REVIEW | ‘The Lego Ninjago Movie’ has all the pieces but they never come together

October 2, 2017 - 2:22 PM
A scene from 'The Lego Ninjago Movie.'

“The Lego Movie” raised the bar so high for this franchise. It was crazy, unpredictable, and loaded with so much zany humor (and still managed to hit hard with a lesson on individuality) that it broke all expectations and was a certified hit. I missed the follow-up, “The Lego Batman Movie,” but I was told it was just as funny so I was expecting the same for this one. I was sadly mistaken.

“The Lego Ninjago Movie” has an odd structure and the real plot doesn’t start until one-third of the movie is underway. The first act is an over-extended exposition of the world with action and gags that lays the groundwork for the actual film, which begins much later. It’s a strange structure to take because you feel like you’re watching one movie and then it shifts to another movie altogether right in the middle.

What first begins as a standard battle between good versus evil with a father-and-son dynamic switches unexpectedly into a father-and-son bonding story out to save the world. The shift is sudden and sends the narrative in a completely different direction. It’s an interesting choice but it isn’t done seamlessly and it makes the film’s overall structure feel disjointed.

What made the original “Lego Movie” so popular was its zany, off-the-wall humor, which is surprisingly absent in this film. There are jokes — quirky personalities, visual gags, meta comedy, and even witty quips — but the timing doesn’t seem to land in its proper beats. I was in a theater filled with kids and there were only two moments in the whole movie where people laughed.

The jokes were just not landing.

There is an interesting story that can be found here, with homages to old kung fu movies, but the film doesn’t quite fully commit to any of its genres, whether action, adventure, kung fu, family drama, or comedy. It meanders through its many themes without really feeling like it’s part of a unified story.

The action sequences are a blur and not at all enjoyable because everything is happening so fast. As a branded movie with its objectives to sell Lego toys, it doesn’t even linger on the structures or the mechs so you could enjoy seeing the design of the toys, which was a positive feature in “The Lego Movie.”

You have interesting actors in the cast from Dave Franco, Justin Theroux (who is having a blast playing the voice of the villain Garmadon), and even Jackie Chan, but without a cohesive story or storytelling, it’s all a waste.

It’s frenetic rather than energetic, that you’re playing catch-up to the fight scenes rather than being immersed in them. And outside of the three main cast members, the friends of the hero Lloyd, the Green Ninja, all have individual traits but never really get a moment to shine or be distinguishable outside of their superpower.

It’s an unfortunate follow-up in the Lego franchise, which has come out so strong in its first two installments and hopefully they’ll learn from this in any upcoming sequels. There’s a lot of potential to be had and space enough in the film world for a zany, out-of-the-box animated action comedy feature like the Lego movies. But they have to use their pieces and build something that feels cohesive and whole, pun intended.