The Lego Ninjago Movie: Everything is not awesome

Review: Three directors, eight writers and some great voices can't save this film

The Lego Ninjago Movie
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Director: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, Bob Logan
Cert: G
Genre: Animation
Starring: Dave Franco, Justin Theroux, Fred Armisen, Abbi Jacobson, Olivia Munn, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Peña, Zach Woods, Jackie Chan
Running Time: 1 hr 41 mins

A young boy wanders into the kind of relic store where one might unwisely purchase a mogwai. The proprietor, Mr Liu (Jackie Chan), proceeds to regale the wide-eyed ragamuffin with the legend of Ninjago, that ancient line of Lego merch (launched in 2011), comprising ninjas, dragons and mecha thingies.

Gather round. The great trademarked metropolis of Ninjago is routinely attacked by the megalomaniacal Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux) and his many disposable generals. That’s bad news for Lloyd (Dave Franco), Garmadon’s estranged son, an understandably unpopular high-schooler (“His dad ruins everything,” hisses one classmate).

If only his peers and detractors knew that Lloyd was part of the secret ninja force who fend off Garmadon on a daily basis.

If only Garmadon could be a better dad. “You ruined my life,” cries Lloyd. “That’s not true,” comes the retort, “I haven’t even been a part of your life; how could I ruin it? I wasn’t even there.” And so on.


Familial discord

This monster-sized familial discord finally unleashes the monster-sized Meowthra, the ultimate city-destroying weapon, leaving the ninjas to regroup under the tutelage of Master Wu (Chan, again).

Arriving only months after Lego Batman, The Lego Ninjago Movie's unspectacular US box office haul suggests that there's simply not enough brick-love to go around. Bad timing aside, the third of the hitherto excellent Lego movies sequence is the weakest to date.

The comic premise, which roundly and rightly mocks Hollywood's apparently endless appetite for action heroes nursing Oedipal crises, is promising, and allows for a terrific nod to The Empire Strikes Back. The voice cast – special shout-out to Theroux's black-clad, double-torso villain – are note-perfect. The Lego is assembled into pleasingly inventive forms: who doesn't want to see flying mecha sharks?

There are some good lines: “I mean, my mom is weird, and collects seashells,” Lloyd’s fellow ninja reassures him. “Your dad levels cities and attacks innocent people, so, they’ve all got their quirks.”

But there are also some of the overcooked scorch marks one might expect from a delayed project with three directors and eight credited writers attached. Lego Batman improves with repeated viewings; Lego Ninjago, conversely, can't sustain its central joke over an overlong 101 minutes. Everything is not quite awesome.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic