevin Costner’s 3 Days to Kill prompted me to ask a friend when exactly did Kevin Costner become a poor man’s Liam Neeson. It is tempting to say the Irish action star’s transformation is complete, but then along comes an entirely new level of absurd adoration and, more importantly, appreciation for the way Neeson fills void in our hearts we did not even know we had. Liam Neeson has shrugged off parody like an attacking human trafficker and flipped it over a balcony. He has punched it in the face. He’s made his helicopter do a barrel roll to avoid parody’s missiles. Heck, he even brought the A-Team back together, the A-Team who, in the words of Jessica Biel’s Captain Sosa, are “the best and who specialize in the ridiculous.”
The latest iteration of the post-traumatic action-hero Liam Neeson is Bill Marks, federal air marshal, alcoholic, former cop and grieving patriarch. Present here, as in all of Neeson’s avenging angel characters, is sorrow. It’s an ache, anguish. And the effect here is akin to what rippled throughout the gaming world when the first trailer for the original Gears of War debuted, the one featuring the Gary Jules cover of “Mad World.” Finally, a hero who certainly looked the part (biceps the size of cantaloupes and eyes the size of black beans), who suggested remorse. Who suggested a regret at having to do the heroic things he did. Who was tired of fighting in a war.
While trying to unhijack a plane from an unknown villain among the passengers and convince everyone, including the TSA and his marshal colleagues on the ground, that he’s not the hijacker, that emotional ache grounds (for lack of a better word) the film. So that when air-turbulence hurls him into the ceiling or one of the characters bursts into improbable monologue, we laugh but we take it seriously too. One gets the sense that the comedy herein is not unintentional.
We know the movie’s ending before it happens, because we’ve seen this movie before. And the pleasure may be simple, but it is consistent. It is nonsense, but cynicism has no place here. And we show up. Because Liam Neeson is the hero we deserve.