“How hard is it to come up with a genius idea?”
What sends The Lego Ninjago Movie off in the wrong direction tends to be its drive to duplicate some of the more distinct characteristics of its franchise predecessors. There’s the hero’s journey and strained parent/child relationship of the original, as well as The Lego Batman Movie’s self-referential humor and playful teamwork. These parts make their way into Ninjago, but they’re components that have noticeably been added with force instead of with ease. As evidenced here, lazily repurposing the pieces by simply swapping out their packaging doesn’t mean the build will go smoothly.
From the very first scene, something about Ninjago just feels…off, peculiar, sort of sloppy. The rest of the film lives up to this initial unease. A bullied little boy (Kaan Guldur) stumbles through a door, the ancient shop’s keeper Mr. Liu (Jackie Chan) begins to tell him a story, and we’re whisked away into the imaginative yellow brick roads and mortar block buildings of the island known as Ninjago. Lloyd’s (Dave Franco) the lovable loser in this world, bullied and hated by his fellow students because his dreadful dad Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux, doing a horrendous Will Arnett impression) seeks to rule and demolish the city. Standing in Garmadon’s way is his brother Master Wu (Jackie Chan) and a group of misfit teenage ninjas led by Lloyd. They do battle, Garmadon escapes, the populace brace themselves for another attack. It’s an endlessly repetitive cycle that we can only assume will go on and on without ceasefire.
There’s no point in wasting words to name or briefly describe the rest of the Ninjas; they’re faces in a yearbook who haven’t been given the opportunity to sign their unique autographs. Sure, they deliver a few good laughs here and there, but always from the background as pointless pawns rather than strategic pieces. Ninjago wastes most of these banter-filled scenes as segues into Lloyd’s family life, riffing off of Star Wars’ Darth Vader and Luke and Leia triangle. Koko (Olivia Munn) is Mom to Lloyd and the ex of the Overlord, and despite all of the time directors Charlie Bean and Paul Fisher devote to this intimate angle, I never cared about the characters one bit. I hardly laughed and often felt annoyed. Most of my time with this film was spent mercifully waiting until it was over, pondering what improvements might’ve elevated the languid plotting to the level of the wild visuals, and wondering what the point of movie was altogether. The answer to that last question still remains up in the air.
There’s much to admire about the original The Lego Movie. I’m still not a huge fan of its Ritalin induced assault on the senses, but the film has a genuinely worthwhile theme and admirably follows through with big moments of ambition. The Lego Batman Movie took a different route, flambéing the entire canon of Gotham City with sugary jokes, stonewalled hearts, and a whole lot of visual pizazz to great success. Yet now we have Ninjago, and I seriously can’t tell you why it’s arrived besides to collect the toll of parents forced to go see another Lego movie. This film is like if a bad Power Rangers episode met the garish clunkiness of Transformers, and worse yet, resembles the elemental aspects of the giddily awful 1997 movie The Warriors of Virtue with the slapdash humor of a show broadcast late at night on the Adult Swim channel. Some say that routine is the death of imagination; The Lego Ninjago Movie, with its lengthy scroll of writing credits and uninspired casting, falls face first into such a trap.
“Are you guys actually buying any of this?”
Rating: 2 out of 5