MOVIE REVIEW: Ninjago is LEGO's first letdown
NO prizes for correctly assuming a third LEGO production for the big screen (and the second this year) has some very tough acts to follow.
After all, everything was awesome about the original The LEGO Movie. And the recent The Lego Batman Movie was genuinely Bat-tastic.
Nevertheless, this martial arts-driven affair marks a steady drop in quality for the tricksy, bricksy franchise that is hard to overlook.
In particular, the scripting is quite bland here compared to the sharp comic writing of the first two instalments.
The reason why is easy enough to pinpoint: the LEGO Ninjago Movie is not only beholden to tie-in commercially with one of Lego's most successful specialty toy lines.
It must also stick firm to the blueprints laid out by the successful TV show LEGO Ninjago: Masters of Spinjitzu (still going strong after eight seasons).
There just doesn't seem to be any creative wiggle room available to whip up those giddy moments of inspiration or insanity that were in plentiful supply across the first two Lego screen outings.
The storyline of the new movie is confined mostly to Ninjago City, where young Master Builder Lloyd (voiced by Dave Franco) and his school friends are living secret lives as heroic ninja warriors.
Their most dreaded foe, the evil war lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux), also happens to be Lloyd's not-so-attentive father.
The familiar tensions between a neglected son and a distracted father play out as expected, and are a little dull due to rather drab vocal performances from Franco and Theroux.
Energy levels invariably pick up whenever the great Sensei Wu (Jackie Chan) is around to high-kick some hard learning into Lloyd and his other young charges.
The best that can be said of The LEGO Ninjago Movie is that the visual brilliance of the LEGO animation format still pops on the big screen like nothing else in the cartoon universe.
However, the many mechanised battle sequences in the movie can get very Transformers-ish very quickly.
As the movie doesn't always make it clear which side each huge bot-machine-monster thing is fighting for - who is good? who is evil? who will be available in stores soon? - some viewers will feel as if they're just being made to stare at strobing footage for the sake of it.
The LEGO Ninjago Movie
Stars: The voices of Abbi Jacobson, Alex Kauffman, Dave Franco, David Burrows, Fred Armisen, Jackie Chan, Justin Theroux, Kaan Guldur, Kumail Nanjiani, Michael Peña, Olivia Munn, Zach Woods.
Directors: Bob Logan, Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher
Verdict: 2.5 stars