The Lego Ninjago Movie has hit theaters with mixed reception and many of us at TPF have already seen it. Each of us has organized our thoughts and such, but since a lot of them have been video essays, I figured I’d write up a good ol’ fashioned written review!
This review will be divided into 2 parts – the Non-Spoilers Part and the Spoilers Part. I’ll separate them with a clearly marked picture, but you’ve been warned!
The Non-Spoiler Part
Personally, I don’t get the negative reviews. The Lego Ninjago Movie is a fun, humorous movie. It’s not the cinematic epiphany that 2014’s The Lego Movie is, but it’s not the far fall that critics keep citing it as.
The greatest strength of the movie is creating a setting that draws from the TV series without losing audiences. You don’t need to watch a single episode of Ninjago to understand the premise – if anything, the first few minutes tell you everything you need to know to be introduced to the world. Everything focuses on Lloyd and his family – his loving mother Misako (nicknamed Koko), and his narcissistic evil warlord of a father Lord Garmadon. His fellow ninjas – Kai, Cole, Jay, Zane, and Nya – add their own perspectives with funny dialogue and some genuine moments. There are so many moments that caught me by surprise and if you’re worried the trailers spoiled it all, don’t be so sure.
In my opinion, The Lego Ninjago Movie slots between The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie – it’s not quite as funny as the former but it’s got more story and more heart than the latter.
The Spoiler Parts
Alright, now it’s time for the spoiler-filled part of the review! I warned you adequately, for the record. You can thank me by leaving a comment.
(But for real, these parts include spoilers!)
The movie introduces us with a real kid entering a mysterious shop owned by Mr. Liu (Jackie Chan), a way to introduce audiences to the world of Ninjago. It’s jarring in my opinion, but if anything, I would have liked the story to be orchestrated a little differently. Perhaps something a little less comedic, some more mystery?
The scene is short as we are quickly introduced to Ninjago City, and goodness gracious, it’s never looked better! From the perspective of someone who has been to Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima, I could totally see the Asian-style architecture, city layout, and design mixed with Western influences and motifs. Though dissent has been raised about the natural, non-Lego backgrounds, I think it’s a unique aesthetic that captures two sides of Ninjago – the familar and the known versus the unknown and dangerous. I wish this was capitalized on a little more, so the journey to the Ultimate Ultimate Weapon could have seemed more suspenseful – but I digress.
Anyways, we immediately get into the core of the story. Everyone hates Lloyd because his dad is Garmadon and Garmadon is “the worst guy ever.” We immediately understand that level of animosity as Lloyd enters high school (on his birthday too!), but then we’re quickly introduced to Lloyd’s friends – Zane, Kai, Nya, Jay, and Cole. Sadly, these ninja are not as well developed as I would have liked to have seen. Personally, I blame the runtime as ninety-something minutes is far too short to give everyone the spotlight we’re used to from the TV show.
As Garmadon attacks the city, we get a glimpse into Lloyd’s totally narcissistic father. Justin Theroux totally nails it with his voice work, giving us a comical version of the villain unlike any we have ever seen. His constant mispronunciation of Lloyd’s name, his matter-of-face style, his obsessiveness – all of it stacks together to give us a view of a totally maniacal villain.
Garmadon’s attacks try Lloyd’s patience, to the point where he uses the Ultimate Weapon to try and destroy his father – against Sensei Wu’s wishes. This has an adverse effect as the weapon (a laser pointer that seems to point back to The Lego Movie) summons a “demon” to attack Ninjago: a giant cat named Meowthra! This was a twist we all saw coming from the trailers, and one I wish would have remained unspoiled, but a funny part nonetheless. Almost instantly, the cat destroys all the ninjas’ mechs and each of the ninja find themselves angry with Lloyd, for good reason.
Master Wu has a plan, however, and after some begging, the ninja accompany him into the jungles as Garmadon pursues. For those of us who watched the show, were we actually surprised when Master Wu fell into the river? It seemed to me as if they were poking fun at every time Wu sacrifices himself in the show. Regardless, the transition drives the ninja to let Garmadon lead them to the Ultimate Ultimate Weapon, save the setbacks along the way.
I laughed so hard when I saw the fired generals – and I finally understood where the Shark Army Great White minifig actually came from! It was a plot element I never saw coming, but it’s the catalyst needed to kick the ninja into shape and start the restoration between Garmadon and Lloyd.
This restoration really kicks into gear when they finally reach the Temple of the Ultimate Ultimate Weapon – also known as the former Garmadon residence. This was a disappointment for me as I was hoping for an epic enter-the-tomb type scene, but perhaps the set was far too misleading. Either way, it sets up three key events – Garmadon’s story involving Misako (who turns out to be the legendary Lady Iron Dragon, I was totally not surprised), the discovery of the Ultimate Ultimate Weapon (which I totally expected to be a “you have the power!” story moment), and Garmadon’s betrayal of the ninja (which I totally saw coming). For me, this is the weakest part of the movie – then again, it could have gone the “teamwork is great!” route. Is there any winning with these scenes?
Ninjago has always been about family, loyalty, and fighting battles that you just can’t win with weapons – but they’re ones you can win with friends and family at your side and a strong conviction for the right thing.
Armed with their new powers (or … already there powers, I guess), the ninja return to Ninjago City with the recently reappearing Wu. This was where I was getting ready for the ultimate smackdown – ninjas versus a giant cat! That was not what we got, however. Instead, we got a manifestation of Wu’s words – some battles can be won without using a weapon. Lloyd has a moment with Garmadon and Meowthra, sympathizing with their outcast … ness.
In all seriousness, it’s a touching scene. The Green Ninja removes his hood and exposes to all of Ninjago his identity as the ever-hated Lloyd, who is willing to forgive his father for everything. “I just wish we weren’t always fighting!” says Lloyd, and for a moment, I let the words hit me. I was prepared to call the end the movie’s weakest moment, but it was touching and in the spirit of Ninjago. Despite the skeletons, snakes, stone warriors, nindroids, cultists, ghosts, pirates, and genetically altered snakes (yes, I just listed them all out), Ninjago has always been about family, loyalty, and fighting battles that you just can’t win with weapons – but they’re ones you can win with friends and family at your side and a strong conviction for the right thing. That’s the message the movie makes the clearest – the solution to the “inner piece” enigma posed several times throughout the runtime.
All in all, I recommend The Lego Ninjago Movie. It’s not perfect, but it’s definitely not the far fall from glory that people have been crying. As I explained on the TPF Chat, it’s not an epiphany but not as crappy as everyone said. It’s far better than the average kids movie but not good enough to rival existing Lego movies. I can honestly say that hardcore Ninjago fans will appreciate it more than the average moviegoer, but I still consider that a victory considering previous concerns. I hope to see these characters again in future Lego movies, but here’s hoping they’ll be a little more fleshed out and developed when they return.