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‘The LEGO Ninjago Movie’ Packs A Punch And Some Laughs (Movie Review)

I’ll say upfront that The LEGO Ninjago Movie is a fun blend of action and comedy. Of the three theatrical films in the LEGO cinematic universe so far, this is the most kid-friendly, as far as the scale of which side a majority of the jokes/visuals lean on. However, it should also be noted that Ninjago is the least of the three films in this moneymaking series. Given the surprising amount of emotional resonance in the prior two films, let alone the excellent balance of humor to please both adults and children, I may have had fun again, but I hope the continuation of this LEGO series finds a way to hold onto what made these films work best.

The story concerns a group of teenagers living in the far-away land of Ninjago, who are secretly protectors of the city. They pilot mechanized warrior-bots to take on the evil Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux), who seems to make weekly attempts at taking over the city. Garmadon has a son, Lloyd (Dave Franco), who happens to be the Green Ninja, leader of these ninja warriors and you can bet certain revelations will be made soon enough. In the meantime, the ninjas work hard to achieve true ninja enlightenment from Master Wu (Jackie Chan), who will do what he can to train them, even after an even bigger threat emerges.

This film continues to follow the LEGO animated movie footsteps by featuring CG animation that is made to look like elaborate stop-motion animation taken to a wild, toy-based extreme. There are some added touches as well. Real-life environments are utilized to show off forests, water, sand, etc. A “villain” is also deployed thanks to the unexpected results of an “ultimate weapon” that is sure to play as a fun joke for many. Even the live-action concept that surprised many in The LEGO Movie crops up here, bookending the film and reminding audiences that Chan is always a real delight to see.

A big help, as far as the story goes, is seeing how it handles the ninja force. Rather than spend a whole movie introducing us to a concept that seems to be parodying Power Rangers pretty specifically, they are already formed and used to being in action. There is still development to be had, but the film cuts out a lot of unnecessary time by clueing us in on what’s what right from the start. This also means getting to spend more time with Lord Garmadon, who is easily the film’s best character.

While it may be a bit too close to Will Arnett’s gravelly-voiced portrayal of LEGO Batman, Theroux makes the most out of his ego-driven, maniacal, absentee father character. He gets all the best lines and does the best (along with Chan) at delivering on the exuberant fun a movie about ninja LEGO toys should have. The rest of the vocal cast is fun as well (and consists of Michael Pena, Kumail Nanjiana, Abbi Jacobson, Zach Woods, Fred Armisen and Olivia Munn), but they mostly exist in the background.

That may be part of the issue, along with being a pretty dude-heavy kids’ movie. Ninjago is merely based on a toy line that’s less than a decade old, so it lacks the sort of familiarity of LEGO Batman, but still feels oddly specific, as opposed to The LEGO Movie. Because of this, there’s one main story being told, but it does little to parody something specific. Instead, there’s a lot of reliance on actors doing their best to deliver funny lines, which is fine, but I wish it took a harder stance on being a parody of superhero films or, more obviously, martial arts/kung fu/karate movies.

Additionally, while the film relies heavily on making its father-son relationship resonate, the irreverent attitude of the movie is not quite as well-handled as far as making the balance of comedy and relatable drama work. You get that the film wants to provide a message and it’s not a bad one, but knowing how much these LEGO films are capable of, it is hard not to notice the downswing. Again, it doesn’t help that I don’t have Batman to latch onto this time around, but even then, it’s clear this brand only goes so far.

Unsurprising is the list of credits, which includes over 20 people when you count the directors (3), producers (6) and writers (7+). I guess there was a clear desire to make this work or just a real need to tell a Ninjago story. Regardless, it does allow for numerous clever gags, as well as a good amount of action. I wish the film chose more of a position, because the martial arts-based scenes, portrayed by LEGO characters, is a lot of fun to see unfold.

The LEGO Ninjago movie is slight as far as these films are concerned, but still very amusing. It lacks the depth of the previous movies and misses out on being a clearer parody/homage, but does deliver in other areas. The film has plenty of jokes, some nice animation/visual choices and a couple of great vocal performances. Basically, there is plenty for everyone to enjoy and enough to make you take the word “Ninjago” a bit more seriously.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Video Game Player, Comic Book Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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