When The LEGO Movie released last year, audiences weren’t quite sure what to expect. Many thought it was simply a cash-grab from a studio looking to capitalize on the popularity of yet another line of toys a la Transformers and Battleship. But what we got instead from co-directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller was a biting indictment of the Hollywood franchise game, replete with clever writing and a heartfelt crossover appeal to adult audiences that even Pixar would be proud of. Naturally Warner Bros. saw green when they got a peek at the $257 million domestic box office (reported by Rotten Tomatoes).
Soon, Warner did what every studio does following a wildly successful movie: Plan a flurry of sequels of spinoffs. This came in the wake of an avalanche of announced DC superhero movies though, effectively burying the announcement behind bigger news. The studio followed Marvel’s lead in planning their comic adaptations out through 2020, quietly sneaking in the news of the decidedly smaller three-movie LEGO series. Despite this though, those three movies could represent a special new corner of the franchise game that we’ve never seen before.
The LEGO Movie is a unique property on a sub-atomic level. Because LEGO has the rights to disseminate any number of characters from a number of unconnected universes, we get to see a movie where Superman, Gandalf, Dumbledore, and the Ninja Turtles all interact as animated toys without fear of copyright lawyers knocking down Warner’s doors. As long as it’s just mini-figures and not live action representation, the brand virtually has carte-blanche in terms of character use (although Marvel heroes were decidedly absent, so there may be some limits).
This all brings us to the result of this creative freedom: The expansive LEGO franchise. So far, the plan is to run with LEGO Batman in 2017, followed by The LEGO Movie 2 and a stand-alone Ninjago spinoff. It’s an interesting non-linear approach, showing that the idea of the movie franchise has long since evolved past simply putting a number after the title for six movies and calling it a day. Something like the Transformers saga has built its own movie mythos based namely around explosions and American flags. Battleship never got off the ground as anything more than a single summer blockbuster. But LEGO has a chance to go somewhere else completely.
With the right writers and directors on board, expanding out the LEGO universe that seemed nigh infinite in the first installment could make for a Toy Story-esque saga that carries the depth of a comic book franchise. It’s a powerful combination of traits, but also acts as a double-edged sword. LEGO Batman has Seth Grahame-Smith signed on, a writer whose credits include lackluster offerings like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and Dark Shadows. It’s a long way off from the expertise of a powerful writing team like Lord and Miller’s, and could sink the first spinoff before the franchise even gets off the ground.
It’s all speculation though until we actually see the finished product. Maybe Grahame-Smith is a secret genius who simply needed the right project. Chris McCay (Robot Chicken) is set to direct LEGO Batman, so it’s not like the movie is being left in completely incapable hands. But looking past all that, we see a new franchise forming, unlike anything Hollywood has ever seen. It can quite literally go in any direction it pleases, and if it can maintain the insanely funny and poignant tone of the first film, we’ll have a series a movies more than worth waiting for.
Follow Nick on Twitter @NickNorthwest