The LEGO Ninjago Movie Review

The latest LEGO movie has arrived on the big screen and it has some big, brick-built shoes to fill. The LEGO Movie caught many off guard when it arrived in 2014. It garnered almost universal praise amongst critics and audiences alike and earned nearly $470 million dollars worldwide. Just this past February, The LEGO Batman Movie earned over $300 million and similarly high praise. So how does The LEGO Ninjago Movie compare to its illustrious predecessors? Well, I have some thoughts…

That bamboo isn’t LEGO…

I’ll cut right to it, it’s my least favourite of the LEGO Movies. It’s just not as good.

But, it is still enjoyable. I mean, there were three original Star Wars films and I think The Empire Strikes Back was the best. Star Wars comes second and Return of the Jedi is last. That doesn’t mean Return is bad, just not as good. Anyway, I went with my wife, our son and one of his school friends. My wife and I are on the same page about where this one ranks, but the kids agree that this new one is the best. Of course, kids are always drawn to whatever is new, but I think the giant cat was a sway for my boy. Doesn’t hurt that Meowthra strongly resembles our new cat, Nova.

I have three main issues with the film. First, there wasn’t enough Martial Arts.

He’s behind you guys…

In film called The LEGO Ninjago Movie, i figured I’d see a lot of LEGO and a lot of Ninjas fighting. The former cancelled out the later in order to sell more sets. More that half of the battling in the film was done with giant ninja mecha and other vehicles. I completely understand that they are using these movies as a way to sell sets, but I only really enjoyed the fight between Garmadon and Sensei Wu. The action in general was fun and I understand that there are limitations due to the static nature of the characters, but when they wanted to, the animators had no trouble putting together a good fight.

My second issue is the increasing use of non LEGO elements.

None of that Jungle is LEGO…

I’m not talking about the scenes with humans or the odd real world item and I’m certainly not talking about the cat. My issue is the amount of non LEGO backgrounds and elements creeping into these films. I’d be hard pressed to think of a single environment that wasn’t LEGO in the first film and it was awesome. By the time LEGO Batman showed up, things like the cave walls and the water in the Batcave weren’t rendered in LEGO. This film had huge chunks of set pieces that were not LEGO animation and I’m sure it wouldn’t matter to most people, but I found it distracting. It’s my least favourite aspect of the LEGO games also. I find that when everything looks normal in the background, the LEGO elements stand out and it’s jarring and too obvious what you need to do.

The entire jungle portion of the film was a disappointment. They could have done some lush LEGO jungle and it would have added a lot to the look of the film. When Wu traps Garmadon in the cage, it is completely LEGO free. The really odd thing is, that exact scene is portrayed in a set, so the cage had to be made from LEGO elements and looks nothing like the scene. Of course they would have had to scale the set back in size, but it could have had all the elements from the movie in a smaller dose. The sad part is, I think it was a decision made to save money, time or both.

My last issue is the writing.

Don’t look so surprised, guys…

It was clever at times, but they relied too heavily on awkward interactions. These same types of jokes were in the previous two films, but I felt the more often landed as intended. I’m really not sure if the issue was the writing itself, the delivery from the actors which were not all cast as perfectly as in previous films, or me. Maybe after three movies, that same old same is falling flat.

Jokes aside, the emotional depth of the film was far below the level of the previous films. It’s hinted at early in the film as in the previous two, but it constantly feels so tacked on it’s almost uncomfortable. Also, the narrative bookends don’t portray their message very well or how that message relates to the central theme of the film. It may not resonate as strongly as the other films, but it has it’s moments and I won’t say it’s badly written, just weak.

Overall, I think it’s a fine movie for kids. It’s not Shakespeare, but it’s far beyond the LEGO TV or direct to market films and kids love those. I certainly enjoyed it and plan on picking up the Blu-Ray when it comes out. I also don’t think it deserves the ratings it’s gotten on Rotten Tomatoes. I think it deserves somewhere between 60-70 percent, but I hope it at least makes enough bank to warrant more LEGO films in the minds of the studio executives. At almost 60 million worldwide, I’d guess it’s closing in on it’s production budget, so I’m not worried.

If you’re wondering whether or not to take your kids, do it. For adults, it’ll really come down to how much you like LEGO.

My final score is:  6.5 out of 10

Time might push me up to a 7 or down to a 6, but for now I’d recommend a viewing.

Jackie Chan alone is worth that.

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