I'll give this one a firm PG. Sure, they're little toys that hit each other. But violence is bad, right? Like, I shouldn't be encouraging the kids to watch violent things. I hope that my son and daughter don't grow up to be ninjas, right? It'd be cool, but then I know that my kids kill people for a living. Also, when did we get cool with people wanting to be ninjas? They're just assassins!
DIRECTORS: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan
I have something to review besides violent gore horror! Do you understand that this is such a weird blessing right now? I get to write about The Lego Ninjago Movie! I bet I'm the only person who will write that sentence in history. I feel pretty good about setting that record. There's something to break up the monotony of having to write about how stupid Freddy's individual kills are. Anyway, I'm not saying that the movie is amazing or anything, but I really liked taking my kids to this one. Admittedly, my wife slept for most of it, but she's not feeling great and she was being a trooper.
I weirdly like the Lego franchise. When I heard that they were making a single Lego Movie, I groaned pretty hard. I hate marketing on that scale. But the first movie was great. Then I found out that they were making an extended universe out of this, because they are Sony and they're ridiculous with their trying to make everything an extended universe. But then The Lego Batman Movie was also great. (I have yet to watch it formally again, but I hear the audio from time to time and it always makes me chuckle.) Then they decided to push too far and make the next movie about Ninjago. I never was into Lego when I was a kid and I know that Ninjago is a pretty recent line of toys. I just learned this week that there was a TV show about Ninjago and that it had a separate voice cast. So I went into this movie fairly optimistically. I have two very paradoxical thoughts that I believe about The Lego Ninjago Movie based on all that I've just said. A) The Lego Ninjago Movie is the worst in the franchise. B) That's not necessarily a bad thing.
What makes the Lego movies work is that they are really funny. The tone established in Miller and Lord's original really works for this series and I love it. Miller and Lord are remarkably funny and let me establish right now that I'm bummed that many of their shows are cancelled and that they were fired from the Han Solo movie. Although I'm pretty sure they didn't write The Lego Batman Movie, the movie took their style and applied it. But the one complaint I had about The Lego Batman Movie is that it was TOO funny. Read the review. I deal with a lot of reflection on what that means in that review. Batman sacrificed a little bit of vulnerability to tell jokes and I thought it was its only weakness. The Lego Ninjago Movie is still pretty funny, but it is also the least frenetic. The one thing that these movies established is how high energy and chaotic the movies really are. Instead, The Lego Ninjago Movie decides to scale back the humor a bit and focus more on a straightforward narrative. The narrative is okay, but I applaud the series for not trying to one up the previous movie every time. There is a bit of an input overload when it comes to previous movies in the franchise, but Ninjago gets that there is a tipping point to that. I almost guarantee, however, that Sony is going to read the weaker reviews as "We need to make the next movies in the series more insane." If you have been a long time reader, you know my thoughts about the insane corporate structure that Sony employs. But if someone has a decent head on their shoulders, he or she should realize that the studio should lean into that comfort zone because there is no way to top the insanity that was The Lego Batman Movie.
The jokes still mostly work in The Lego Ninjago Movie. There are times where it feels a bit pandering to the current style of humor employed in shows found on Cartoon Network (face paced, brightly colored absurdity), but those moments don't really taint the movie as a whole. I found myself laughing just enough at these moments. I actually would have probably enjoyed the movie more had it been my first Lego experience, but the jokes still mostly land. The best bits are a rehash of Toy Story 2's absurd parenting jokes. I guess Ninjago really plumbs that well a bit deeper, considering that the parenting bit in Toy Story 2 was only small portion. The joke I'm referring to is the idea of "What if a supervillain was your parent?" like Darth Vader with jokes. I'm always a sucker for stories about fathers and sons, so I'm already not being objective. Garmadon, played by Justin Theroux, is pretty funny, but I always think that he sounds like James Woods. I also acknowledge that I keep laughing at Kumail Nanjiani because I like Kumail Nanjiani. But I have to start adding Zach Woods onto my list of people whom I respect. Zach Woods always delivers, yet he always plays a background character. However, his Zane probably has the best one liners in the movie. It doesn't sound like him, but that's just because he's playing a robot. I like that he finally gets a different character than he gets in The Office or Silicon Valley. He's very talented and I hope to see him in more things. I know that fans of the TV show are mad that Jackie Chan is the voice of Master Wu. I know nothing of the TV show, so this character isn't precious to me. I don't know if Jackie Chan has the best vocal timing necessarily, but it is nice having him act as a live action book end for the movie.
I'm a little befuddled about how seriously the bookending scenes work, though. The movie kind of plays into stereotypes a bit hard with the Oriental shop run by Jackie Chan. I'm sure I can't be the only one who felt a little uncomfortable by this. (Now that I'm thinking about all of this, a ton of non-Asian characters appropriating Asian culture might be a bit insensitive...) But then there's this delivered-serious-as-day (mixed metaphor) moment where Jackie Chan puts out a sculpted Lego figure of Master Wu. Golly, I wish there was a joke there, but it also puts Lego into this serious marketing spotlight that they've been responsible enough to avoid in previous films. Maybe it was meant to be a joke and it really didn't fly. This moment gives Lego this authentic quality that it really shouldn't have. It is treating it seriously as opposed to what the other films did. The other movies always acknowledged that these were clearly toys that were playing and that it was silly to take anything more than a grain of salt. This one moment kind of undoes that good will and I don't know why it is in the movie. Similarly, this is the movie that doesn't wink at the camera as much as it could about the nature of the toys. When the Ultimate Weapon is unleashed, that finally breaks down that wall for a second. But the movie does take its universe a little literally to the point where I realized that none of this stuff really had to be made out of Lego. This, with the exception of the Ultimate Weapon, could be a traditionally animated film about ninjas. While I applaud the toning down of the comedy, I do want them to maintain a self-aware element to them. It still happens in small doses, but those come in pop culture references to Michael Strahan and songs performed on the flute.
But the movie is first and foremost fun. While it is the weakest in the franchise, I don't mind watching it again with my kids. The jokes really land and the plot is pretty good, if not a bit cliche. I don't love the Captain Planet stuff, but who cares in the long run? The movie never denies that it ever is anything outside of what it presents on the poster. A bunch of teens learning to be ninjas to fight one of the character's dad is just 3 Ninjas. (I don't know if the 3 Ninjas ever fought family. It's been a while and I almost guarantee that 3 Ninjas doesn't hold up.) Western ninja stories never really drew me in, but I also acknowledge that this movie is both appealing to kids and fairly entertaining for adults. I don't think that Michael Strahan and Robin Roberts have the cultural penetration that the studio execs at Sony think that they do, but who cares? The jokes still play.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.