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Movie Review: The LEGO Ninjago Movie
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The LEGO Ninjago Movie trailer header

The LEGO Ninjago Movie
Director: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan
Screenwriter: Bob Logan, Paul Fisher, William Wheeler, Tom Wheeler, Jared Stern, John Whittington
Cast: Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Fred Armisen, Abbi Jacobson, Olivia Munn, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Peña, Zach Woods, Jackie Chan
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Rated PG | 101 Minutes
Release Date: September 22, 2017

The LEGO Movie franchise has proven that if you build it, they will come. Coming off of two widely successful films, The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Batman Movie, comes The LEGO Ninjago Movie – based off their Ninjago LEGO toyline. While the film is still set in the same LEGO world and has the same LEGO quirks – the self deprecating humor and pop culture nods – the film doesn’t pack the same punch as its predecessors. Which is ironic, because this is the most action-packed LEGO movie of them all. It’s filled with ninja action, mechs, and so much more. But a lackluster story that seems to be at odds with itself makes The LEGO Ninjago Movie the weakest of the three films. My full review below.

Set in the city of Ninjago, Lloyd Garmadon (voice of Dave Franco) is the Green Ninja, the leader of a secret ninja force. Unfortunately, he is also the son of the evil Lord Garmadon (voice of Justin Theroux), who tries to take over the city time and time again only to be thwarted by Lloyd, who is looking for some sense of acknowledgement from his dad, who appears to disown him every chance he gets.

As Lloyd tries to get over some serious daddy issues, Lord Garmadon hatches a plan so nefarious that it forces his son to use an ultimate weapon that he is not ready for. As a result of his actions, Lloyd unleashes a new more powerful threat and it puts a strain on his relationship with the team. Not to mention it also makes the city hate Lloyd even more than they already did.

Part of what makes LEGO Ninjago so much fun is Jackie Chan‘s energy. It’s pretty well established that the world of LEGO takes place on the human plane. Where kids and adults can enjoy the brick building toys, and in Ninjago, we see that Chan uses one of those pieces to tell a story about “looking at things from another point of view.” That infectious energy transfers well to Master Wu (also Chan), the wise LEGO minifigure who teaches the secret ninja force and also happens to be Lord Garmadon’s brother. So for those who may be too young to watch some of the Jackie Chan greats, LEGO Ninjago Movie may be a nice way to start off. You still get to see Chan’s stunt work in action. It’s silly, out of this world, and most importantly, it’s fun, both in the real world and in the LEGO universe.

Unfortunately, a lot of the story suffers due to the fact that it just rehashes a lot of what The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Batman Movie have already done. One half of it is like the first film, which tells you to never sell yourself short, the other half of it borrows from LEGO Batman in way that you should try to look at things from a different point of view. Another component is that you should be yourself. But it’s never really clear what this movie is trying to say because a lot of those themes are at war with themselves.

Slapping on a few references to old school kung-fu movies makes the experience all the more dizzying because it feels out of place. I’m not even sure how it adds to the film other than making a few nods to the fact that this ninja movie is inspired by the kung-fu classics. And even the humor doesn’t quite stick the landing.

A lot of the jokes fall flat and feel like they are geared towards a much younger audience, whereas LEGO Movie worked because it had a fine mix of kid and adult-friendly humor, and LEGO Batman was filled with Batman references spanning all generations. But there is nothing memorable about LEGO Ninjago; if there was, it probably just went over my head.

That being said, Theroux makes the film just a little bit more tolerable thanks to the energy that he brings. It’s wildly funny, if not on the same level as Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis. The character knows he’s a villain and hatches all sorts of schemes, some of which are more outrageous than the last. I mean, shooting sharks out of a cannon — how awesome is that?

But I can’t say the same for the supporting voice cast, which consists of Olivia Munn, Fred Armisen, Abbi Jacobson, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Peña, and Zach Woods. Not that they gave bad performances, but it’s just that their characters offer so little to the story and are practically interchangeable. I couldn’t even remember their characters’ names because other than the fact that they had different elemental powers, the characters’ personalities are so one-dimensional and monochromatic – which is ironic since it takes place in a world as dynamic as LEGO.

And there is very little consequence to Lloyd’s actions. He is already disliked by the entire city, and when he unleashes that ultimate weapon, the city goes from general dislike to hate. But we don’t really get to see the ramifications of his actions. And the team hates him? That is to be expected. Of course, the team predictably rallies together.

Luckily there are a few mechs to grab our attention. But even that is short-lived. At least they look cool shooting lasers and missiles, and whatnot. And each mech has its own distinct style to match the elements of its pilot: fire, water, ice, earth, lighting. Again, we see so little of that because the film is so focused on Lloyd’s daddy issues that the supporting cast is relegated to spewing out weak one-liners.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie does have its entertaining moments, but overall, its flaws are what make it one of the weakest LEGO movies. Like a lot of LEGOs, the pieces are all there and building it is half the fun, but LEGO Ninjago feels like a set you didn’t want to have in the first place and just built because you had nothing better to do.

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