The LEGO Ninjago Movie (2017)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
For those who enjoyed The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Batman Movie, this installment of LEGO movies offers much of the same rapid-fire, breakneck tempo of jokes, visual puns, and well-intentioned messages.
The film looks terrific, the animation continuing to improve and the film's editing and on screen presentation is top notch.
Say what you will about the films in totality, but these LEGO movies are creative, inventive, and painstakingly brought to the screen. Nothing really looks or feels like them.
Like a dinner guest or birthday party attendee who stays a little bit too long, The LEGO Ninjago Movie runs out of steam long before the credits arrive.
Deviates considerably from the tone and feel of the Ninjago television series, which deals with more serious conflict and storylines. This is really the Ninjago characters tossed into a formula that doesn't really suit them all that well.
Great comedic talent is wasted here, as the film focuses largely on two characters leaving a number of terrific actors relegated to a couple of scenes here and there.
At one time, "Everything (Was) Awesome!!!"
Remember that? The genius 2-minute earworm of a song that The Lonely Island and Tegan & Sara took all the way to the Oscars as an Original Song nominee? Embedded within 2014's The LEGO Movie, the beauty of framing that film around an absurd, empty, but undeniably catchy pop song is that the movie established a pace and a rhythm for not just the film, but also the world these LEGO characters inhabit.
If The LEGO Movie established rhythm among the unrelenting barrage of comedic puns, jokes, one-liners, and visual sight gags, there was also a fearlessness about the whole movie that was absolutely invigorating. Voiceover cameos and LEGO-inspired creations of dozens of famous people carried the day.
Elements of that formula exist in February 2017's spin-off The LEGO Batman Movie. Will Arnett grumbles his way through an exaggerated, cocky Batman persona, and a Superhero/Comic Book character battle royale comprises much of the plot. A little long for what it was, there are still a considerable number of smiles, chuckles, and laughs to be found there.
And now we have The LEGO Ninjago Movie, directors Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan adopt the formula that has worked in the past and run smack dab into something of a brick wall. The energy is ample, but the film, again throwing lots of things at the wall to see what sticks, is little more than a paint-by-numbers tale of father-and-son discord and reconciliation.
Lloyd (Dave Franco) is a teenager in the land of Ninjago, raised by a single mom (Olivia Munn), and part of a faction of friends who each possess a secret power. Daily, they are attacked by Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux) and his henchmen. One problem: Garmadon is Lloyd's father and revels in his ability to terrorize the residents of Ninjago. Lloyd and his friends battle them, often resulting in Garmadon retreating and rallying to fight another day.
Narcissistic and self-obsessed, Lord Garmadon doesn't know his own son's name, calling him La-Loyd, and mistakenly calls him one morning, not realizing it's the boy's 16th birthday. Complicating matters, Lloyd is ridiculed and mocked routinely for being the evil Lord's son by many of his classmates.
I mean, alright, sure, but Lloyd does has five other ninja-skilled friends he hangs with. Having five additional friends is not really a common trait for kids who are mocked and bullied every day in school.
But I digress.
Buoyed by nine different individuals credited on the screenplay (NINE!?), the movie stumbles around trying to recreate the magic of the prior movies. The returns are middling at best, though one villain who arrives midway through the film is hilarious, and rather cleverly crashes the real world into the plastic and synthetic world these characters inhabit.
Frustratingly, the movie employs a strong ensemble of talented performers and relegates them to minimal, or nominal, screen time, with limited character development and dialogue. Since the movie is primarily tied to the story of Lloyd and his megalomaniac father, we do have room for Jackie Chan as Master Wu, a mentor to the teenage ninjas, and, in human form, a wise old man who tells a young child the story we will see play out over the duration of the movie. Beyond those three characters, there really isn't much room for anyone else.
And so Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Pena, Abbi Jacobson, Zach Woods, and Fred Armisen may round out an impressive list of ninjas, but because the movie has no interest in letting these characters have space to mean anything, you wonder if they were hired on simply for name-on-poster recognition, as opposed to contributing anything memorable or significant.
Though this may all feel like a harsh critique, there are stretches where the film is quite fun. At the very least, with so many jokes coming at you, some things are going to land. Visually, a LEGO movie has never looked better, with the animation sleek and sharp, the visual effects impressive, and the set design of the Ninjago world intricate and impressive.
However, that begs the question: Have you ever watched one of the LEGO movies for great production design? Probably not. The beauty of these LEGO movies is that it allows an opportunity for the kids of all ages, who have played with LEGOs, and created imaginary stories and scenarios with them, to try and experience that feeling of seeing those ideas come to life.
There was a youthful enthusiasm and clumsy innocence about the first LEGO Movie that was irresistible and engaging, while the LEGO Batman Movie skewed towards teens and Millennials, who could appreciate a good superhero spoof.
Here, we have a movie that feels overthought, repetitive, and forgettable. Ideas are recycled - the arrogant Batman is replaced by Garmadon, Emmet from The LEGO Movie could easily be a slightly older version of Lloyd, and "Everything Is Awesome!!!" is replaced by LEGO Michael Strahan and LEGO Robin Roberts hosting an obnoxious daily morning talk show.
Busy, amusing, fun at times, and dragging in key moments, The LEGO Ninjago Movie signifies an investment experiencing diminished returns. With a sequel to The LEGO Movie set for 2019 and a spin-off project, The Billion Brick Race, tentatively on the docket the same year, maybe this is as good a time as any to pull out the bin, dump the plastic blocks into it, put a lid on it, and shelve all of this for awhile.
We can all take a breath together and hope to be dazzled all over again, believing that with this franchise, and a little bit of time away, everything could indeed be awesome again.
CAST & CREW
Starring the Voices of: Dave Franco, Jackie Chan, Justin Theroux, Olivia Munn, Fred Armisen, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Pena, Abbi Jacobson, Zach Woods, Ali Wong, David Burrows, Randall Park, Chris Hardwick, Michael Strahan, Robin Roberts, Constance Wu.
Director: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan
Written by: Bob Logan, Paul Fisher, William Wheeler, Tom Wheeler, Jared Stern, John Whittington (screenplay); Hilary Winston, Bob Logan, Paul Fisher, William Wheeler, Tom Wheeler, Dan Hageman, Kevin Hageman (story)
Based on the LEGO Ninjago toy line by The LEGO Group
Release Date: September 22, 2017