In the past three years, the Lego-verse has given us construction workers who are the key to everything and a caped crusader with family issues. This time around, The Lego Ninjago Movie introduces us to a boy with father issues and his group of friends who might be the key to everything!
Moving at Ninja Speed
After a brief prologue in which Mister Liu (Jackie Chan) gives a boy some advice, we are immediately thrust into the world of Ninjago. The evil Garmadon (Justin Theroux) begins a new attack to take over Ninjago, and it is up to Garmadon’s son Lloyd (Dave Franco) and his ninja friends to put a stop to him. This brisk pace hardly slows down throughout the rest of the story. This does not leave a lot of room to connect to the characters. As such, a lot of them are one-dimensional. You have the cool ninja, the shy ninja, the ninja who likes to DJ, etc. The only characters that get any sort of depth are Lloyd and Garmadon. In fact, some could even argue that they are emphasized a little too much. Lloyd is Garmadon’s son, a fact that the city of Ninjago will not let him forget. Ever. Several comments are made within the first ten minutes of the film about Lloyd and his father and how his father left him. Characters run from Lloyd, mock him, and even create a song to show how they feel. When Lloyd and Garmadon face off, their father-son issues are brought up more and more. It is done for comedic effect, but it verges on going from being funny to being excessive. Thankfully, the story eases up on these points later on and marginally slows down enough to give Lloyd and Garmadon time to grow and talk through their issues. These moments are the heart of the film, and Ninjago could have benefited from other moments to breathe.
On top of that, the plot is quite simple and predictable. Most of the film’s biggest reveals are what you would expect. The nice thing is that Ninjago occasionally pokes fun at itself. At one point, Master Wu (Jackie Chan in Lego form) defies death because he “would only die if it were to teach someone something,” a common story arc for a mentor character.
Speaking of fun, The Lego Ninjago Movie is indeed a fun film. It is instilled with the traditional Lego charm. The characters must face off against Meowra, a fearsome beast that is actually a real cat. Master Wu plays his staff like a flute. Garmadon constantly insists that Lloyd’s name is actually L-loyd. Even though the story is not very strong and the characters are not very developed, Ninjago is worth seeing for its humor.
The Human Element
Like The Lego Movie, Ninjago includes a few scenes in the real world. The human elements in this one tend to be one of the weakest parts of the film. We get an understanding that Kid (Kaan Guldur) is getting picked on and that he is seeking refuge in Mister Liu’s antique store. But other than that, we do not know much about the two characters. At the end, there does not seem to be much resolution to the boy’s plight. Yes, he has now heard a story about a boy being content with who he is and forgiving those who have hurt him. Unfortunately, we do not get to see how this affects the boy’s life aside from the fact that he has fast enough reflexes to catch a falling antique. Like his Lego counterparts, the boy’s story could have benefited from a little more depth.
As mentioned earlier, the heart of The Lego Ninjago Movie is the relationship between Lloyd and his father. Lloyd begins the story by resenting Garmadon for leaving him as a baby, yet he desires to have a connection with his dad. On Garmadon’s end, he has no idea how to be a father and is resistant to changing his ways to become one. Over the course of several trials, they both come to realize that perhaps it is possible for them to reconnect. At the film’s climax, Lloyd decides to forgive his father and show him love. It is all a great example of showing forgiveness and letting go of the past, and how even the vilest of villains can be redeemed. Whether the film intended it or not, this opens up a great opportunity to talk with children and adults about showing others the love of Christ and forgiving others seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22).
The Lego Ninjago Movie is a fun film with a great message, but that does not take away from the fact that it has a basic and fast-paced story and one-dimensional characters. Let’s hope that Lego will not be so hasty with the sequel to The Lego Movie and will take the time to build a fun story with more developed characters the next time around.