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Movie Review: #LEGONinjagoMovie

The hilarity of The LEGO Ninjago Movie is matched only its disappointing ending.

Review by Matt Cummings
If you've been keeping up on LEGO's series of animated/live-action movies, a trend has begun to emerge: fill it with memorable and established characters, turn up the silliness, be incredibly meta, and cater to adults as well as kids. The result has seen the colorful brick company taken in a wondrous $430m domestically, although it experienced a $100m drop between 2014's Movie and 2017's . Now comes The LEGO Ninjago Movie, a property with a very specific following but really none of the pedigree in terms of talent or recognition behind it. And although it absolutely entertains with its wild meta and quick karate edits, the film disappoints with a lukewarm ending, but should do well enough at the box office to continue future iterations.
Ninjago City is a bustling metropolis, filled with exotic characters and home to a team of secret ninjas including Master Wu (Jackie Chan), Lloyd aka the Green Ninja (Dave Franco), Kai (Michael Pena), Nya (Abbi Jacobson), and Cole (Fred Armisen). Together, they must defeat the evil warlord Garmadon (Justin Theroux), who's been dubbed The Worst Guy Ever, and who constantly sends armies of destruction to the city in an effort to conquer it. But violence isn't the only threat Garmadon brings: he's also Lloyd's dad. As father and son battle for control of Ninjago City, the two also take a journey deep into their past to discover hidden truths, family secrets, and the keys to The Ultimate Weapon and the even more destructive Ultimate Ultimate Weapon. From the moment The LEGO Ninjago Movie begins, we know that the production from a team of directors including Director Charlie Bean, who lent his talents to the insanity behind The Powerpuff Girls, will be a visual smorgasbord. We're treated to Japanese-style animation, including quick edits and off-the-wall commercials before the real story ever gets off the ground. Production value is stellar, including the 50's-looking WB Godzilla-title card. Vocal talents are also well-chosen and carried out, although you'll not recognize one of them if you haven't read the cast list. But it's all about the LEGO world, and so every building, street, and large mech heroes shows off impressive detail, as if these characters can often do come to life. The franchise has hit its stride visually, but much like Batman, this one seems to spend too much time developing the world and not the characters in it.
An even bigger team of writers (13 in all) lead by Bob Logan struggle to keep our interest as The LEGO Ninjago Movie moves into its third act. We know father/son will reconcile, that the city will be saved, and that danger will be abated; this didn't happen in 2014's Movie, which threw everyone a curve ball with its unpredictable ending. Ninjago doesn't seek such lofty goals, confining itself to a more standard animated movie in which few characters suffer or struggle to ultimately prevail. That combination of visual eye candy and cheap storytelling will keep LEGO films from becoming a real challenger to Pixar or Disney, existing in a tightly-controlled box of would-of/could-have. And yet with all of that, The LEGO Ninjago Movie is hilarious and ultimately entertaining. Theroux is great as the villain Garmadon, immediately finding his evilness both in voice and action. To Garmadon, it's all about the tech; and much like Wile E. Coyote, the results have always been the same. Although it's unlikely that a master villain would ever have feelings for his son, Theroux does play fish-out-of-water around Lloyd quite well, even going so far as to call his son 'L-loyd'. But that's where the uniqueness ends, as Franco and Pena seem quite replaceable, their characters never attaining their true potential. Still, there's so much to love about Ninjago that you might not care, especially when that 'monster' scene is revealed.
For all of its ultimately vanilla ending, The LEGO Ninjago Movie more than entertains. Even though this property is relatively new to too many people, it serves as quite a relief from the worst Summer box office season in 20 years, as the meta is strong here that it demands you see it twice. Which is what I intend to do. The LEGO Ninjago Movie is rated PG for some mild action and rude humor and has a runtime of 101 minutes. Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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