THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE gets 6/10 Enter the Lego Dragon

Directed by Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan
Starring Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Jackie Chan, Olivia Munn

6/10

A popular Danish toy brand, it was only a matter of time before Ninjago made it’s way to the big screen. This strange fusion of Eastern feudalism and robot inspired future has been a common line of Lego since 2011, inspiring it’s own TV series following the adventures of the Ninjago ninjas.

Lloyd (Dave Franco) may be the most hated person in the city of Ninjago. Well, to be absolutely correct, as the son of the most hated villain in Ninjago, Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux), he is the most hated person not living in his own volcanic secret base developing an army of robot monsters, but it’s a really close second.

However Lloyd has a secret life of his own, beyond being hated by the general populace, and ignored by his villainous father. Lloyd is the mysterious Green Ninja, leader of a secret ninja group that protects the city with their giant robots (because where would a ninja be without their giant mecha). Yet when Lloyd unleashes the Ultimate Weapon, to attempt to bring down Garmadon, things do not work out as he plans. Now with no mecha the team must rebuild, and discover the secret to their ninja powers.

The result is solid enough in it’s own right, but lacks some of the broad church appeal of the previous two films. It’s jokes fall a little flat, it tries a little too hard to engage its audience, and it’s storyline wanders a bit during it’s short run time. Which is a pity, as there is a lot to admire about this, both in terms of the technique of the animation, and its understanding of the genre.

Although a relatively generic story in terms of the hero’s journey, there is a rich understanding of the tropes of the Super Sentai series it is drawing on, as well as an understanding of the history of the toy (and the various associated IP). Hence there is a wealth of in-jokes here, from both the Ninjago series, and the various genres of Super-Sentai, Mecha and 70s Kung-Fu films. Similarly the bonding between Lloyd and his estranged villainous father is fertile ground for comedic potential, that is well exploited at times. It’s just that not a lot here seems fresh and unexpected, rather that we’ve seen it before.

Which is what lessens The Lego Ninjago Movie. This third time to bat for Lego is neither the shock and surprise of something far more intelligent than expected that the first The Lego Movie produced, or the popular character that The Lego Batman Movie gave us. By contrast The Lego Ninjago Movie, despite having moments where it does shine, produces exactly what is suspected of it, and hence, fails to impress.

As for the voice talent on display, Chan is the obvious stand-out as master Wu. The role of wise (although needlessly cryptic) ninja mentor is pretty much one that the veteran action star could play in his sleep, but he is having fun with the bounds of the role, and the live action coda at the beginning. Franco channels all his teen angst and Daddy issues into Lloyd, and Theroux manages a curiously laid back version of monstrous evil, that is a joy to listen to.

Not enough here to break beyond the confines of its subject matter to be of appeal to the general public, but should appeal to fans of the original series and the toys.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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