Director: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan
Screenplay: Bob Logan, Paul Fisher, William Wheeler, Tom Wheeler, Jared Stern, John Whittington
Starring: Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Fred Armisen, Abbi Jacobson, Olivia Munn, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Peña, Zach Woods, Jackie Chan
Runtime: 101 Minutes
The Lego Ninjago Movie posits and new dilemma for the otherwise well-oiled corporate machine that is the Lego Movie cinematic universe; leading with a relatively recent brand of toys that doesn’t offer the catering aspect of appealing to Generation X cornerstones or geek ephemera, marketed mainly at and appealing to a much younger audience than either of their previous efforts with characters and setting that only they might have any specific point of reference to.
For the most part, Lego Ninjago works in much the same way as its predecessors in feeling as funny and scattershot in the presentation. The attention to detail on the figures designs and the layered vision of a world built by plastic bricks is just as focused as before, with newly added details of wear and tear through stickers and smudges, and real-life elements of fire, water, and smoke effects. These are still Lego pieces and this is still a toy chest world, and the central threat that once again features a real-life object is by far and away the best comedic element in the film.
The story here follows the pan-Asian setting of Ninjago and a group of Power Ranger style ninjas who use their elemental powers and weaponry to battle against arch nemesis Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux), which is complicated by the Green Ninja actually being said characters son, Lloyd (Dave Franco).
So, once again, this is a story dealing with absent father figures and the bonding dynamics that develop between father and son over the course of its admittedly contrived storyline. But the emotional beats that it needs to hit are done so very well outside of its sarcastic awareness of tropes and generic cliché. The voice performances are all good from the leads and the supporting roster of Michael Peña, Kumail Nanjiani, Abbi Jacobson and Zach Woods. As is Jackie Chan as Master Wu, although the live-action framing device involving him feels incredibly arbitrary and borrowed from The Forbidden Kingdom.
The downside is that even under the franchise title, the film kind of lacks an identity and voice of its own. Whereas The Lego Movie carried with it the kinetic anarchy of its directors, and Lego Batman emulating and working from that template in the cultural play box of the Batman universe, Lego Ninjago doesn’t feel like it has as far to stretch itself beyond hitting the requisite notes and quirks of the series. It doesn’t feel like imitation as much as it does comity think, with even the introductions of the lead Ninjago characters feeling like a heavier than usual marketing exercise for the toy brand.
The Lego Ninjago Movie is easily the weakest and least substantive of the series so far, but it’s a very sweet story that only feels marred by the promotion of the Lego brand and a few too many cooks in the kitchen.