This third Lego movie marks the franchise’s first attempt to generate internal value. While both prior films had elements of originality they were both heavily populated other pop culture characters and elements thanks to Lego’s many licences (...mostly Batman). It’s a bold move to hope their current wave of popularity can carry them towards making one of their own lesser known brands into a big screen commodity. It would have been a great one too if its directors (all 3 of them) could only follow the instructions left by Phil Lord and Chris Miller. Instead what we have here is a lot of good parts that don’t look as good the way they have been thrown together. It’s a laugh and enjoyable viewing but everything is not awesome this time around.
The Lego city of Ninjago is under attack by Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux – The Leftovers). The only hope of stopping him is a secret ninja force led by Garmadon’s son, Lloyd (Dave Franco – Now You See Me).... but are they a match for the ultimate weapon?
“Lego Power Rangers”.... that’s the film. A bunch of high school kids living secret lives as martial arts gifted superheroes with gigantic robot mechs/”definitely not Zords” at their disposal. It carries a lot of the problems people criticised the recent Rangers reboot for too. Its central band of power ninjas are lacking any character beyond a single overused trait; the nervous one, the one that says “brah” all the time, the one that’s pretending not to be a robot.... ok, that last one is quite fun but the rest become nothing more than single note running gags. It makes it really difficult care about them. Worst of all is lead character Lloyd. While he has a bit more depth than the rest of his crew courtesy of evil warlord father/heroic ninja son relationship, as a protagonist he’s weaker than a wet spaghetti bridge. Whether by comparison to Emmet and Batman before him or just to kids/animated films in general he’s a dull and often annoying protagonist. Even more surprising is that Ninjago seems to forget its Lego movie. There’s minimal incorporation the wall breaking troupes that make the franchise work like characters master building their way out of situations or the incorporation of real world objects to imply things are taking place in someone’s gigantic model play set. The bits that are featured aren’t great either. You’ve problem seen a cat in the trailers. While cute, fluffy and initially funny it appears too early and massively overstays its welcome (imagine if Team America’s “panthers” were in half of the movie... the gag would get old). While the book ending real world scenes with Jackie Chan (who also voices the mentor Master Wu) are a nice touch this all feels like a film/script that started life as a different project and has been salvaged into a Lego based film rather than being built for purpose.
Thankfully Ninjago did learn some key lessons from its masters by building the film a central emotional story that forms a parody on certain film clichés. Just like Lego Batman was at heart a Batman/Joker relationship drama, Ninjago becomes an absent father/son bonding story to back drop of a martial arts fantasy. It produces all the film’s best comedy material over having Garmadon clueless to his son’s paternal needs before working in bonding material to less likely situations. It also develops into stronger emotional material than expected as the story progresses to the point of reveal, more akin to the father/son scenes of The Lego Movie. Visually, this film is 100% up to its franchise standards. The animation and vastly detailed Ninjago city scenes look more spectacular than a finished Lego Death Star and the mech battling actions sequences are some of the best Lego footage to date. Whatever faults this film has in story or there will still be something on screen for you to enjoy. I also liked the visual presentation of Garmadon and his army from the over use of shark theming to his fish costumed lackies. Speaking of the 4 armed, fire crying black warlord, Garmadon is hands down the best part of the film. Justin Theroux gives him character than the rest of the cast combined and while not every gag lands (his running “La-Loyd” pronunciation gets old quick) his every scene finds something to make you smile.
In a year of two Lego movies this will be remembered as, “the other one” and carries less adult appeal than its predecessors. While being great half term fodder for parents looking to occupy their kids for an afternoon; it’s blood in the water for the Lego franchise. Ninjago is a harsh reminder to the Master Builders that their films, like their product, do not make themselves.
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