More noise than signal

The LEGO Ninjago Movie

Republished from the show notes of my other site, Fuds on Film.

Under most people’s radar, Danish toy building brick company LEGO have been building up their own little multimedia empire, thanks to some canny partnerships and tie-ins. There have been approximately eleven million LEGO video games, many based on popular movie franchises, such as Harry PotterLord of the Rings, and The Conjuring, as well as a few TV shows based on their own ranges such as Bionicle and, more pertinently, Ninjago. This marks the third cinema outing, after the successful and blandly inoffensive LEGO Movie, and this year’s much better LEGO Batman Movie.

Now, I couldn’t tell you what a Ninjago was before seeing this, so while on a quick glance at Wikipedia it does seem as though this follows on from the series, it’s not something that requires any prior knowledge. Ninjago City is a bustling blockopolis where life is given a certain edge by the proximity to would-be evil overlord Garmadon’s volcano lair. Garmadon, voiced by Justin Theroux, seeks dominance over Ninjago City because he is evil. He is evil, because he seeks dominance over Ninjago City. Such circles we weave.

He’s continually thwarted in his ambitions by a group of teen ninjas in mechs that range from sweet to tubular, led by the green ninja, Lloyd, voiced by Dave Franco. With these ninjas operating anonymously, neither the city at large nor Garmadon himself knows that the kid that’s thwarting Garmadon’s plans is his own son. Shock. Horror.

Still, the city at large does treat Lloyd with the disdain that becomes the son of a would-be oppressor, much to Lloyd’s anguish. Still, he’s bolstered by the support of his sensei Master Wu and his fellow troops Cole, Jay, Kai, Nya and Zane, voiced by Jackie Chan, Fred Armisen, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Peña, Abbi Jacobson and Zach Woods. However, one day Garmadon tires of constantly losing, and creates an ultimate stompy-mech impervious to the ninja team’s weapons. You’d think that’d be the first option.

This forces a desperate Lloyd to use the “Ultimate Weapon”, much against Master Wu’s wishes. This turns out to be a relatively harmless laser pointer, but just as the thistle whistles summoned great beasts in The Family Ness or Godzooky could summon Godzilla, a mighty beast appears, Meowthra who lays waste to the sweet, tubular mechs and swathes of the city in the supercilious, aloof way that only a cat can be.

Disappointed, Master Wu sends the ninja team on a quest for The Ultimate Ultimate weapon to control this rampaging beast, a search that will see them challenged, grow closer and also have Lloyd unexpectedly reach an understanding with his father.

It’s generally had mixed to poor reviews, although I rather wonder if that’s more due to the proximity to the admittedly better LEGO Batman film than anything inherently wrong with this film. Spacing them out would perhaps have yielded better Rotten Tomato scores, but perhaps not by much. It’s not the sort of film that’s ever going to review well, given the unavoidable similarity to the other LEGO films.

That said, I enjoyed this more than the original LEGO Movie, which was fine, but with some confusing messaging. This plays on rather more conventional themes of teamwork and self-belief, and it’s a perfectly fine story for this sort of thing, aided by some solid voicework.

More interestingly, for me at least, is that it’s frequently quite funny, with some irreverent lines and tangents that made me laugh more or less all the way through, which very much took my by surprise, Justin Theroux in particular nailing the delivery, and Zach Woods’ definitely a normal teen and not a robot at all Zane being something of a scene stealer.

Film of the year candidate? Well, no, not close to it, but I’ve enjoyed this silly kid’s flick more than a heck of a lot of this year’s more highly regarded work, and it’s certainly worth sticking on your catch up list for its appearance on home formats at the very least.