Following the success of the first two films comes the newest sibling to the LEGO world: The LEGO Ninjago Movie. Was it as full of color and artistically beautiful as the first two?
Were the characters as interesting as the figurines we were introduced to in the first two films?
Was the story as compelling as the first two films??
The Master: A LEGO Ninjago Short was released a year prior as a promotion for the LEGO Ninjago Movie and it filled me with hope and expectations because watching Master Wu fight against a chicken was simple, satisfying, and hilarious.
But the movie was not as simple, satisfying or hilarious as the short proved to be.
Don’t get me wrong. This movie was not in any way, shape or form bad and no, I’m not just saying this because I was pampered and stuffed with more than enough food during the LEGO screening event. If I’m to compare this movie to its predecessors, I would have to say it definitely comes dead last. But that’s also because the first two were insanely phenomenal films that blew people’s expectations and that’s a lot to live up to as the third child in a family full of over achievers. The LEGO Movie was not my favorite film either, but I have to acknowledge the creativity and world building the creators were able to do. The ability to create a movie purely out of a nostalgia toy that yes, is still being sold everywhere, but we all know never had any set story for us kids to follow is commendable. The stories were built solely in our imagination and The LEGO Movie took that craziness and went flying.
Now The LEGO Batman Movie was another thing entirely. I completely fell in love with the movie the moment the black screen opened the film and Will Arnett’s strangely sexy Batman voice stated, “a black screen.” One can say perhaps because we’ve had years to get to know Batman in all sorts of forms, that made the movie more palatable for the mainstream audience. But the creators really knew how to work Batman and all the supporting characters and every joke hit home without feeling too juvenile.
Unfortunately, this was something that the Ninjago Movie failed to do more often than not. Most of the jokes felt like they were geared towards a younger audience, which is totally what they were going for and that’s fine. The first two films reached a happy middle ground where children and adults could equally enjoy the film. The Ninjago Movie hit a very cement ceiling where only children are able to walk around comfortably. I did chortle merrily here and there but not as much as I’d hoped.
The story is straight forward enough. But unfortunately it lacked the heart LEGO Batman had. There wasn’t enough to drive the story and for me to care about what happened to Lloyd Garmadon and his ninja crew. There was no consequence for anything anyone did. Things just happened because that’s what needed to happen and la dee da. As a kid watching this film, who gives a flying monkey about what’s happening because the colors are amazing, the action is mind blowing and there are FLYING MECHS WITH NINJAS CONTROLLING THEM!! But for an adult, one may or may not doze off with the all star Michael Bay treatment.
The standout voice actors were Jackie Chan, Justin Theroux, Kumail Nanjiani and Zach Woods. Jackie Chan as Master Wu was appropriate and perhaps had the best lines throughout the entire film. You could tell that Chan had a lot of fun with the lines and was going ham with being an #ExpressiveAsian.
Justin Theroux had created a titillating sexy voice for Lord Garmadon and it was an absolute pleasure listening to him be a strangely loveable bad guy. Kumail Nanjiani as the blue ninja of Lightning, Jay, was an improv master with all his side comments that may or may not have been part of the script. And finally, the underrated white ninja of Ice, Zane, was voiced by Zach Woods. I went through the entire movie completely forgetting an actual human was voicing this robotic character and not until the press conference did I realise, ‘oh hey. Zach is a human. And he can talk JUST like a robot. THIS IS AMAZING.’ And also looks like a beautiful, tall, skinny robot man.
There’s also Meowthra but that’s the biggest, most magical surprise in this film that I absolutely adored and will leave for you to discover.
And now for the place you knew I was going to go because hey, we’re The Nerds of Color.
In a world where Asian culture is used as the story (because ninjas) and the backdrop, you’d think there’d be more of an Asian presence in the voice cast. Yes, the almighty Jackie Chan voices Master Wu, the ninja sensei of the Teenage Elemental Ninja Lego Humans (doesn’t quite roll off the tongue like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, does it?), but the movie focuses on La-Loyd and his father, Garmadon. Which, as we know, are voiced by Dave Franco and Justin Theroux respectively. What makes it even weirder is that Garmadon, brother of Master Wu, was shown in an old photo as being the same yellow bodied LEGO man as his brother as a child.. yet somehow morphs into a four-armed, fire-tearing, black man. Did he black face as he reached adulthood? You guys never really explained how those extra arms appeared! What is even happening??
One can argue, but they filled out the supporting cast with people of color! Okay, sure but that’s always the excuse studios use for when it’s okay to cast people of color. In the supporting roles. Use them to fill out a scene. Where people won’t really see them. They cast Scarlett Johansson as Major Kusanagi in the catatonically live action Ghost in the Shell because of star power. So… what’s the reason for casting Dave Franco and Justin Theroux as the male leads? As beautiful, tan, and chiselled as their faces are, I don’t think they have that ‘star power’ for families to flock to the theaters. And in case you didn’t know, they have Randall Park, Constance Wu, Ali Wong, and Charlyne Yi voicing very small supporting characters. You have these four voicing minor SUPPORTING characters in an Asian themed film? HOW DARE YOU?!? Thank goodness Randall Park and Ali Wong have their upcoming film with Netflix so they can go banana berries with their hopefully full potential.
Now let’s talk about that women representation. I know LEGO Ninjago has been around for a bit so they’re only going with whatever pre-existing characters they have to work with, but in this movie driven by boys and men trying to relate to one another, we have just two notable women. The silver ninja of water, Nya (what is this name even) — played by Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson — and Lloyd’s mother and ex-flame of Garmadon, Misako — played by X-Men: Apocalypse‘s unfortunate Psylocke, Olivia Munn.
Both are strong women who fit into very stereotypical roles that men like to fit women into. One is James Cameron’s ideal woman who is edgy and tough. Thankfully she doesn’t have a rebellious streak of color in her hair like Wyldstyle, from The LEGO Movie so one point for leaving her hair one color. The other is the pleasant mother figure who is always there for you but you take her for granted and then in the end, you give her a hug to say ‘hey thanks” and then go back to trying to please your terrible father. Because as we all know, mothers are expendable in animated films. Or pure evil. Or dead. Thanks, Disney.
ALL IN ALL, despite everything, the movie was fun. It’s definitely a family friendly film that will get kids lining up to buy Ninjago LEGOs (good one, marketing team) and hi-yahing their ways through things to be ninjas (take proper lessons, kids, so you don’t break anything. Like your parent’s hearts and wallets. You can’t rip out your arm and pop it back as easily as Lloyd does. Not like a kid is even reading this.) The story is simple, the action is impressive and the lights are bright. It also gave me a chance to visit LEGOland for the first time ever and the LEGO Ninjago ride is as ridiculous as the movie. But rewatchability? I’ll probably watch The LEGO Batman Movie and The Master: A LEGO Ninjago Short instead.
Still better than Marvel’s Iron Fist.