In the year 2014, The Lego Movie was released. Everyone feared it would be nothing but a cash-grab film, merely made to sell toys. While the film DID sell a lot of Legos, it also had one of the best-written screenplays for an animated film in quite some time. Earlier this year, one of the key characters of that film was spun off into his own movie: The Lego Batman Movie. Not only did it turn out to be just as well-written as the first Lego film, but it was also widely considered to be one of the best Batman films ever made. With the success of these two films and the announcement of more on the way, a hit Cinematic Universe was officially born. This week saw the release of the third part of that universe – The Lego Ninjago Movie.
Based on the hit series of Lego toys (and not, it should be noted, the hit Cartoon Network TV series of almost the same name), The Lego Ninjago Movie stars Jackie Chan as both curio shop owner Mr. Liu and ninja-warrior Master Wu. Mr. Liu is the bookend/narrator of our tale, which focuses on a young teen named Lloyd (Dave Franco). Lloyd is hated by everyone in the city of Ninjago because of who his father is.
His father is Garmadon (Justin Theroux) – an evil ninja warlord, who lives in a volcano lair outside of the city and is hell-bent on taking over Ninjago for himself. Garamond’s three obsessions are destruction, being the life of the party and using sharks as weapons. If his ideas fail, he vents his frustrations by firing his staff… out of the top of his volcano lair. On top of all of his other evil deeds, Garamond is also a dead-beat dad. Indeed, Garamond is so neglectful that when he calls Lloyd on his birthday, it is only because he accidentally butt-dialed him.
Because of his father’s destructive ways, Lloyd has formed a secret society of ninja warriors with Master Wu to help protect Ninjago City and its’ citizens with giant robots. Through a number of unfortunate events, Lloyd accidentally makes things go from bad to worse when he unleashes an ancient force of evil upon the city of Ninjago. This sends our intrepid crew of ninjas on a quest for a powerful weapon that can stop the ancient evil and Garmadon as well.
In short, the film tells the typical tale of The Hero’s Journey, teaching the usual lessons about self-discovery, in a family-friendly way. What sets The Lego Ninjago Movie apart, however, is how much fun it has in telling its simple story. For instance, the ninja’s vehicles are clear parodies/tributes to the Zords of the classic Power Rangers.
Despite this sense of fun, The Lego Ninjago Movie does have a few minor flaws. For example, the film borrows from Star Wars. A lot. Even allowing for the fact that both franchises ultimately draw off the same mythological archetypes once outlined by Joseph Campbell, there are a lot of plot elements that were clearly lifted directly from Star Wars. It would have been nice to see Ninjago vary its pop-culture references instead of just focusing on one franchise.
On that note, in casting Jackie Chan in this movie, The Lego Ninjago Movie loses a golden opportunity to reference his films and Hong Kong action cinema in general. Given the setting, this would have worked perfectly. There is one moment that pokes fun at Kung Fu movies, but it would have been enjoyable to see more material based on that genre, particularity since The Lego Movies to date have been excellent at executing parodies.
With the exception of the robot ninja-warrior Cole (voiced by Fred Armisen. who steals every scene he is in), the other ninja warriors besides Lloyd do not really get a chance to develop beyond their one- dimensional personalities. When you cast a couple of current comedy greats like Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Pena, Zach Woods and Abbi Jacobson, one would hope they would get some meatier material to work with. Alas, the film focuses on Master Wu, Lloyd and Garamond and there’s not nearly enough funny business for the other ninjas.
Despite the flaws, The Lego Ninjago Movie is still an enjoyable experience. While it is not as strong as the past two Lego movies, it still possesses the same sense of charm and humor. Anyone who goes in expecting this to be as witty as the past two films will be let down. However, if you go in just expecting a fluffy, fun popcorn getaway from all the negative news in this world, you will enjoy yourself.