The Lego Ninjago Movie (2017)

(In theatres, September 2017) In some ways, The Lego Ninjago Movie is the movie we feared when we heard about The Lego Movie or The Lego Batman Movie: nothing more than an advertisement for the toy brand, competently executed but somewhat hollow. The Lego Movie turned out otherwise, by being superlatively funny and by using Lego bricks to poke at some philosophical truths. The Lego Batman Movie also turned otherwise, by deconstructing the Batman character in a surprisingly wholesome fashion. The Lego Ninjago Movie, alas, is far more restrained in its ambitions: It’s a straight-up adventure film featuring high schoolers defending a city against a relentless supervillain that happens to be the father of one of them. The film’s standout sequence is a vertiginous depiction of an attack on Ninjago City—pushing computer animation to the limits of what virtual Lego bricks can do, it’s the kind of action highlight that plays like the best play fantasies of eight-year-old boys everywhere. From a visual perspective, there’s also an interesting blend of Lego models blended with attempts at recreating the real world via CGI, as if a kid was playing in his backyard with brick-built models. Otherwise, The Lego Ninjago Movie is far more ordinary—while it’s charming enough to create smiles and a moderate engagement toward the characters, its emotional arc is very familiar, and it seems to hold back on much of the wild comedy that made such a hit out of its predecessors. As an Adult Fan of Lego, I have to admit that the Lego sets sold by the movie are quite nice—I wouldn’t mind building Ninjago City itself. I’m still glad I saw The Lego Ninjago Movie, I’m still happy it exists, but given that I’d like a long series of excellent Lego movies, I fear that this first misstep may scale back the ambition of future instalments. 

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