Movie Review: ‘THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE’ is another brick in the wall

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Connor Bynum // Film Critic

THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE

Rated PG, 101 minutes.
Director: Charlie BeanPaul Fisher and Bob Logan
Cast: Jackie ChanDave FrancoFred ArmisenKumail NanjianiMichael PeñaAbbi Jacobson and Justin Theroux

The LEGO film series is a curious franchise. In spite of greatly enjoying both previous installments, when the trailer for THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE released I couldn’t help but ask, “Really? Another one?”

The fact that THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE only just hit theater screens in February is likely to cause some franchise fatigue. To add more to the pile, this newest entry happens to be built around a relatively unknown sect of the LEGO universe: NINJAGO.

Could this be a sign that these movies are losing steam? Apparently not, as it turns out that THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE is actually pretty good.

Set in the Tokyo-inspired city of Ninjago, the film centers around a group of six teenage ninjas tasked with defending their home against the dastardly Garmadon (a scene-stealing Justin Theroux) who apparently tries to conquer the city at least a couple times a week. However, it is quickly revealed that the leader of the ninjas, Lloyd (Dave Franco), a.k.a. the Green Ninja, is the son of Garmadon. Lloyd desperately seeks reconciliation with his estranged maniacal father. To make matters worse, all of Ninjago relentlessly blames Lloyd for Garmadon’s endless attacks on the city when all he really wants is a dad.

Dave Franco voices Lloyd in ‘THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE.’ Courtesy of Warner Bros.

The relationship between Lloyd and Garmadon is truly the saving grace of the film. What begins as a seemingly forgettable tale about saving the world from the bad guy gradually evolves into a story that is surprisingly heartfelt and sincere. Movies aimed at children rarely explore the subject of broken families with more than a moment’s glance, but this one faces it head on and leaves audiences with a message fit for Pixar: Not all families are going to be perfect, but they are still family.

Although, the film is not without its problems. In spite of the interesting dynamic between Lloyd and Garmadon, the other characters are given very little to work with. Jackie Chan briefly appears in the opening and closing live-action segments, in addition to voicing the teacher of the ninjas, Master Wu. Chan is perfectly enjoyable in both performances. It’s just too bad that he spends most of his screen time on the sidelines giving exposition to Lloyd’s less interesting team of ninjas.

While the trademark fast-paced humor with which these films have become synonymous is certainly present, this time around, the novelty seems to be showing some signs of age. Younger audiences are sure to enjoy the endless barrage of self-aware absurdity, but parents may be in need of a break after two of these films in the same year. Yet despite its missing bricks, THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE is a far more enjoyable outing than it deserves to be. Let’s just hope Warner Bros. waits a little longer than seven months before they release the next one.

Grade: B

THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE opens on Friday (9/22) nationwide.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.