Sunday, September 24, 2017

The LEGO Ninjago Movie

For years LEGO has released video games, television shows, and straight-to-video movies centered around LEGO characters. The successes of The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Batman Movie at the box office seem to have emboldened the company to try their hands at more theatrical releases. Maybe they should have stopped with Batman.

For those unfamiliar, Ninjago is a LEGO line centered around a group of young ninja heroes protecting the realm of Ninjago and fighting off various enemies including the brother of their instructor Sensei Wu (Jackie Chan), the evil Garmadon (Justin Theroux).

There are several changes to the early seasons of the Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu which introduced these characters. Lloyd (Dave Franco), the youngest of the group and son of their arch-nemesis, has been aged to fit more closely with his peers. Meanwhile the rest of the ninjas have all be de-aged to put the entire group in high school. Everyone has also become far less ninja-like with none of our heroes having mastered the elements tied to their powers (something the show dealt with seven or so seasons ago).

Without their powers and far less adept at being ninjas, the heroes rely far more heavily on battle robots to save the city from Garmadon's repeated invasions. Wanting to put a stop to his father's evil plans once and for all, Lloyd unleashes the ultimate weapon (one of the movie's better moments) and must work with his friends to repair the damage done to Ninjago City over the rest of the movie in which he'll also have his first opportunity at some father/son bonding and learn more about the events which split his family.

Along with Wu and Lloyd the rest of our heroes (none of whom are voiced by the TV actors) include the android Zane (Zach Woods), the nondescript Cole (Fred Armisen) and Kai (Michael Peña), the only-somewhat-cowardly Jay (Kumail Nanjiani), and the female Nya (Abbi Jacobson). While plenty of time is devoted to Lloyd's character, his friends become not much more than one-note sidekicks who, other than the color of their costumes, are nearly impossible to tell apart.

It's a good thing LEGO makes some pretty cool Ninjago LEGO sets because any damage this lackluster feature could do to the brand should be minimal (just like the effort put into the plot). The film isn't a total waste, we do get to see another LEGO world (although the lack of good shots of the city while not under attack is disappointing). The film has a good moral (as hamfistedly as it's delivered), and ultimate weapon definitely provides its share of entertainment. While well-meaning, the opening and closing shots of Jackie Chan telling the story to a young boy add nothing to the story and, like so much of the film, are filler for a movie that has no business being 101 minutes long.

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