*** out of five stars
Following 2014’s sleeper hit The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie from earlier this year, The Lego Ninjago Movie continues the Lego movie series, this time adding marital arts to the cinematic tales of everyone’s favorite toy bricks.
On the island city of Ninjago, the villainous Lord Garmadon’s (voiced by Justin Theroux) frequent conquering attempts are foiled by a team of ninjas. Little does he know that the ninja team is lead by his own son Lloyd (Dave Franco) and mentored by Lloyd’s uncle, Master Wu (Jackie Chan).
After Lloyd’s impulsiveness results in disaster for Ninjago City, his ninja crew and he have to find a hidden weapon in the no-man’s-land of the island’s jungles. When they are separated from Master Wu, they are reluctantly led by none other than Lord Garmadon. So, not only must they search for the so-called “Ultimate Ultimate Weapon,” but Lloyd also faces an uphill battle in trying to bring out the good in his previously estranged father.
The Lego Ninjago Movie is a somewhat different beast from the last two Lego movies. Whereas the previous films extensively featured licensed characters, Ninjago instead focuses on characters from one of Lego’s internally-developed brands (which this reviewer admittedly has virtually no prior experience with). The pop culture references found here are instead homages to classic kung-fu films. A typically delightful Jackie Chan doubles as both the heroes’ wise mentor and the narrator of the film, and there are occasional stock footage clips of Bruce Lee mixed with what seem to be amateur martial arts home movies. One could even see influence from Power Rangers, with a team of color-coded ninjas using giant robots to fight monsters and other mechs.
As with the other Lego movies, Ninjago has plenty of ludicrous silly-yet-smart humor, but also a bit of heart. Similar to the way The Lego Batman Movie framed the Batman-Joker relationship in a buddy comedy context, the dynamic between Lloyd and Lord Garmadon feels like a light-hearted analog to Luke Skywalker’s daddy issues with Darth Vader.
While not quite as classic or universally appealing as its cinematic predecessors, The Lego Ninjago Movie should still please Lego fanatics and those looking for a kid-friendly martial arts comedy. For the most part, everything is still awesome.