The LEGO Ninjago Movie

ninjago-movie-rev The LEGO Ninjago Movie  (2017)    Warner Bros./Comedy-Action-Adventure    RT: 101 minutes    Rated PG (some mild action, rude humor)    Director: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan    Screenplay: Bob Logan, Paul Fisher, William Wheeler, Tom Wheeler, Jared Stern and John Whittington    Music: Mark Mothersbaugh    Cast: September 22, 2017 (US)    Cast: Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Fred Armisen, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Pena, Abbi Jacobson, Zach Woods, Jackie Chan, Olivia Munn, Randall Park, Retta, Constance Wu, Charlyne Yi, Chris Hardwick, Robin Roberts, Michael Strahan.

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 Everything is not awesome in The LEGO Ninjago Movie. In fact, it’s downright mediocre. It’s also a textbook example of the law of diminishing returns. The first movie built an entire world and brought viewers into it. It was clever, original, innovative and funny. This year’s The LEGO Batman Movie had some good ideas but the novelty had started to fade. It’s completely gone in The LEGO Ninjago Movie, a very mildly amusing take on martial arts flicks; specifically, the ones featuring ninjas. It’s based on a series that airs on the Cartoon Network. From what I gather, the movie bears little resemblance to the show. It makes no difference to me; I’ve never seen or heard of the show and I’m not likely to tune in based on what I saw today.

 ninjago movieThe LEGO Ninjago Movie centers on a team of ninja who protect the city of Ninjago which is constantly under threat of hostile takeover by the evil villain Lord Garmadon (Theroux, The Leftovers) who stages regular attacks from his volcano lair. They’re so regular, the possibility of an attack is reported each morning on the news (95% today, Michael!). When one does occur, the Green Ninja and his team show up to do battle. Nobody knows it but the Green Ninja is really Lloyd (Franco, The Little Hours), an outcast teen resented by his peers because he’s the son of Lord Garmadon. Yes, our hero has daddy issues. Yes, the villain is a father who can’t/won’t connect with the son he abandoned as an infant. Scenes of them working out their problems are intercut with action scenes that look like something out of a LEGO Transformers movie. Oh, and there’s a live-action kitty (aka “Meowthra”) running around too.

 During an attack, Lloyd tries to use the Ultimate Weapon to defeat Garmadon even though his master, Wu (Chan, Rush Hour), advises against it. It turns out to be a red laser pointer which summons the feline to Ninjago. He starts knocking buildings over with his paw while everybody runs around in a panic. He also puts the team out of commission for a while which allows them to take a journey of self-discovery through a nearby jungle in order to find their inner strengths.

 Each team member is named for an element- Kai (Pena, Ant-Man) is Fire, Jay (Nanjiani, The Big Sick) is Lightning, Nya (Jacobson, Broad City) is Water, Cole (Armisen, Portlandia) is Earth and the robotic Zane (Woods, The Office) is Ice. That’s pretty much the only thing that defines them. They’re rather interchangeable. There’s also nothing all that distinctive about The LEGO Ninjago Movie. The animation isn’t all that special. The action scenes are loud and too often drown out the dialogue, not that any of it is worth hearing to begin with. The voice talents do an okay job. There are a few scattered chuckles- e.g. Meowthra will amuse fans of old Japanese monster movies- but it’s not as clever as the original. There aren’t any surprises. The wrap-around live-action story, which features Chan as a shop owner telling the Ninjago story to a young boy that gets picked on a lot, adds nothing to the proceedings. I’ll give The LEGO Ninjago Movie this much; if you’ve ever wanted to hear Welcome to the Jungle played on the pan flute, your wish has been granted. Otherwise, it’s pretty much a case of been there-done that. It’s not unbearable but it’s definitely recycled material. It’s nowhere near as awesome as the first LEGO movie; the pieces don’t snap together as neatly. I think it’s time to put the LEGOs away for a while. 

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