The Lego Ninjago Movie
Updated: Feb 4, 2020
The Lego Ninjago Movie is the third film in what can only be described as the Lego Cinematic Universe. The first was The Lego Movie (2014), a surprisingly clever and funny big screen debut for the building blocks that became a huge critical and commercial success. Then was The Lego Batman Movie (which was released this past February), a very funny loving jab at superhero films that was also quite well received. And now we have The Lego Ninjago Movie which tries to do for kung fu movies what Lego Batman did for superhero movies. It is far less successful.
Ninjago (92 minutes minus the end credits) is about a high school student named Lloyd (Dave Franco, who also provided a voice in The Lego Movie) who, like many teenagers, is having trouble fitting in. In his case, he is an outcast because his estranged father, Garmadon (Justin Theroux, recently the star of HBO’s excellent The Leftovers), is a supervillain who is constantly trying to take over the city. Luckily, Lloyd is part of a group of friends that secretly don ninja outfits to battle Garmadon and his henchmen. Lloyd fiercely pursues his self-centered father while in disguise, but all he really wants is his love.
While the first two Lego movies were built on themes of friendship and teamwork, Ninjago sets up those ideas (as well as the importance of family) and then never really engages with them. There are some individual lines and sight gags that work, but there is nothing to tie them all together.
The best thing about this film is its incredibly funny voice cast, though not everyone is able to make their mark. Dave Franco is largely wasted as blank slate Lloyd. Justin Theroux does the best he can as the egotistical Garmadon, but he is essentially a villainous (and far less funny) version of Lego’s take on Batman. Jackie Chan (who has done voice work before for the Kung Fu Panda movies) is actually pretty good as Lloyd’s trainer, Master Wu. Though that character disappears for large sections of the film.
The rest of the cast is not given nearly enough opportunities to do their thing, regardless of how much screen time they get. Lloyd’s team is filled with funny people (Kumail Nanjiani (who co-wrote and starred in this summer’s charming The Big Sick), Michael Peña (who will also be heard in next month’s My Little Pony: The Movie), Fred Armisen (the voice of Brainy in some of the recent Smurfs movies), Abbi Jacobsen (co-star of the hilarious Comedy Central series Broad City) and Zach Woods (a co-star with Nanjiani on HBO’s Silicon Valley) who rarely get the chance to be funny. Additionally, Lloyd’s Mom, Koko (Olivia Munn, Psylocke in the X-Men franchise), seems like she would have quite the story to tell about her relationship with Garmadon. Unfortunately, she is only in a few scenes.
The Lego Ninjago Movie (very loosely based on a Netflix series called Lego Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitsu, which is itself based on a toy line) represents a pretty big step down for the Lego movies. Their first two films felt fresh, but this one feels like a retread of the things people liked in those. Not only are there are no surprises, they did not even provide a different spin on the things they have done before. It is just the same stuff. There are some decent ideas in the story, but all of the payoffs fall flat. Watching a wacky comedy where the majority of the jokes aren’t funny is a boring experience.
The Lego Ninjago Movie is not bad per se; just unimaginative and dull. But they desperately need to change the formula with whatever their next film is going to be. Because if they don’t, well, things can certainly get worse from here.
2 out of 5
Dave Franco as Lloyd
Justin Theroux as Garmadon
Olivia Munn as Koko
Kumail Nanjiani as Jay
Zach Woods as Zane
Michael Peña as Kai
Fred Armisen as Cole
Abbi Jacobson as Nya
Jackie Chan as Master Wu
Directed by Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan
Screenplay by Bob Logan, Paul Fisher, William Wheeler, Tom Wheeler, Jared Stern and John Whittington