Six young ninjas Lloyd, Jay, Kai, Cole, Zane, and Nya are tasked with defending their island home, called Ninjago. By night, they’re gifted warriors, using their skills and awesome fleet of vehicles to fight villains and monsters. By day, they’re ordinary teens struggling against their greatest enemy: high school.
“The Lego Movie” was a huge success thanks in part to the charm and likability of its two stars, Chris Pratt and Elizabeth Banks, but the real star of that film, was Will Arnett’s impetuous and gruff-sounding Batman, who stole absolutely every scene he was in. It came as no surprise when three years later, Warner Bros. announced that he would, in fact, star in his very own picture, “The LEGO Batman Movie.” That film was hilarious and once again, Arnett stole the show. The laughs in both those movies were aimed at the children but the adults got their fair share of humor too. With “The LEGO Ninjago Movie,” however, while there are some playful and amusing scenes throughout, overall, it lacks the pure imagination embodied by its two previous incarnations. Like a franchise that has grown too long in the tooth, even though this is only the third in the series, it feels like it was written by screenwriters who did not understand the LEGO humor and universe and ended up writing a generic kid script that was adapted into a LEGO film.
I’ve always been a huge fan of Jackie Chan. When I was growing up in Ireland in the ’70s and ’80s, I watched every single movie he ever made and admired him not just for his martial arts capabilities, but also because he was one crazy mother who wouldn’t hesitate to jump off a building with no safety precautions in place, or leap out of an airplane without a parachute, the guy was absolutely insane. Now that he is 63, and is beginning to slow down, he is making films that are aimed more at kids. In “The LEGO Ninjago Movie,” the story begins with a young boy who wanders into an old Chinese relic shop and meets Master Wu (Jackie Chan), the store’s owner. When Wu tells him to go back outside and play with his friends, he informs him that he doesn’t have any and Wu begins to tell him the legend of Ninjago. The film then turns into the LEGO style and we discover that young Lloyd (Dave Franco), lives in Ninjago and is hated by everyone because his father, the evil Garmadon (Justin Theroux), constantly attacks the city, trying to take it over but he is always stopped by a group of superfast ninjas, continuously thwarting his nefarious plans.
Little do the people of Ninjago realize that Lloyd is actually the leader of the ninjas but because they cover their faces using ninja masks, their true identities are never known. After another failed attempt on the city, Garmadon vows to return so he can take charge, once and for all, and when he does, the ninjas cannot fight him because of the super-huge, invincible mechanical robot he has constructed. When Lloyd, out of pure anger, takes from Master Wu, a device known as the “Ultimate Weapon,” and tries, unsuccessfully, to use its power on Garmadon, he unwittingly unleashes the power of Meowthra (a funny homage to Mothra, the giant sentient caterpillar who appeared in a number of Godzilla films), a regular household kitty cat who appears as a monster to the citizens of Ninjago. To try and tame the wild beast, Master Wu informs the ninjas that they must travel to the other side of the island to retrieve the “Ultimate, Ultimate Weapon,” to stop Meowthra, and return normalcy to the city but with each of the ninjas distrusting Lloyd for using the Ultimate Weapon and bringing catastrophe to Ninjago, he must regain their trust, if they are to defeat Meowthra and Garmadon.
The film is a visual delight, filled with eye-popping colors and extravagant CGI but the heart of the story is lacking and has been done numerous times before. A group of superheroes who work together to defeat evil, and who have been separated by the careless actions of one of their own, must overcome their skepticism and animosity toward that person and band together to save the day. I found myself chuckling a few times but a lot less than I did during “The LEGO Batman Movie” and “The Lego Movie.” My 10-year-old nephew, who watched the movie with me, said he enjoyed it but thought the previous two films were much better. The movie’s demographic audience obviously knows what they’re talking about.
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