Go go Lego knockoffs.
The Lego Ninjago Movie (2017) is an animated action comedy directed by Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan. It stars Dave Franco as Lloyd – son of evil warlord Garmadon (Justin Theroux) and alter ego of the Green Ninja, defender of Ninjago with fellow ninjas Cole, (Fred Armisen), Jay (Kumail Nanjiani), Kai (Michael Peña), Nya (Abbi Jacobson) and Zane (Zach Woods). However, on his 16th birthday, with the assistance of Master Yu (Jackie Chan) he must go on a quest to undo a mistake he makes while also reconciling with his evil father.
The third of the unofficial ‘Lego Cinematic Universe’, Lego Ninjago follows close on the heels of this year’s excellent Lego Batman Movie and sees the brand venturing into one of their original properties of Ninjago. With a TV show to their name and clearly a long line of successful products (even if they are basically just a Power Rangers knockoff), this makes sense for their feature film debut. But did it succeed? Well… it was better than the Power Rangers reboot?
The general plot has a lot of world-building and exposition that it needs to get it, which it does in a clunky if entertaining opening act. However, after that is the usual cheery self-aware surprisingly poignant Lego adventure that the brand has established for itself. However, at this point the formula is beginning to wear thin. The seams have begun to show and it makes the movie feel a little arbitrary and rushed, which isn’t helped by the narrative itself being incredibly loose. If the movie has a choice between good plotting and a funny joke, its going to choose the joke 80% of the time which makes for an entertaining movie but an uneven narrative.
But entertaining it is. Much like Lego Batman before it, the writers here have done a great job imitating Lord and Miller’s brand of humour from the original. While the joke hit-rate is much lower than both other movies, there’s so many of them that even if you don’t laugh at one you’re bound to laugh at another moments later. It also works well as a parody send-up of both Power Rangers and classic martial arts movies. As much as I joke about how similar it is to the Power Rangers, its very clearly aware if its influence and the movie’s very loose definition of the word ‘ninja’ is part of the some of the films biggest laughs. Also worth mentioning that there’s plenty for people of all ages to enjoy. While the movie does skew younger, references as extreme as Kill Bill means there’s still plenty for parents here too (and everyone in between).
Much like all other Lego movies, Lego Ninjago also boasts a rather impressive voice cast. Lead Dave Franco is fine, but its the supporting voices he’s surrounded with that get the real laughs. While hilarious people like Peña, Nanjiani and the rest of the ninjas don’t get much chance to shine, both Jackie Chan and Justin Theroux are fantastic. Chan gets to flex comedic muscles I haven’t seen in a while, and it pays off surprisingly well. Theroux on the other hand basically steals the movie. His portrayal of Garmadon is both self-aware and completely naive about how evil he is and how he affects the world around him, and almost every single successful laugh in the movie comes from his hammy yet sincere delivery. Stand down Will Arnett, we have a new lego voice actor crown.
The Lego Ninjago movie is a funny, entertaining ride but it fails to achieve anywhere near the heights of both its predecessors. Not only has the formula begun to wear thin, but it seems to hint that the series can no longer stay on this trajectory without serious rebuilding (couldn’t resist) its approach. They may go ninja go, but they still don’t stay ninja stay long enough to make an impression.
General Audiences: Recommended
Film Buffs: Meh