Friday, 3 November 2017


Based on the popular Lego toy line and The Masters of Spinjitzu TV show, The Lego Ninjago Movie looked like a niche spin-off to Lego's previous successes. Not high on my radar, it was however a preferable choice to see with the niece, the nephew and the mother over the like of The Emoji Movie, which I'm still not mentally tough enough to witness. Based in the Asian-inspired, technologically advanced city of Ninjago, the world is saved time and time again by a mysterious group of six ninjas, all with fantastical mechanical beasts and elemental powers. Well, except for the green ninja Lloyd (Dave Franco), whose elemental ability is, well... just the colour green. It quickly transpires that Lloyd is also the son of the very monster that tries to take over the city, the four-armed, demon-possessed, Doctor Evil-type Garmadon (Justin Theroux), who doesn't even seem to acknowledge at first that he is, as he pronounces it, "Ler-Loyd's" father.

The first act of the film is pretty standard fair for contemporary kids film. It's hyperactive, noisy, and full of pop culture references, and the characteristic Lego meta-breakdown of the film as it plays in front of you left me chuckling. While not bad in itself - I enjoyed the fights with a massive gun that shoots sharks, all of Garmadon's minions that wear octopus and crab hats, plus the "Ultimate Weapon" being a real life cat - it felt very much like what a cynical film producer thinks kids like nowadays. Indeed, it was kind of the opposite, with children chatting away and getting out of their seats, and even one child, clearly too young to sit through this film, resorting to viciously pulling their mothers hair for entertainment. But hey, this is a Lego movie we're watching here. Let's not jump the gun.

With the Ultimate Weapon Meowthra destroying the city, Ler-Loyd and the rest of the ninja's travel with his uncle Master Wu (Jackie Chan) through the Forest of Dangers to retrieve the Ultimate, Ultimate Weapon. However, Master Wu is lost during a battle with Garmadon, and the ninja's cage Garmadon on their way through the Canyon of Death to the Temple of Fragile Foundations. The ninja's along the way realise that Garmadon is actually a pretty cool dude, much cooler then Ler-Loyd, much to his son's annoyance.

This is where the film quietens down and we learn how Garmadon became the fearsome leader he is today, how he met Ler-Loyd's mother Misako, and why they had to separate. We get father/son reconciliation as well, which all becomes a little sad and touching even. This is when the whole cinema falls silent, even the very young children, as we empathise with what could of been a very cliched bad guy, and deal with Garmadon's complex feelings towards his past. Its like the cinema crowd went through a collective catharsis, something which is hard to do in contemporary kids films that don't completely rely on emotional manipulation. This leads the film to have a satisfying ending, especially considering many other movies might of resorted to a sticky and gooey sentimentality.

There are certain cliches that The Lego Ninjago Movie adheres to that renders it unoriginal: the beginning feels a little like the American version of Power Rangers, where rigidly Western teenagers magically turn into Asian-esque crime fighters with transformative mech-suits, plus the wise old martial arts teacher trope is pretty prominent, along with Ler-Loyd being the most hated kid around who secretly saves everyone. Still, this is a Lego movie, and many more tropes are subverted as they are established, and the final "battle" is distinctly non-violent.

The Lego movies are quickly carving out a place for themselves in a market saturated with bland and contemptuous films for children. The humour is sharp, the animation is wonderful, and the stories are affecting. While The Lego Ninjago Movie may be the least successful of the three movies, with its magical teenage martial artists already seeming old hat, it still treats its audience with some respect, proving that kids respond more to emotional investment than bombastic distractions.



(P.S. His and Hers favourite Michael Peña stars as the fire ninja Kai, so major added bonus there.)

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