The Lego Movie Videogame (Xbox 360) Review

The Lego Movie Videogame (Xbox 360) Review

If nothing else, The Lego Movie Videogame deserves a spot in history for having one of the worst titles in the history of gaming. As a game itself, it’s a perfectly acceptable bit of fluff and far better than most licensed tie-in titles. The big problem is simply one of legacy. Not only does the game pale in comparison to the excellent movie that just hit screens, but also the Lego City Undercover and Lego Marvel Superheroes games. If you’ve somehow managed to avoid all of those contemporary Lego classics, then I’m sure this game will be an absolute blast. The trouble is that roughly 99.7% of gamers who are likely to pick this puppy off shelves will know and love at least one of those titles (a very detailed and professional study was conducted to get that number, so you can trust it). As fun as The Lego Movie Videogame can be in fits and spurts, it is ultimately just standing on the shoulders of other brilliant Lego creations and never quite manages to break out on its own. Ah well, at least you can finally play as the 80s Lego astronaut, broken chinstrap and all. So that’s a minor dream come true.

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The story for the Lego Movie Videogame is the exact story of The Lego Movie, pulling scenes straight out of the flick to set up a series of Lego challenges that fans of the previous games will know all too well. The main character is Emmet, a lowly Lego construction worker who lives a life dictated by an instruction book. One day he meets a beautiful gal (well, by Lego figure standards anyways) named Wyldstyle and discovers he might be a chosen Lego figure who will rid the world of the instruction book tyranny created by the evil Lord Business and return the Lego-land to a genre-mashup world founded in creative building. The plot plays out entirely in scenes from the movie and pretty well the whole thing makes it into the game at some point. That makes this a fairly fun tie in game for fans anxious to own a copy of the flick while it’s still in theaters. But it also robs the game of any sense of surprise for those who have seen the movie. You’ll be going through those exact same motions here, only this time with levels instead of action scenes.

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Play style is exactly the same as the last few Lego titles.  The city of Brickburg operates as a sandbox hub while all of the other worlds like Western Land and Coo-Coo-Land are used as levels. As a result, the biggest map in the game is a deliberately generic city while the creative climates are limited to small level maps. A bit of a bummer, but there you go. Emmet is the main character and chances are that you won’t play as him much. In keeping with the theme of the movie, Emmet can’t build or fight very well and given that those are the main skills that define gameplay, the protagonist is absolutely useless and will only be the star during cut scenes. Beyond Emmet, there are dozens of characters from Wyldstyle to Batman, Superman, Green Lantern, and Abraham Lincoln. That is a Lego game tradition, of course. The only problem is that in The Lego Movie Videogame, having access to Superman and Batman will only remind players of the far superior pre-existing Lego games that they could and should be playing instead of this one.

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The entire project feels rushed to meet a release date, with the Lego games’ trademark humor essentially absent outside of the scenes from the movie. Now, it would be unfair to call it a disaster. The one major advantage Traveller’s Tales had in creating this title was a rock solid template. These designers have been building and expanding on the possibilities of Lego-themed action sequences since the ancient days of Lego Star Wars. So there are a number of wonderful adaptation of movie action scenes into levels (particularly the chase sequences), and the building dynamic is as fun as ever. The graphics are solid, and you certainly can’t describe the game as boring given that the cut scenes are hilarious and the levels are well designed (with the exception of a few really tedious platforming sequences). Yet, there’s absolutely nothing new or fresh here at all, and that’s a pretty major flaw.

For the first time in quite a while, Traveller’s haven’t reinvented the Lego game wheel. Instead, they’ve simply repeated their own formula based around designs, characters, and plotlines from The Lego Movie. If you could play this game in a vacuum, it would probably be a heck of a lot of fun. The trouble is that any real Lego fan will have just finished Lego Marvel Superheroes and fallen in love with The Lego Movie before picking this disc up. If that’s the case, you can’t help but be at least mildly disappointed. Granted, an average Lego game is still better than most games. However, given that this title offered the Traveller’s team a chance to combine franchises, genres, and techniques from all their previous work for the first time, it’s a big ol’ missed opportunity. Yep, the licensed game curse strikes again. Let’s hope someone finally gets it right one of these days.

 

The Lego Movie (Movie) Review

The Lego Movie (Movie) Review

When you sit down and really think about it, Lego shouldn’t be popular anymore. The Danish building blocks were groundbreaking playthings in 1949, but in days when toddlers are picking up iPads, they should be passé. Yet, Lego’s probably more popular than ever. There are a number of reasons why: nostalgia, simplicity, cross-marketing in videogames/playsets, and most importantly the fact that those little plastic cubes that you constantly step on at the worst possible moment open up a child’s imagination through building like few other toys. As Lego continues its age-bridging, cross-cultural assault through videogames and Star Wars/Batman/Marvel/everything themed playsets, it was inevitable that someday a Lego movie would exist. It’s just too easy to sell to family audiences, amateur stop-motion Lego movies have been made for decades now, and Lego’s multiplatform franchise is made for merchandising.

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Here’s the thing though: how do you make a feature-length movie about little plastic blocks. Break it down to that level and it’s an idea that shouldn’t work. Thankfully, Warner Brothers assigned the task to the two-heading filmmaking team of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller who specialize in ideas that shouldn’t work. They’ve already made a cult TV show about a high school populated with clones of historical figures (Clone High), a CGI hit with one of the worst titles of all time (Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs), and a feature film version of an 80s TV show few people liked in the first place (21 Jump Street). None of those projects should have worked but in the hands of Lord/Miller, they were brilliant. The Lego Movie is the closest thing the duo have had to a sensible starting point and unsurprisingly it’s not only the best thing they’ve ever done, but also the best animated film to come out of Hollywood since Pixar started phoning it in with sequels.

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It’s a gorgeous movie to behold, filled with visual invention and Lord/Miller’s patented pop culture humor

The plot can be cynically broken down to a cross between Toy Story and The Matrix. It’s all about Emmet Brickowski (Chris Pratt), a Lego construction worker who has posters for “A Popular Band On His Wall,” spends his days constructing buildings based on instruction books, and constantly sings the theme song of Legoland: “Everything Is Awesome.” Then one day he spots a beautiful (well, by Lego figure standards) gal named Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and inadvertently ends up fulfilling an ancient prophecy made by a Morgan Freeman-voiced Lego figure to become “The Special.” Emmet has been chosen to be the Lego drone who will take down the evil President Business’ (Will Ferrell) plot to confine Legoland to the confines of banal conformity. Emmet must bridge the gap between all the segregated Lego worlds (including a Western land and Lego Gotham City) and bring back the open building-block creation of the age of master builders. It’s all much sillier and easier to follow than it sounds, eventually building towards a big twist that most viewers will see coming, but still offers a touching ode to the imaginative power of Lego nonetheless.

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Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the Lego movie is that it is even more blatantly a commercial for the toy at the center than Transformers or Battleship and yet is an infinitely more moving and creative film than any of the toy movies that proceeded it. A big part of that is just the joy of Lego itself, a brain-building toy that has inspired generations of children to create to the point that many adults now have a full time job creating Lego pop culture replicas for the legendary toy company. Phil Lord and Christopher Miller fully understand Lego’s appeal and create a film about that subject without ever losing track of the fact that their film must first and foremost be a comedic adventure. The CGI animation brilliantly creates a low-fi feel of a stop motion Lego fan film, filled with jerky motions, blocky designs, and creative faux-stop motion effects like creating flames out of crudely animated Lego fire pieces. It’s a gorgeous movie to behold, filled with visual invention and Lord/Miller’s patented pop culture humor. With Lego tie-ins to everything from Batman to Star Wars now part of the legacy, Lord/Miller let loose their reverential and referential humor onto a world that has those qualities built into it. No one else should have made this movie and no one could have done it better.

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As per usual in these blockbuster animated films the voice cast is stacked with stars like Chris Pratt, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Charlie Day, Will Arnett, Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Morgan Freeman, and Will Forte. However, unlike many of these projects, Lord/Miller actually give each famous voice a character suited to their talents and not a single cameo passes by without a major laugh. Thankfully, Lord/Miller never take the easy route to cynically mock their subject matter either, filling the screen with a love for all things Lego including a character who is one of the 80s Lego astronauts that every child of a certain generation owned and even the chin strap is broken in the perfect place. This is a big Hollywood blockbuster made by people who care about the subject matter and know just how to treat it. It’s big, adventurous, hilarious, touching, and makes you want to race out of the theater to buy as many Lego playsets as you can fit in your arms. Balancing all those elements is nearly impossible, but Lord/Miller did it with such ease that they should have a massive hit on their hands and might finally be recognized as two of the most brilliant comedic minds of their generation. Warner already has a Lego Movie sequel in the works, but hopefully Lord and Miller find another project to work on instead. It’s hard to imagine a better Lego movie being made than this, and I’m anxious to see what the next seemingly ridiculous idea that they want to turn into a brilliant comedy is instead.

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 (Movie) Review

Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 (Movie) Review

When Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs hit screens in 2009, it proved to be an unexpected treat that arrived with little hoopla beyond sporting one of the weirdest (and wordiest) titles of all time. However, the movie proved to be a strangely subversive comedy gem that even managed to sneak Eraserhead references into a kiddie blockbuster. We can thank co-writers/directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller for that given that they pulled the same trick on the underrated animated series Clone High and the unexpectedly awesome 21 Jump Street movie. Sadly, the duo didn’t return to the sequel beyond some screenplay tinkering. They’re off making the Lego movie instead, and they should be because they’ll make it great. So now, we have Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 arriving with expectations and without the key creative talent. Fortunately, it’s a wonderfully entertaining sequel that continues the franchise well. It’s more sweet and sincere than subversive and reverential, but when you’re talking about a CGI family comedy about giant sentient cheeseburgers, that’s not exactly a bad thing.

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The roughest patch of the movie comes right off the bat. Unfortunately, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 does suffer from that unfortunate medical condition that plagues many Hollywood products: sequel-itis. The original film was never intended to set up a franchise, so there are some awkward patches early on as the filmmakers struggle to kick off a new story and reunite all of the characters the kiddies loved last time. Fortunately, that’s out of the way fast. Bill Hader’s manic inventor Flint is selected by his childhood hero/iconic food inventor Chester V (Will Forte doing an amusing Steve Jobs impression… only evil) to join his tech conglomerate LIVE Corp. Flint toils away fruitlessly in the big city hoping to become one of the team’s star inventors and then gets a chance to prove himself when his old invention starts running amuck in his hometown. The machine that once made food out of drops of water has started malfunctioning and turned the island into a land overrun by giant sentient food (cheeseburger spiders, crazy cucumbers, cutie pie strawberries, the whole nine yards). So Flint gathers up all of the popular characters from the last movie like gal pal reporter Sam (Anna Faris), her wacky accented cameraman Manny (Benjamin Bratt), dedicated local cop Earl (Terry Crews), weirdo Brent (Andy Samburg), and his daddy (James Caan) and together they head out to food island for more wacky adventures.

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The good news is that said wacky adventures are still a lot of fun. There’s a worrying moment early on when Flint screams out “there’s a leak in my boat” and then an anthropomorphized leek starts screaming. Thankfully, the movie is not defined by bad puns, even if it’s not above them. Some of the pop culture references from the original remain like the general plot that’s ripped from The Lost World (both the original Arthur Conan Doyle novel and the Jurassic Park sequel) and the goofy Apple parody that is LIVE Corp. However, the new directors Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn lean more on eccentric character comedy and CGI adventure this time around and thankfully that approach works. The voice cast is ridiculously talented and even if it’s a stretch to cram all of the popular characters in here, every actor gets some big laughs (especially Forte who is hysterical as the villain). The character design still comes from the Lord/Miller/Clone High school, and it’s still wonderfully unique and cartoony. The living food monsters/buddies are all creatively designed and milked for all their comedy and cutesy potential. The action scenes are genuinely thrilling and take advantage of the 3D visuals. The emotional arc sparks tear trickles without feeling saccharine. And most importantly, it all wraps up quickly without ever feeling strained or boring. In short, it’s a blast of simple entertainment that will charm the pants off parents, children, and regressed children alike.

cloudyinsert2“Charming” is the word that best describes Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2 and given the genre of CGI family comedy it slides into that word suits the film well. Would it have been better if Phil Lord and Chris Miller stuck around for the sequel to pack it full of their weirdo wit? Of course, but at the same time the original movie never cried out for a franchise and the sequel never could have been anything more than a charming follow up. Animation veterans Cody Cameron and Kris Pearn at least know their genre and medium well. They suck up all the possible entertainment value out of continuing the adventures of this likable gang of characters and food fantasy world, then roll the credits before outstaying their welcome. The film is no masterpiece, but it is a perfectly serviceable and goofy blast of family fun that will make the target audience giggle while scarfing down snacks. Really, what else could you possibly expect from a movie called Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2? Wanting more is just being greedy. This is as good as a movie with giant cheeseburger spiders can be and that ain’t bad.