Saturday, 14 October 2017

The Lego Ninjago Movie - Movie Review

The Lego Movie was one of those movies that was such a great surprise when it came out in 2014; here you had a movie that looked like it could have been an obvious cash grab on such a popular franchise and yet succeeded all expectations with an amazing sense of wit, a strong script that subverted many movie tropes and gorgeous animation as well as a pretty awesome twist at the end. A sequel was ordered up quickly, intended for the Summer of 2017 in fact, but it ended up getting pushed all the way back to 2019, so two spin-off movies fill the gap in this year. February had The Lego Batman Movie which was just as hilarious and featured many awesome jokes and references about the Batman mythos. And for the second Lego film of the year we have a movie based on the Ninjago franchise, one that I’m not personally familiar with. Basically all I can gleam from the franchise is “OH MY GOD THERE’S NINJAS AND SHIT” which isn’t really the strongest basis to go on.

I was correct in that knowledge of The Lego Ninjago Movie – there were indeed ninjas. The film follows Lloyd (Dave Franco), a teenager ostracised by his peers for being the son of the malevolent Garmadon (Justin Theroux) who constantly attempts to conquer the city of Ninjago. But Lloyd is part of a Ninja Force along with his few friends at school who always manage to save the day from Garmadon’s schemes. When Lloyd makes a big mistake and allows Garmadon to take over the city he and his fellow ninjas must head out on a quest to find a weapon that’ll help them to take control back and increase their ninja skills.

One thing that both The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie did really well was that they managed to be both appealing to kids, with the zippy action and bright colourful designs, and adults, with a lot of great jokes about the formulaic nature of the genre of films they were spoofing and references to more grown up fare, like the vast catalogue of Batman movies, which helped to give them an all-encompassing fun feel. The same cannot be said for The Lego Ninjago Movie though – this time it feels like it was entirely aimed at the younger members of the audience. It’s hard to recall any jokes in the film that had anything really for adults – no clever references or the like, just simple laughs aimed mainly at kids. That’s not to say there were no laughs at all, but there were far less than the previous films in the Lego series and it felt far less clever with its writing. And that flaw applies to its story too – whilst the previous two films had a knowing wink about the clichés that they used in their storytelling this one plays them straight. We’ve got a kid who’s an outcast and has a bad relationship with his dad who learns to believe himself throughout the course of the film and ultimately becomes accepted by the people who previously shunned him. It’s really predictable stuff and there’s no surprises in where the whole thing goes, making it feel like generic kiddie fare more than before. And the writing for the characters don’t help either – none of the characters are particularly memorable; Lloyd and Garmadon fill out the roles you’d expect, Sensei Wu (Jackie Chan) is kind of a generic mentor figure and the rest of the Ninja Force all just fade into the background to the extent where you question why they’re in the film.

The one thing that saves this movie is the animation. As with the previous two movies Ninjago looks gorgeous and works well with the stop-motion-esque designs of the characters. The city scape of Ninjago is incredibly well designed and rather imaginative, as are the designs of the mechs that all of the Ninja Force use for going into battle. Notable too is the special effects for the smoke and water – whilst in previous Lego films they were made out of Lego itself here it’s all CGI and it looks so brilliant that you’d swear that it’s real water and smoke. The action sequences too are a lot of fun -   there’s a great amount of flying around the city as we watch the ninjas at work kicking arse, although there are maybe a few moments where the action is a little too frenetic. This shows how the technical aspects of Ninjago is what pulls it up a lot and without it there would be little in here for adults.

After two hilarious and inventive movies in the Lego series, The Lego Ninjago Movie is such a let-down in comparison. This is primarily due to young it skews in comparison to the previous two films – whilst kids will likely have a pretty fun time here there’s not a whole lot for grown-ups and the film doesn’t do anything interesting or subversive with its clichéd plotline, making it feel more like a standard kids flick and what The Lego Movie could have been more like had it not been for the involvement of Lord and Miller. The animation is just as inventive and gorgeous looking as ever and there are many moments in the action scenes that are full of fun but it can’t rescue The Lego Ninjago Movie from being easily the weakest entry in the Lego series of films and is a worrying sign that the lustre of those films may be running out. Let’s hope that The Lego Movie 2 can buck that trend.

The Lego Ninjago Movie – directed by Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan, story by Fisher, Logan, William Wheeler, Tom Wheeler, Hilary Winston, Dan Hageman and Kevin Hageman, screenplay by Fisher, Logan, W. Wheeler, T. Wheeler, Jared Stern and John Whittington, produced by Dan Lin, Phil Lord, Christopher Miller, Chris McKay, Maryann Granger and Roy Lee, with the voices of Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Michael Pena, Kumail Nanjiani, Abbi Jacobson, Zach Woods, Fred Armisen, Olivia Munn and Jackie Chan. A Warner Animation Group/Lin Pictures/Animal Logic/Vertigo Entertainment production, a Warner Bros. film

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