It seems only yesterday that The Lego Batman Movie was gracing silver screens across the country. Now we have another instalment in the LEGO Movie franchise to keep the kids entertained for 90 minutes this school holidays. The LEGO Ninjago Movie, the first of the franchise to be based solely on one of the popular expanded/themed kit products, is an homage to 80s films and martial arts movies. A young boy who is being bullied wanders into an oriental curios store where he finds wise old shop-keeper and wooden LEGO man collector Jackie Chan. In true 80s coming-of-age/adventure film style, Chan proceeds to recall to the boy the legend of Ninjago.
Set in the Tokyo-esque city of Ninjago, which is seemingly full of white people, six ninjas are always there to save the city from being conquered by the evil (with no real clear reason for his evilness) Garmadon (Justin Theroux). Everybody has one thing in common: bullying his unfortunate son Lloyd (Dave Franco). Lloyd has a tough life; everybody hates him because his father is always destroying the city, his father is absent in his life so he’s had no-one to teach him how to catch or throw, and the cheerleaders at school always give him a hard time. But he is secretly the Green Ninja and together with his friends they are the only things standing in the way of Ninjago’s total destruction.
During one battle with Garmadon, Lloyd unwittingly sets a huge Monster on the city (a literal cat who takes down the ninjas and part of the city much like Godzilla). The team must then go on a treacherous journey to find the Ultimate-Ultimate Weapon, lead by their mystical Master, and learn about themselves and bond – the usual long journey mantra.
But unlike the typical 80s movies or martial arts films this particular animated outing pays homage to, the big climax of the film is oddly lacking, in both action and references to something specific learned on the journey. There is a lot to like about this film; the script is quite funny at times, however it is the weakest of the LEGO Movies so far. The battle scenes are fast paced and hard to follow, the animation flicks by so quickly at points it’d be worth warning epileptics before the film. Those unfamiliar with the LEGO Ninjago TV series or building sets may have a hard time following all references, and the younger viewers at this reviewer’s screening were already climbing over the seats and finding ways to entertain themselves at the 20 minute mark.
Like in previous LEGO outings the few (two) females characters are strong physically but lacking in substance, although it was refreshing to not have either involved in a romantic storyline. The relationship at the core of this film is the fraught one between Garmadon and Lloyd. And while it does seem that the citizens of Ninjago are predominantly white, the film actually has quite a diverse cast; rising star and Pakistani-American Kumail Nanjiani voices wise-cracking lightning ninja Jay, badass Vietnamese-American Olivia Munn voices Lloyd’s mother and secret ninja Koko, and comedic genius and Korean-German-American Fred Armisen voices ballsy earth ninja Cole. And of course let’s not forget actual real life martial arts veteran Jackie Chan voicing the wise wise-cracking master ninja Master Wu, making this one of the most diverse Hollywood castings of an Asian-centric martial arts film for some time.
Given the recent output of children’s films from Pixar, Dreamworks, Disney and Warner Bros. however, Ninjago is pretty weak. However, it is the lead blockbuster of the school holidays with a pretty strong promotional push from its biggest stars so it will probably do well anyway.
The Lego Ninjago Movie is in cinemas from 21st September through Roadshow Films.