Martial Arts With Toys: The Lego Ninjago Movie
The Lego Ninjago Movie tells of a conflict between an evil ninja lord and a team of young warriors dedicated to stopping him. The story begins outside in an antique shop owned by Mr. Liu (Jackie Chan), who entertains a young man curious about the items there. He talks of a city called Ninjago, a city constantly under siege by Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux). Every time, Garmadon and his armies face defeat at the hands of young ninja warriors, led by the Green Ninja (Dave Franco), whose real name is Lloyd Garmadon, the son of the would-be waylayer of Ninjago. When not battling his father, Lloyd lives with his mother, Koko (Olivia Munn), and goes to school with his warrior mates: Kai (Michael Pena), the Ninja Of Fire, Jay (Kumail Nanjiani), the Ninja Of Lightning, Nya (Abbi Jacobson), Ninja Of Water, Zane (Zach Woods), Ninja Of Ice, and Cole (Fred Armisen), Ninja Of Earth.
Master Wu (Chan), on return from one of his many trips, criticizes the young team for relying too heavily on the use of machines to stop Lord Garmadon. Meanwhile, their foe unleashes yet another attack on Ninjago. When the young ninjas finally seem on the verge of defeat, Lloyd decides to use the Ultimate Weapon, which Wu had, but didn't use. The Ultimate Weapon turns out to be a laser pointer, which doesn't faze Lord Garmadon, but gets the attention of Mr. Liu's cat, Meowthra. The cat turns Ninjago into his own play toy, and causes more damage than Lord Garmadon had ever done. Both sides flee into the woods, where they have no mechanical assistance. Wu talks about the existence of an Ultimate Ultimate Weapon, but he can't lead his ninjas to it before being overpowered by Lord Garmadon. Lord Garmadon says he knows of this weapon, but dangers await all on the road to getting it.
The Lego Ninjago Movie is, again, based on a series of toys created by Lego. The first two entries in the Lego film franchise managed to find an appeal to both children and adults by bringing a sense of fun and humor to these toys. The Lego Ninjago Movie, however, does not always attain that sense of inclusiveness. The humor here simply isn't as sharp, and characterization is lacking, save for the Garmadons and Wu. The tone often seems serious, as if this were a live-action flick. Perhaps too many directors (three) and too many story writers (about a dozen between the story and the screenplay) helped to make The Lego Ninjago Movie a lesser effort than its predecessors. The conflict between father and son at times mirrors the conflict between Batman and The Joker in The Lego Batman Movie.
Franco, Theorox, and Chan do respectably in the film's most prominent roles. Franco shows a noble, but conflicted Lloyd, who always comes to the defense of his city, but wonders why he doesn't have an element attached to his ninja identity. He also wonders why his father chose to try and lay waste to Ninjago rather than defending it, as Lloyd does. Theroux has some good moments as Lord Garmadon. He often promotes people to the rank of general, only to unceremoniously dump them when the plans they offer lead to failure. He also shows ineptitude as a parent, as he never pronounces Lloyd's name correctly. Chan has settled into the role of a martial arts elder statesman, showing Wu as a capable teacher who answers Lloyd's questions with riddles. There's also a Chan blooper reel at the end, as there had been in so many of his starring vehicles. His tutelage, whether as Wu or Liu, comes with great kindness and patience. Good Morning America performers Robin Roberts and Michael Strahan also make voice appearances as Lego versions of themselves, hosting Good Morning Ninjago, which always talks about Lord Garmadon's encounters with the young ninjas.
I can't compare The Lego Ninjago Movie to the TV series, which continues to be in production, though I hear the TV show is quite good. The movie, though, struggles from start to finish with a story that never gets the development it needs. The third Lego film is not a charm, but a pale effort in comparison to the first two Lego movie entries. The building blocks simply didn't fall neatly into place this time.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give The Lego Ninjago Movie two stars. Not everything is awesome, not everything works when you're a part of a team.