Film Review: The LEGO Ninjago Movie

Though suffering from diminishing returns, the LEGO franchise still has some spark.
Major Releases

Fresh on the heels of The LEGO Movie and its Batman-themed spinoff comes Warner Bros.’ The LEGO Ninjago Movie, based on an extremely popular line of toys that you probably haven’t heard of unless you have kids. Want to know what a Ninjago is? Ask the closest ten-year-old. Or, if one’s not handy, here are the basics: Six high-school students, led by social outcast Lloyd (Dave Franco), live in the Japan-inspired city of Ninjago. They take time off from their studies to don disguises and hop in giant robot mechs to slap down the supervillain Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux), who tries to take over the city at least twice a week. Oh, and Lord Garmadon is Lloyd’s absentee father. And…that’s it, really. Think Power Rangers, but as LEGO and with added father/son drama, and you’ve pretty much got the gist.

Kids with a vested interest in the Ninjago toy line and its Cartoon Network TV spinoff will likely be chomping at the bit to see Lloyd, Garmadon, wise mentor Master Wu (Jackie Chan) and the rest of the Ninjago lineup perpetrating mini-fig mayhem on the big screen. For adults, The LEGO Ninjago Movie is more hit-or-miss. It still boasts the witty, madcap humor that made The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Batman Movie so much fun across all age ranges; two of its six screenwriters, Jared Stern and John Whittington, also worked on LEGO Batman. Theroux is a delightfully hammy, shark-obsessed standout among the voice cast, as are “Silicon Valley” cast members Zach Woods (playing the Ninjago Zane, with his constant assurances that he’s definitely a normal human teenager and not a robot, beep boop beep) and Kumail Nanjiani (the cowardly Ninjago Jay, who tries to comfort Lloyd by telling him, “My mom is weird and collects seashells. Your dad levels cities and attacks innocent people. So they’ve all got their quirks, you know?”)

But did you catch the part where The LEGO Ninjago Movie has six writers? Plus an additional three people with “story by” credits and five—count ’em, five—editors. You can tell. Despite clocking in at one hour and 41 minutes—which is positively scant compared to today’s live-action blockbusters, which regularly come in at 140 minutes or longer—The LEGO Ninjago Movie feels much longer than it is, thanks in part to a confused, meandering story that simultaneously tries to do too much and not enough. There are at least three different movies packed into this thing, all of them shot through with a cluttered, frenetic visual style that renders the action overly confusing. (There’s also a live-action framing device that’s utterly pointless.) Also overstuffed is the cast of characters, which features two Ninjagos (voiced by Michael Peña and Fred Armisen) that I still couldn’t tell apart by the time the credits rolled. One doesn’t want to upset the kiddies by consigning their favorite mini-fig to the cutting room floor, one supposes, but the fact remains that if you’re distilling seven seasons of TV, multiple videogames and dozens upon dozens of LEGO sets into one movie, you’re going to need to do some trimming. That doesn’t happen here.

Still, The LEGO Ninjago Movie is funny. If it’s also too messy, with characters too undefined, to ascend to the heights of a LEGO Movie or a Pixar classic, adults looking for something to take their kids to could do a lot worse. The Emoji Movie just came out two months ago, after all.

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