The Lego Ninjago Movie (USA / Denmark, G, 101 mins)
Directed by Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan. Starring Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Jackie Chan, Fred Armisen, Michael Pena, Kumail Janjiani, Olivia Munn.
In the Lego town of Ninjago, the forces of evil are kept at bay by mystical ninjas and their souped-up vehicles. Teenager Lloyd (Dave Franco) is the leader, but he’s the butt of jokes at school. The arch nemesis of Ninjago is one Garmadon (Justin Theroux), otherwise known as Lloyd’s estranged father. This doesn’t sit well with Lloyd, as Garmadon frequently invades the town to cause chaos and destruction. He also exerts his authority and his attempt to find the ultimate weapon. Or maybe the ultimate ultimate weapon. However, an attack by a giant creature (i.e. a cat) results in some bonding between Lloyd and his father, guided along by the all-knowing Master Wu (Jackie Chan)…
The third Lego movie out of the Warner Bros gate, the second this year, is based not on superheroes but an Asian-influenced line of the toy. It follows along the template set by its predecessors – irreverent humour, occasional live action sequences and a handmade feel given a Hollywood animation sheen. If you enjoyed the other two films, then you’ll probably enjoy this one too. However, there’s a definite feeling that Ninjago is a lesser Lego property and that’s reflected in the script.
Characters with daddy issues are familiar in superhero films, so there’s an attempt to make the ninjas superheroes – the only ones who can defeat Garmadon. The script riffs a lot on Star Wars and the Luke / Darth Vader relationship. Beneath all that destructive instinct is really a villain who might want to be saved. So, nothing new in the father / son dynamic. It’s a bit too familiar, even close to the Lord Business of the first Lego movie. But there’s some fun and more than a few laughs to be had here, watching Garmadon and Lloyd (or Le-Loyd as Garmadon calls him) argue about parenting skills while trying to save the world of Ninjago.
Jackie Chan bookends the film with live action sequences as a storyteller, which gives it a more fanciful touch than a father and son playing Lego. The voice cast is pretty good too, with Theroux going full blast with his over-the-top villain. This being a Lego movie, that’s entirely appropriate of course. While the jokes are decent, they’re not as sharp or as observed as in the previous films. The laugh-o-meter only goes so far with this one, possibly due to the extensive list of writers and directors involved. The Lego Ninjago Movie will provide a Lego fix until The Lego Movie sequel comes out in 2019. Despite it being an entertaining film, this reviewer would have preferred if they had put Ninjago on the backburner until later and fast-tracked that sequel instead. Not quite awesome.