Phil Lord and Chris Miller Made the Multiplex Safe for ‘The Fall Guy’ | Features

Was “21 Jump Street” more of a comedy than an action movie? Probably, but Lord and Miller provided audiences with plenty of great action set pieces as well, which were funny but also pretty thrilling. There was also room for charming insights into how the anxieties of high school stay with you the rest of your life—especially when you’re an undercover cop pretending to be a teenager. Toeing that tonal line is hard, but Lord and Miller made it seem effortless.

“You’re insane if you’re trying to make a live-action with the same degree of control as you are in animation,” Lord said at the time. “What you want to be doing is create a set that’s as spontaneous as possible and allows for as many accidental moments as possible.” When “21 Jump Street” became a commercial and critical hit in the spring of 2012, it opened the door for Hollywood to try to adapt other forgotten mediocre TV series, like “Baywatch,” into hip big-screen comedies. Tellingly, the results were never as successful. Adding an ironic edge wasn’t enough—you needed Lord and Miller.

After “21 Jump Street,” the filmmakers struck gold again two years later with “The Lego Movie,” which they wrote and directed. Before Greta Gerwig proved that you could make funny, thoughtful entertainment out of a child’s plaything, Lord and Miller took on a project that seemed just as cynical—what could have basically been a feature-length ad for both Lego and the entirety of Warner Bros.’ intellectual property—and made something incredible out of it. 

As with “21 Jump Street,” the trick was to be both sincere and cheeky, understanding the fundamental joy kids get at making make-believe and then transforming that into a rousing animated action-adventure. “The Lego Movie” made fun of superheroes, “Star Wars,” and every movie in which Morgan Freeman provides wise counsel to the young hero. But it was obvious how deeply Lord and Miller loved all that stuff. Quite simply, you don’t cast Will Arnett to voice the most totally brooding Batman ever—complete with a stupendous industrial-rock theme song—if you don’t have an endless fondness for what you’re roasting.

Once again, the ratio of action to comedy was very evenly mixed, and the filmmakers seemed energized by the freedom animation gave them to do outrageously inventive action sequences—while at the same time never forgetting the physical (and hilarious) limitations of how Lego characters move. The mistake many comedies make is assuming that logic doesn’t matter—just go for the joke, right?—but Lord and Miller are always fairly faithful to basic storytelling rules like narrative consistency and emotional through-lines. In “The Lego Movie,” Chris Pratt’s Emmet thinks he’s a nobody who learns that he has value, too. Sure, that’s a classic hero’s journey, but it’s also a clever riff on the corporatization of everything (including big Hollywood studios making movies based on lucrative brands) and the dehumanization we experience every day. Maybe Barbie isn’t the only toy who thinks about dying.