The LEGO Ninjago Movie
The LEGO Ninjago Movie 2017
One thing that I still have a difficult time with on occasion is deciding whether or not something is a “superhero movie” or some other category. When it comes to martial arts heroes, even ones with magical/supernatural powers I generally consider that its own separate genre but I still wanted to watch this film to decide for myself. And as I watched it, I decided that it was basically a LEGO Power Rangers movie. They have secret identities, super powers, and there’s an over the top villain they have to fight. It just happens to have a ninja motif to it. On the actual movie side of things, it felt like they were trying to tweak the formula to the first LEGO Movie, but it came up a little short and honestly felt a lot more mean spirited with its humor rather than self-depricating. The humor was still funny, but the characters weren’t as fully realized.
Similar to the LEGO movie, we have an initially unassuming main character Lloyd Garmadon who is literally hated by the entire island of Ninjago for being the son of the evil warlord Lord Garmadon. There’s also a small group of friends that actually like Lloyd who also happen to be a part of the Secret Ninja Squad who are basically just like the Power Rangers. They each have a ninja outfit in a different color and each have a giant robotic mech suit. There’s also the added level of the Ice Ninja who is also an android. The action is fun though it’s a little bit overly frenetic in the beginning as it attempts to set things up quickly via a morning show style montage.
One issue with this film is that it is a spinoff of the TV series. Without having any information of the TV show isn’t a major issue of understanding what’s going on within the events of the film, but it does feel like there’s a large backstory to this world that we’re only getting a small part of. It also feels like it’s taken a page out of the LEGO Movie book to add in a slight live action segment to it where Jackie Chan is telling the story of the movie to a young kid. The conceit of the wraparound is ok, and it foreshadows a few elements that are used within the movie like the loss of Lloyd’s arm and the appearance of Meowthra.
There is an attempt at inserting a heartfelt story/lesson to the characters, mainly with the elemental powers and Lloyd’s relationship with his evil father. The contentious relationship is hit a little bit too hard, with Garmadon butt-dialing Lloyd on his birthday but spends the entire call basically berating him and/or acting like an unfit father. There’s also some interactions during the first couple battles where Garmadon hints at the loss of his child, but switches gears at the last moment to talk about a guitar or a sushi guy. Even as the two actually reconnect, it feels unearned and somewhat false especially as Garmadon does one last betrayal before they finally have the thirty seconds of happiness at the very end where everything works out ok.
What does work more often than not is the overall humor which feels very much within the LEGO brand from the LEGO and LEGO Batman movies. If you’re someone who enjoyed those two movies, you’ll likely find something to laugh at here, whether it’s the surprise appearance of a realistic CGI cat who comes to destroy the city and the Ninja Squad’s mech suits after the reveal that the “Ultimate weapon” is a laser pointer, or the Ice Ninja’s jokes about how he’s a normal teenage boy and not a robot despite his complaints about his mother yelling at him with the sounds of a dial-up modem.
The voice acting overall works well, Dave Franco as Lloyd plays the angsty teenaged hero quite well, and Justin Theroux plays Lord Garmadon in a very similar fashion as a combination of Will Arnett’s LEGO Batman and Will Ferrell’s Lord Business and speeds through the jokes with ease. Jackie Chan also does well as the typical ancient martial arts master/sensei Master Wu but he also feels like a pale imitation of Morgan Freeman’s Vitruvius. He makes the most of the role, but he isn’t given as much to do as Vitruvius did. The rest of the Secret Ninja Squad are passable, but none of them really feel like a major part of the story. They all have their caricatured parts of their personality, like the Fire Ninja is the arrogant one, the Water Ninja is the exXxtreme grrl power female of the group, the Lightning Ninja is the easily frightened one, and the Ice Ninja is the robot. They’re ok, but none of them really make an impression outside of their caricature.
Overall, there wasn’t anything really wrong with this movie, but it felt like it just missed whatever mark it was trying to hit. It really felt like it was a slightly higher budget movie version of a TV show which also meant that it felt like a lower budget knock-off version of the first LEGO Movie. Lloyd felt like a weaker version of Emmett, Garmadon a weaker version of Lord Business, Wu a lesser Vitruvius. There’s even the elements of the real world seeping in, a father/son reconciliation, a quest to find out what makes the Ninja Squad special with the Ultimate Ultimate Weapon replacing the Piece of Resistance. It just really fell flat for me aside from the humor which did hit more than it missed. The story and characters were just too weak to hold it together in a great way. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.