FOR more than 60 years, LEGO building bricks have unlocked the imaginations of the young and the perpetually young at heart. Fantastical new worlds rise and fall as the brightly coloured blocks are slotted together and pulled apart, reused in seemingly endless combinations. The spirit of reconstruction runs deep in The LEGO Ninjago Movie, the third computer-animated adventure in the rapidly expanding franchise. Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan’s film lazily bolts together themes from The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Batman Movie to explore a strained father-son dynamic against a backdrop of martial arts mayhem. The riotous, barnstorming comedy of the first two films has been heavily diluted and a live-action framing device featuring Hong Kong superstar Jackie Chan as the owner of a mystical shop feels like an obvious stylistic conceit. Polished one-liners are disappointingly thin on the brick-plated ground and vocal performances fail to elevate the material above the parapet of mediocrity. A linear quest for a mysterious artefact called The Ultimate, Ultimate Weapon provides a flimsy hook for the toy box tomfoolery, and should hold the attention of very young audiences who are already familiar with the lucrative Ninjago brand.
Parents and older fans of the construction sets face a much sterner test to remain engaged for the full 101 minutes.
High school student Lloyd Garmadon (voiced by Dave Franco) lives in the brick city of Ninjago with his mother Koko (Olivia Munn).
Classmates despise Lloyd because his estranged father, Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux), is an evil despot, who repeatedly attacks the city in elaborate shark-themed contraptions. Thankfully, Ninjago is protected at all times by the Secret Ninja Force, an elite team trained by Master Wu (Chan), brother of Lord Garmadon and author of must-read manual Ninjanuity.
City residents are blissfully unaware that the leader of the SNF, the Green Ninja, is Lloyd and the other members of the squad include fellow students Cole (Fred Armisen), Jay (Kumail Nanjiani), Kai (Michael Pena), Nya (Abbi Jacobson) and Zane (Zach Woods).
The SNF repels Lord Garmadon’s latest attack by combining the elemental powers of earth, ice, water, fire and lightning. The black-helmeted archvillain vows revenge.
The LEGO Ninjago Movie is a flying kick too far for the brand and feels like a glossy exercise in corporate self-promotion rather than a fully fledged cinematic feature.
The pungent air of staleness pervades, exacerbated by a paucity of sly visual gags and pithy pop culture references.
“When I return, I’ll have something really wicked in store for you!” guffaws the Lord Garmadon early in the film. He fails to deliver.
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