UK Release Date: 13th October 2017
Runtime: 101 minutes
Director: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan
Writer: Bob Logan, Paul Fisher, William Wheeler, Tom Wheeler, Jared Stern, John Whittington
Starring: Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Jackie Chan, Olivia Munn, Michael Peña, Kumail Nanjiani, Abbi Jacobson, Zach Woods, Fred Armisen
Synopsis: The son of a villain tries to find his place as part of the team of superheroes whose job is to thwart the villain’s attempts to attack the city.
When we first saw The Lego Movie, it was an incredibly pleasant surprise. Something everyone had assumed would be a naked, cynical ploy to sell toys was actually a witty, subversive animated movie with a rich vein of social commentary, largely thanks to the unique comedy stylings of directing duo Lord and Miller. That same sense of silliness and fun continued to spin-off successor The Lego Batman Movie earlier this year, forming the most shocking cinematic universe in Hollywood. Alas, the bubble was always going to burst. It’s with that sobering thought in mind that we welcome The Lego Ninjago Movie in all of its cynical, unimaginative glory.
Lloyd (Dave Franco) is a high school kid shunned by his peers because his father is the evil Garmadon (Justin Theroux), who regularly attempts to take over the land of Ninjago. Complicating matters further, he’s also the leader of the group of undercover ninjas tasked with thwarting Garmadon’s schemes, led by mentor figure Master Wu (Jackie Chan). Among the ninjas are hotheaded Kai (Michael Peña), nervous Jay (Kumail Nanjiani), ice cool Nya (Abbi Jacobson), music-loving Cole (Fred Armisen) and bizarre robot Zane (Zach Woods). When one of the ninjas unleashes an ‘ultimate weapon’, the team must pull together to save the world.
The problems with The Lego Ninjago Movie begin with its central concept, which is solely focused on the Ninjago range of toys. Robbed of the bonkers crossover potential that gave the other two films their best moments, this is a little more pedestrian and predictable, following the same sort of ‘Chosen One’ narrative that Lord and Miller’s film so brutally lampooned. The self-referential dialogue here feels forced, self-consciously quirky and entirely lacking in innovation.
More than any other Lego-themed film to date, Ninjago palpably feels like a marketing exercise. It features dozens of visually dull scenes of Lego figures in enormous mecha-figures fighting other enormous mecha-figures, all of which are currently flooding your nearest branch of Toys R Us for a reasonable price. The entire film is calibrated to show off how cool these robotic monsters are, like a bargain basement version of the third act of the Power Rangers reboot. Ninjago is a big deal for kids already, but the film doesn’t give everyone else any reason to care.
There’s fun to be had with the voice performances, thanks to some witty interplay between an earnest Dave Franco and Justin Theroux, even if the latter is essentially a carbon copy of Will Ferrell‘s President Business from The Lego Movie. The daddy issues plot, meanwhile, was executed better in The Lego Batman Movie – and even then it felt trite. Elsewhere, no one makes an impact. The ninjas are pretty much interchangeable and Jackie Chan is surprisingly flat both as Master Wu and as a mysterious shop owner in a clunky live action framing device.
The Lego Ninjago Movie is a sad indictment of a studio and toy company who have smelled success and chosen to strike ad nauseam while the iron is at least lukewarm. This is a film designed simply to get the Ninjago range in front of as many children as possible, in the hope they will immediately beg their parents for construction sets, lunchboxes, stuffed toys and PlayStation games. All of the satire and invention of the other films in this franchise feels like it ebbed away a lifetime ago.
Pop or Poop?
Innovation and wit are both in short supply in The Lego Ninjago Movie, which marks a real downturn for the surprisingly successful Lego universe. Franco and Theroux give decent voice performances, but the script doesn’t allow their characters much depth. It feels like a cynical exercise in flogging toys. For every little giggle, there’s an entire scene of eye-rolling tedium. Everything is unequivocally not awesome.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.