THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE
Director : Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan
Cast : Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Jackie Chan, Abbi Jacobson, Kumail Nanjiani, Zach Woods, Michael Peña, Fred Armisen, Olivia Munn
Genre : Animation/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 41m
Opens : 28 September 2017
Rating : PG
After taking a journey to Gotham City in The Lego Batman Movie, this second spin-off of The Lego Movie whisks audiences to Ninjago. This mythical realm, which incorporates elements of Feudal Japan with modern metropolises like Hong Kong, is constantly under threat of invasion by the evil Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux). As a result, Garmadon’s son Lloyd (Dave Franco) is shunned by the citizens of Ninjago. He finds acceptance in his mother Koko (Olivia Munn), as well as his friends Kai (Michael Peña), Jay (Kumail Nanjiani), Nya (Abbi Jacobson), Zane (Zach Woods) and Cole (Fred Armisen). Lloyd and his friends have secret double lives as ninjas who operate giant mecha and protect Ninjago City from Garmadon’s attacks, under the tutelage of Lloyd’s uncle, the wise Master Wu (Jackie Chan). Lloyd is torn between his duty to defeat Garmadon’s troops and his desire for a normal, loving relationship with his estranged father, with the fate of the city and Lloyd’s bond with his friends at stake.
Lego’s Ninjago theme is one of its more successful product lines in recent years, running since 2011 and spawning an animated series. The film departs from the plot of the series, but Dan and Kevin Hageman, who wrote the TV show, receive a ‘story by’ credit here. Meshing a Feudal Japanese aesthetic with anime-inspired mecha-punk, the underlying design principle provides endless interesting possibilities for toys of all kinds.
The Lego Ninjago Movie, like its predecessors The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie, is primarily a long, elaborate toy commercial. However, it’s entertaining enough to justify its existence. The photo-realistic animation by Australian-based visual effects house Animal Logic is vibrant and hyper-detailed – while the process of animating this film must’ve been technically complicated, it looks like the animators had lots of fun doing it.
There are lots of jokes and several delightful visual gags, but parents should bear in mind that the film is heavily geared towards the younger set. The humour isn’t embarrassingly juvenile, but it tends towards extreme silliness. The film has six credited screenwriters, usually a sign that things will be scattershot and cluttered. Like The Lego Batman Movie, it has a bit of a ‘punched-up’ feel to it – the presence of comedians brought in to add jokes after the script has already been written is strongly felt. The Lego Ninjago Movie also borrows heavily from classic martial arts movies, and its moral is as old as the hills – ‘the power was inside you all along’. While The Lego Ninjago Movie winks and nods at its influences, it’s also too straightforward in its plot to come off as particularly inventive.
Our team of heroes is pretty much the Power Rangers – colour-coded teen ninjas who operate giant, awesome mechas themed to each of their personas. As with most movies featuring an ensemble cast, there isn’t nearly enough time to give all the characters enough definition. As such, everyone in the team apart from Lloyd feels defined by their powers and some superficial character traits. This is clearly Lloyd’s story, with everyone else taking a backseat and some talented comedians given short shrift in the voiceover booth.
Franco lends Lloyd enough likeable earnestness such that he doesn’t come as a boring, de-facto hero. Theroux steals the show, relishing the over-the-top villain role and giving Garmadon oodles of personality. Lord Garmadon belongs to the Dr. Evil/Dr. Drakken/Mojo Jojo school of comical supervillain. The strained relationship between pillaging, conquering dad and city-saving son generates laughs and, eventually, warm fuzzy feelings. It is interesting that all three theatrically-released Lego movies thus far have featured father-son relationships so heavily.
Jackie Chan’s wheelhouse might be physical comedy, but he proves adequately adept at funny line delivery. There is very little that distinguishes Master Wu from similar characters like Kung Fu Panda’s Master Shifu, or indeed The Lego Movie’s Vitruvius. Chan does figure in the film’s framing device, which we shan’t spoil.
Kids are sure to leave the theatre pestering their parents to buy one or more (likely more) of the tie-in Lego sets. Adults might roll their eyes at some of the goofier jokes, but the film moves along quickly and is entertaining enough that you won’t hear too many complaints from accompanying adults.
RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars