The LEGO Ninjago Movie Review

The LEGO movies have been a pleasant surprise. They should have been on the level of The Emoji Movie, a product simply made to promote something that is not a movie. But they ended up being some of the most delightful creative movies in recent times. Both The LEGO Movie and LEGO Batman have this madcap humour which should be way too childish for mature adults such as myself but they are done with such a level of wit that you do regress into the five-year-old the movie wants you to be. And with this series making so much money, Warner Bros are cranking them out so can the latest The Lego Ninjago Movie live up to the rest of the series?

Lloyd (Dave Franco, Neighbors) is hated by the city of Ninjago because he is the son of the evil Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux, Mulholland Drive) despite the fact he is estranged from his father and they rarely talk. But in secret, he is the Green Ninja who saves the city from Garmadon every time he attacks.

So if you are a fan of the series you will be happy to know that it continues with that quickfire type of humour. You’ll know what this is if you’ve seen any of the LEGO movies before. Instead of taking the normal pace that Pixar and Dreamworks films have made the standard for animated films, everything goes by rapidly with the jokes following the same suit. There is an attempt at a humourous line about every twenty seconds with the idea being that even if one line misses the mark, the next one is by quickly enough that you’ll be laughing at that. However that means the movie needs to have a hit rate of around 75% to make it all work. I’d say this movie’s hit rate is far less than that. I’m not saying there isn’t laughs, I’m just saying it’s at 40%. This means you do have lengthy awkward periods where you are meant to have a chain of laughter but none hit. It’s the weakest yet in terms of humour of the LEGO movies, but still funnier than most movies.

Where the humour really fails is in its focus. The reason LEGO Batman worked as a parody was because it felt like the writers really knew the subject matter well enough to have these really intricate jokes than worked for kids and adults. Here, the parody is a bit more uncertain. They are obviously making fun of traditional kung-fu movies but not only is it a more niche subject when trying to appeal to a wide audience but it doesn’t feel like the people behind the film know that much about it either. Yes, they know the easy targets they can have fun with like the overly vague mentor figure and the weird names these sort of films have, but not much else. If anything, this movie feels more like a parody of Power Rangers which does not work because Power Rangers is a parody of Power Rangers.

The biggest flaw though is that the movie is the same as the other two LEGO films. It wasn’t as noticeable in LEGO Batman because of the gap in between that and the original LEGO Movie, but these movies all have the same plot line. A hero that has personal issues must go through a journey that takes him away from his home so he can save a population that doesn’t appreciate him. He will be facing off with a fiendish villain but he finds out the evil one is not so evil and they will respect each other by the end. This happened between Batman and Joker for god’s sake. And with it just being a few months between this film and that one, it’s more apparent that this is all just a formula which is going to redone for years and years to come. There’s even an overly upbeat musical number over the credits, that’s how formulaic it all is. I hope by the next movie they do they have a different plot line.

That’s not to say this movie is all bad because it’s still pretty decent. It’s a formula that works at the very least. And this is where the energy of the movie really plays in it’s favour. The fact it rarely stops to rest really gives the movie some pace and stops you from ever getting bored. And because there are still some smart film makers behind it, the movie knows it can’t go at this pace forever and it does have a few quiet moments which allow us to reflect on what has happened. Some big emotional things do happen in this movie and while they aren’t massive moments which you’ll remember forever, they do what they need to do to keep this film trucking.

However the greatest strength this film has is the animation. The LEGO style has always worked really well and this was going to be it’s toughest test. After all, the Ninjago property demands big action scenes with giant Pacific Rim type mechs fighting each other to save the city of Ninjago. Though if we’re honest, thousands of people die each time Man of Steel style because of the fighting of these mechs and the other ninjas. But even though these could end up being too big because of the scale and all these bright primary colours, they instead look spectacular and these fights are just enjoyable to watch. It’s rare to see such creativity done in 3D animation because so many companies just want to fit a house style that will work in focus groups, so it’s enjoyable to just admire the work of some brilliant animators.

The LEGO Ninjago Movie proves that this licence is at its stretching point. They have had great successes in the past but you can’t keep using the same formula forever. It’s becoming very apparent that the film makers want to use this formula over and over again because it is likely kids won’t notice until they grow out of the target audience and go through that phase when animated movies aren’t cool. But as an adult fan of animated movies, I wanted more from these films. 2017 was not a great year for mainstream animated films and it’s a shame that this is still one of the better ones despite it’s many flaws.

Former Head of Movies for Screen Critics. Film Reviews now hosted on Medium.

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A Guy Who Talks About Movies

A Guy Who Talks About Movies

Former Head of Movies for Screen Critics. Film Reviews now hosted on Medium.

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