The LEGO films thus far are 2 for 2, with both The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Batman Movie being wonderful surprises with a ton of depth and a lot of genuine love. The Lords of the Brick are back at it for a third film and this time have the difficult task of selling one of their lesser-known children’s show properties with The LEGO Ninjago Movie.
The film’s largest hurdle is to introduce audiences to a massive amount of characters all while trying to re-establish a world getting a soft reboot – although there are some loving callbacks to the animated series for that smaller demographic of young fans. After an undeniably cute live-action opening, The LEGO Ninjago Movie dives full-on into the Ninjago world with blinding speed and eye-melting visuals.
The story frantically introduces all six color coded ninjas (!) while they are in battle protecting the city from an attack from their arch-nemesis Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux), whom also happens to be Ninjago leader Jay’s father, in a sequence every bit as frenetic as the opening of The LEGO Batman Movie, but without the decades of history and love to pull from.
The team is well into their career as the protectors of Ninjago City, so instead of starting the film as an origin story, the film quickly shuffles most of the ninja into the background in favor of Lloyd (Dave Franco), the only somewhat developed character. This is a detriment to the talented actors voicing the supporting cast, reducing them to nothing more than one-note jokes and window dressing.
Every LEGO movie makes sure to inject some heart by centering the story with ideals of family and friends, and The LEGO Ninjago Movie is all about Lloyd and his father Lord Garmadon. Theroux is quite hilarious as the aloof father bent on conquering Ninjago City and Franco was far more capable in the lead voice role than I gave him credit for going into the film.
Sadly, the film focuses solely on their ridiculous, unrelatable relationship for the entire length of the film and the jokes as well as the story wear dreadfully thin, effectively dragging down a good portion of the movie and short-changing other characters who should have had more screen time.
But it’s not all bad news, as the film is stunningly animated and explodes off the screen with jaw-dropping color and stellar LEGO designs. Jackie Chan is also really fun casting as Master Wu and the film definitely takes advantage of their opportunity to use the martial arts film legend in more ways than one. Weirdly enough, despite usually not having much trouble understanding Chan’s broken English in movies, I found myself not having any idea what the character said multiple times during this film. Could those really have been the best takes they got from Chan in the recording studio?
Additionally, while the humor has more misses than normal for a LEGO movie, there are quite a few truly witty and funny moments and actors like Kumail Nunjiani as blue ninja Jay and Zach Woods as the white ninja Zane, make the most of the dialogue given in their mostly one-note characters. The use of the live action cat, dubbed Meowthra, is used for all it’s worth, but is a consistently hilarious gag.
Kids will no doubt eat up the “ninja” action full of big fights, explosions and giant robot mechs in the colorful non-stop action of the film – although for a movie about super-powered ninjas, the characters don’t do much of anything ninja-like and are closer to Power Rangers or Voltron than stealth martial artists.
The LEGO Ninjago Movie is certainly not a failure and as mentioned before, the young ones are going to love every second of this hyper, sugar rush of a film, but those more mature audience members will find this one lacking in quite a few areas when compared to the greatness of the previous two LEGO films.