By Jack Dignan
LEGO have come a long way. When I was a kid, I used to play and build them all day long. Star Wars and Harry Potter LEGO sets, amongst others, towered over my room, protecting me from the evils of going outside. Then, as I got older, video games were in the forefront, and LEGO returned, now in video game format. They were adventurous, visual fun, heightening my and many other's love affair with them. But in recent years, after a handful of television spin offs, LEGO proceeded to dominate the big screen. Once again, they defied all odds. It worked. We're now three films deep into the LEGO Cinematic Universe* and while none have reached the original's heights, they're still a long way away from failure.
The LEGO Ninjago Movie takes a big step out from the world we're used to. The universe is broadened, not featuring the likes of Batman or Emmet. We're introduced to Ninjago, a world of ninjas and super villains, where the wicked Garmadon (Justin Theroux) attacks at a near-daily rate, attempting to gain control of the city. But time and time again, Garmadon's plans are foiled by a group of six young ninjas, balancing their school lives with crime fighting and following under the guardianship of Master Wu (Jackie Chan). Things are about to change for Ninjago's ninjas when Lloyd (Dave Franco) confronts Garmadon for what they hope is the last time, and reveals an earth shattering truth... that he's his son.
One of the many things that draw me back into the LEGO universe is its endless creativity. These films take very simple, often familiar premises and bring joy to every frame, allowing the wackiest sense of humour to take the forefront in a film that couldn’t work in any other format. They’re witty, self-referential fun frequently able to latch onto the entire family and appeal to those older than the age of five. LEGO makes slapstick humour cool again. These are the type of movies Charlie Chaplin would enjoy, disguised as an animated film focusing on a brand usually associated with young children. Don’t expect this franchise to be washed away in the winds. These are all-timers in the making.
The story here is simpler than ever. It’s not an ode to creativity, with genius inventiveness wedged into the plot, much like with the original, but it’s a simple get from a to b plot with a few heartfelt messages along the way. The opening act is a little slow as these characters go through the motions, and the third act boarders on being frustratingly predictable, but it’s a film about the characters, their personal vendettas and being the hero hidden inside you, as well as a father-son relationship blossoming between Lloyd and Garmadon. Their shared screen time is the heart and soul of the movie, and it sees the writing at its most sentimental and hilarious.
A wide variety of comedians are brought into the mix, where their talents shine in individual ways. They serve as a creative aid to the already illustrious visuals and snappy screenplay. The first act summarizes nearly every joke from the trailer, and as someone who’s had that trailer unwillingly wedged into my memory forever (I work at a cinema. It plays constantly on the screens in front of me), this came as quite the relief. I wasn’t a fan, and not just because of their over-saturation in my daily life. There’s so much creativity to be found within the jokes, which blend well with the heartfelt humour and emotional core of the film’s storytelling, something especially impressive for first-time film directors.
Sadly, The LEGO Ninjago Movie rests a little too comfortably within its own parameters. The film relies on previous installment’s successes, even reflecting the narrative of this year’s LEGO Batman Movie plot beat for plot beat. There’s only so many times this trio of films can deal with daddy issues before it starts to wear thin, even if they continue to find new and hilarious ways to tell the same jokes. Justin Theroux’s Garmadon steals the entire show, leading to an unbelievable amount of belly laughs within my friend group, but his humour didn’t seem to resonate with the kids. In fact, none of the kids in my theatre seemed to be enjoying this movie, which, if applicable for future sessions once this film is released, will wind up being a major problem.
It remains to be seen if The LEGO Ninjago Movie holds up on a repeat viewing. It’s more disposable and uninteresting than the first two films, and struggles to earn its own merits amongst far superior cousins, but still, as a one-time viewing, I had fun with it. There’s a strange live action element at the start and end that feel a little tacked on, but if you decide to arrive a few minutes too late and leave a few too early, your overall experience will remain untarnished.
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