The original LEGO Movie took the world by storm back in 2014, proving its naysayers completely wrong and becoming a worldwide cultural smash; The LEGO Batman Movie was also incredible in its own right, and now we have The LEGO Ninjago Movie, which is based on the popular children's franchise, LEGO Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu, which ran from 2011 to... well, it's still going to this day! This theatrical movie is influenced by the show, but is really its own thing with no narrative ties to its source material, even right down to having a completely different cast. The story is that the city of Ninjago is frequently attacked by the evil Lord Garmadon, and it's common knowledge that high-schooler Lloyd is his son and he's constantly bullied for it, but nobody knows that he and his gang are colour-coded, elemental ninjas that defend the city from Garmadon.
All this is set up within the first third of the movie, and is easily the weakest part since it is basically nothing but set-up that is crammed with so many familiar clichés and tropes, whether it's the bullied outcast, the superheroes with secret identities theme or having giant robot fights within cities. Some of the narrative beats and jokes present in this film are clearly aimed for a younger audience demographic, especially with its teen dialogue, yet there are some of the familiar jokes as seen in previous LEGO movies with the characters being self-aware of their plastic-toy form and world. Also, while the other two LEGO movies are superior with their characters, story and humour, this film actually looks better and much more creative than the other movies, right down to its city design, as well as making every animated element feel distinctive so as to make it easier to distinguish and make out.
When it gets into the final two thirds, this is where the movie truly shines; the narrative is much better paced, the humour becomes wittier and sharper, and it almost becomes an entirely different movie altogether. The father-and-son dynamic between Lloyd and Garmadon is pretty much the main crux of the movie, and this storyline could've easily become schmaltzy and tired, but it actually worked remarkably well. Yes, it did wrap up perhaps too simply and neatly by the end, but it was still sweet and didn't detract from what came before. In terms of the characters present in this film, Master Wu is the typical wise mentor with a mischievous and sardonic wit about him, and Jackie Chan is wonderfully cast in this role and is way better utilised here than he was in all three Kung Fu Panda movies combined (take note Dreamworks!). While Lord Garmadon is in the same vain of villains that are self-aware of their own proud-to-be-a-villain nature, he is very entertaining and Justin Theroux's dry smooth tones are brilliantly put to good use here. Dave Franco does a credible job as Lloyd, and his character is pretty much the emotional centre of the movie as he tries to cope with his father issues, but his friends, however, are just there... they aren't terrible in any way, but they are just there...
Overall, this isn't as flawless or consistent as the previous two LEGO movies, and there is plenty here to pick apart, whether it's the baggy first act, the side characters being underdeveloped, some clichés becoming tiresome, and the live-action bookends to the movie being somewhat unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. However, this is still a solid LEGO movie with a great voice cast (especially Jackie Chan and Justin Theroux), the second and third acts being superior, the animation is improved from before, and is, in the end, an enjoyable viewing experience for all ages. Sure, this may not connect with all audiences in the same way the previous two movies did, and if these familiar tropes and clichés were to carry on into other LEGO movies then they would start to be repetitive and become just another recycled franchise, but there are certainly no signs of that as of now, and if you give this movie a chance, you might find something of value here.
However, it's completely baffling that certain critics prefer the subpar Cars 3 and Despicable Me 3 to this, and it is mighty annoying that the absolute worst animated movie of the year with The Emoji Movie still managed to make more money than both this and Captain Underpants, so thanks for that hate-watchers!
THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: CHARLIE BEAN, PAUL FISHER, BOB LOGAN / SCREENPLAY: VARIOUS / STARRING: JACKIE CHAN, DAVE FRANCO, FRED ARMISEN, KUMAIL NANJANI, MICHAEL PENA, OLIVIA MUNN, JUSTIN THEROUX / RELEASE DATE: FEBURARY 12TH