The Lego film franchise had a nice run in its first two outings. The phenomenal response to 2014’s The Lego Movie and, earlier this year, the popular emergence of The Lego Batman Movie proved profitable and entertaining for the gimmicky concept that inexplicably captured the imaginations of youngsters and oldsters alike. The appeal for the yellowish block toy figures was undeniably infectious at the box office’ while leaving one wondering what was next in line for the Lego-mania to explore in terms of a creative nod.
Well, the third time around for this animated film franchise does not necessarily invite any charm for the toy-making product that found its welcomed footing in 2011 from its Danish originators. Hence, The Lego Ninjago Movie is the current rain on the treasured parade of the first two installments because this flaccid fantasy shows signs of an inspired treat that has gone tepid. Clearly, Ninjago is the bottom rung of the laughter ladder despite its occasional invitation of free-spirited gags.
It is a crying shame that Ninjago struggles with its irreverent approach because the whole affair feels synthetically forced in throwaway goofiness. One would think that a third sequel to a catchy Lego landscape would not peter out after just a trilogy of films. There is no excuse for Ninjago to wallow in breezy mediocrity when it boasts three directors, an army of collaborative writers and a host of who’s who in terms of the top-notch vocal performers that commit to this flimsy fantasy. Indeed, the majority of kiddies will probably eat this latest project up without reservation. However, some of these tykes may still wonder why the spark for these young kung fu plastic protagonists may lack the frivolous flavor as experienced in the aforementioned Lego predecessors. This suggestion might be simply straight-forward and logical: skip the sluggish humor of Ninjago’s exhaustive display of tired antics and revisit the original blueprint–the TV series Lego Ninjago: Masters Of Spinjitsu.
The premise behind Ninjago involves a band of high schoolers whose secret identities as ninjas are sacred. The fighting force consists of the following young heroes: Lloyd aka The Green Ninja (Dave Franco), Cole (Fred Arisen), Kai (Michael Pena), Zane (Zach Woods), Jay (Kumail Nanjiani) and Nya (Abbi Jacobson). Specifically, Lloyd is at the center of major angst given that his father is the notorious Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux). Apparently, the villainous Lord Garmadon has a corruptible urge to terrorize the city of Ninjago…something that does not sit well with the skillful young ninjas. Naturally, there is an understandable estrangement between the heroic and conscientious son Lloyd and his devil-dealing Daddy Dearest Garmadon. Yeah…this is ripped from the _Star Wars _playbook with the intentional Luke Skywalker/Darth Vader dynamic in full circle. Of course, this is a heavy torment for Lloyd because he has to carry this overwhelming secret that his deplorable old man is the team’s chief nemesis.
Predictably, Lloyd and his butt-kicking buddies follow their instincts as they are the only real deal in town that can confront the wicked warlord and his minions. Lord Garmadon will stop it at nothing to torture the souls of Ninjago which, incidentally, is a city made up of…you guessed it…Lego blocks. Whether hounding the city limits with happy-munching sharks or causing chaos with the ‘mechs’ as attack weapons the kung fu crew tries its best to contain the manic madness set forth by the detestable Garmadon.
The Lego Ninjago Movie has its moments of spryness and there are some surrealistic and sassy bits that pops up to one’s amusement (a giant furry cat overseeing the destruction being done in the plastic-built haven for instance). Still, the fruitless film does nothing to ignite anything distinctive or fresh besides its pandering pulse to push Lego merchandise as a commercialism crossover of sorts. Sure, the previous two editions had the same agenda but at least there was a pretense of a constructed story of impish ideas, off-the-cuff smirking and inventive heartiness that fueled the Lego lunacy as engineered by the Phil Lord/Chris Miller oiled production machine. Sadly,** Ninjago** goes through the disjointed motions with slapdish action, lazy jokes but eye-popping set pieces that hopefully will encourage the tykes to purchase Lego toys in droves for the upcoming holiday sales.
Honorable mention goes to Theroux’ dastardly take on the devious demon Garmadon, one of the few saving graces for the grown-ups to embrace in this wacky wasteland of yellow-faced toy pegs that failed to hit any tangy targets in its questionable brand of joyous absurdity. Plus, it is a momentary thrill to see martial arts icon Jackie Chan, both in real flesh and animation, doing double duty as both a wise old guide Master Wu using his wisdom to guide the courageous youthful ninjas on their quest for righteousness as well as garrulous shopkeeper spinning ancient tales.
One is not quite sure where the true forum for The Lego Ninjago Movie should be promoted…on the straight-to-video shelves or merely being trapped in a cluttered toy box with other forgettable action figures.
The Lego Ninjago Movie (2017)
cast: Jackie Chan, Olivia Munn, Justin Theroux, Dave Franco, Fred Armisen, Abbi Jacobson, Michael Pena, Kumail Nanjiani and Zach Woods
Warner Bros. Pictures
1 hr. 41 mins.
DIRECTOR: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan
WRITER: Paul Fisher, Bob Logan, Tom Wheeler, William Wheeler, Jared Stern. John Whittington, Hilary Winston
MPAA Rating: PG
Critic’s rating: * 1/2 stars (out of 4 stars)
(c) Frank Ochieng 2017