Teenage Mutant Ninja Legos
The Lego Ninjago Movie is directed by Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan and stars the voices of Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Fred Armisen, Abbi Jacobson, Olivia Munn, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Pena, Zach Woods, and Jackie Chan.
Warner Bros. decided that 2017 was the year to give us not one, but two Lego movie spinoffs, the first being The Lego Batman Movie and then The Lego Ninjago Movie. Understandably, the idea was to cash in on the mega-hype brought in by the unexpected smash hit that was The Lego Movie in 2014, and since there are no bounds to ideas that The Lego Group can snatch up and pin down long enough in order to make a viable line of toy products, spin offs featuring other Lego-inspired versions of well-established characters were inevitable. Lego Batman was a hit not just because it had great humor and cheeky affection for the Caped Crusader, but because Batman has been such a recognizable fixture in American pop culture that you didn't have to be all that familiar with Legos to appreciate that movie. The Lego Ninjago Movie, on the other hand, had the challenge of scoring big at the box office with a September 2017 release when Lego Batman wasn't that far from mind. In addition, you had the challenge of being essentially another Lego superhero movie, this one dressed up like a Lego version of the Power Rangers. Despite these hurdles, The Lego Ninjago Movie still works as an entertaining animated martial arts comedy, although it's next to near impossible to deny that diminishing returns are playing a factor here.
The story of Lego Ninjago focuses on sixteen year old teenager Lloyd Garmadon (Franco). He is the son of the evil Lord Garmadon (Theroux), who is trying to take over the city of Ninjago. Each of his plans, however, are thwarted by the Ninjas, a secret group that operate mechs whenever the city is under attack. Unbeknowst to Lord Garmadon, Lloyd acts as the leader of the Ninjas. Lloyd is angry with his father, however: he was never around while Lloyd was growing up and he treats Lloyd like he doesn't even exist. While Garmadon is planning another invasion, Lloyd meets with his group's master, Wu (Chan), who mentions an Ultimate Weapon that must not fall into the wrong hands. During Garmadon's next attack, Lloyd steals the Ultimate Weapon, which is revealed to be a laser pointer that calls forth a live-action cat that begins to wreck Ninjago. Wu mentions to Lloyd and the rest of the Ninjas that in order to save the city from the cat, they must find the Ultimate, Ultimate Weapon.
I'll admit: I started howling with laughter the first time I saw this movie about a year ago and saw the cat come on screen. While the cat is only a small portion of what really matters to the plot, I applaud The Lego Ninjago Movie for keeping intact a key trait of the conflicts for all these Lego movies: turn the conflict on its head and make it look completely ridiculous. The only bit of foreshadowing we get in regards to this cat showing up is in the live-action opening scene in which we see a young boy walk into a relic shop and meet with the owner (Jackie Chan), who points out his sleeping cat and calls it a monster. The laser pointer reveal is totally out of the blue, and how can you not laugh knowing that a pet is likely to chase and bite at any toy that moves and/or make noise?
- The Lego Ninjago Movie is unabashedly silly with its story and dialogue, and it nails enough jokes that I feel safe recommending it for a good laugh or two. Lord Garmadon is pretty funny here and there, sharing a lot of Lego Batman's narcissism, which comes in at just the right amount that it never descends into a territory of annoyance. Of course, the plot does not allow Garmadon even the chance to become annoying, because Lloyd's daddy issues means that Garmadon is eventually going to have to shed his egocentric hide and seriously embrace his role as a father. The film's funniest character by far, however, is the robotic Ice Ninja, Zane (Zach Woods), bringing a deadpan sense of humor that lines up well with everyone else's goofy antics. The film is structured in a way that it allows itself so many opportunities to either say something funny or do something funny, and more often than not, there is a laugh to be had.
- On the flip side, where some of the humor doesn't fly, is the movie's tendency to drag out jokes and moments far longer than necessary. There is one scene where Garmadon starts to make the impression that he is about to tell a sob story for when Lloyd was born, and several times, we go through the joke that Garmadon says someone else's name in place of Lloyd's, despite the fact that everyone and his brother got what the joke was halfway through. This problem is also present in more serious conversations when Lloyd is having a heart to heart with his dad, hammering home the emotional life lessons that we can easily decipher well before the conversation is over. Charlie Bean doesn't seem to fully believe his audiences are intelligent and fully capable of figuring out the jokes and messages on their own, so he has to prolong them just so no one gets confused. Would anyone get confused though? This is a movie about teenage Lego characters who dress up and fight like ninjas. I've seen more complexity in a six minute animated short.
But all in all, The Lego Ninjago Movie is enjoyable fun from start to finish, offering up lots of bright, quick-moving action and funny quips that are very much in the spirit of what this Lego movie franchise has been all about. Unfortunately, the action and jokes aren't as fresh or memorable as the action and jokes in The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie, largely because Warner Bros. didn't allow people enough time to fully digest a second movie with Lego characters, making the bizarre business decision to release The Lego Ninjago Movie just seven months after Lego Batman was released. I might have a more unpopular opinion in saying that I enjoyed the movie and got a kick out of it, but I agree it might have been better to have saved this movie until, say, some time in 2018. We all love some animated silliness every now and then. We just prefer not to get it all at the same time.
Recommend? If you loved and adored The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie, then yes. Otherwise, it's something to watch if you're bored on the weekend.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: