“The name’s Rex. Rex Dangervest. Galaxy-defending archaeologist, cowboy, raptor trainer—who likes building furniture, busting heads, and having chiseled features previously hidden under baby fat.”
A mysterious, spacefaring badass makes quite the introduction in The Lego Movie 2. He has just rescued everyman hero Emmet from a meteor by literally punching it, and with this meta pronouncement, he opens up a full can of metaworms. There are some surface similarities between Emmet and Dangervest—namely, that they’re both voiced by Chris Pratt. And in pairing the two characters together, The Lego Movie 2 sets up a “you versus the guy she told you not to worry about” dynamic: The genial and generally nonthreatening Emmet considers whether he should be more like his brooding, stubbled counterpart as they venture through the Lego-verse in a spaceship staffed by a bunch of velociraptors.
Dangervest is, obviously, the inverse of Emmet. Whereas Emmet’s special ability is that he can build anything out of Lego bricks, what Dangervest is best at is destroying them with a single punch; and while Emmet wears a construction site safety vest, Dangervest dons a … danger vest. But in creating this character, The Lego Movie 2 positions itself, amazingly, as a treatise on the duality of Chris Pratt. Dangervest is a blatant amalgam of Pratt’s biggest blockbuster roles, from The Magnificent Seven to Jurassic World to Guardians of the Galaxy to even the since-debunked rumor that he was set to portray an updated version of Indiana Jones. The Lego Movie 2 has loads of fun dissecting how Pratt’s career has changed since the first film was released in 2014. (Pratt, of course, is fully aware of what the film is doing.) On the one hand, there’s the charismatic, dorky, ebullient Emmet—the Chris Pratt people first fell in love when he was Andy Dwyer on Parks and Recreation. On the other, there’s Rex Dangervest, the end product of Pratt’s transformation into the muscle-bound centerpiece of multiple action-adventure franchises. (Perhaps purposely, or maybe just unavoidably, Dangervest’s slightly gruffer voice sounds a lot like Andy Dwyer’s Burt Macklin persona.) It goes deeper than simple metajokes, though. Through the Emmett-Dangervest dynamic, the movie wants to suss out exactly who Pratt is, and who he should aim to be.
The movie’s answer to that second question seems obvious—oddly so, because how many movies overtly critique their leads? Dangervest is—spoiler alert—the sequel’s big villain, who’s arrived from the future. Despite saving Emmet, Dangervest is not a Lego savior; he’s actually trying to subject the toys to a lifetime of purgatory in a storage bin because he was accidentally knocked underneath the family’s dryer and trapped for years. Though he arrives on the scene as harmless, if a little gratingly cocky, underneath his heroic charm hides something a lot darker; something, clearly, that nobody should aspire to.
This is a bold approach, not least because Dangervest is such a transparent stand-in for many of Pratt’s action-adventure roles from the past five years. By setting him up as the bad guy, The Lego Movie 2 posits that these types of action-movie tough guys—the ones with a cocksure attitude, a propensity for brooding, and performatively vague gestures toward a mysterious past—do more harm than good, especially if they’re taken up as role models. Behind every move the Lego characters make in the film is a boy named Finn, who’s simply playing with a bunch of Legos in his house. Dangervest—as well as the setting change from the first film’s Bricksburg to the Mad Max–esque Apocalypseburg of the sequel—is an extension of the pop culture this child is consuming. Until Finn is disciplined at home, he acts like a selfish, brooding jerk; the movie implies that he’s learned the behavior from watching the kind of movies that Pratt has starred in recently.
It’s a salient point, especially coming from the PG-rated perspective of a Lego movie. Pratt’s Star Lord in the Guardians franchise is a chill, nice guy with a self-deprecating sense of humor, but the first movie also racked up the highest onscreen body count of all time, a disturbing footnote in a film with a such a lighthearted, family-friendly tone.
The critique goes even further, either advertently or inadvertently arguing that not only have Pratt’s recent characters been bad role models, but that Pratt has lost his sense of self by playing them. Because Dangervest isn’t just someone from the future—he is Emmet, a darkest-timeline example of what could happen to even the kindest of heroes under the worst circumstances. Dangervest-Emmet broke bad after getting stuck under a dryer; did Pratt morally compromise himself playing a raptor trainer in two mindless Jurassic World movies?
This being a kid’s movie, Dangervest’s heel turn allows Emmet to reach a simple epiphany: He should just be exactly who he is, the naturally kind, gentle, empathetic person who finds a sitcom star saying “Honey, where are my pants?” innumerable times ridiculously funny. He resolves, in other words, to be Andy Dwyer instead of Owen Grady (that’s the name of Pratt’s character in Jurassic World; I bet you didn’t know that).
When The Lego Movie braintrust initially cast Pratt in 2012, it was an interesting move to go for an affable everyman rather than a massive star. For the sequel it did something even more interesting, looking back at Pratt’s career and cooking up a new villain by holding up a mirror to his action-heavy IMDb page. It’s certainly astonishing that The Lego Movie 2 spends so much time dunking on the recent career choices of its biggest star, but it’s a specific dig that reaches for a broader point about the kind of media that kids like Finn are subjected to. Pratt is far from the exception; gritty reboots with brooding action heroes have been all the rage for years. The Lego Movie franchise is far from a perfect vehicle—it is one of the franchises most blatantly manufactured to get kids to buy toys. But its sequel argues that there should be more Emmets than Dangervests in pop culture, and is remarkably, hilariously unconcerned with whether or not Pratt gets caught in the crossfire of that debate.