(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.
(On Blu-ray, June 2017) In the Hollywood game of commercially viable mad-libs, combining Lego with Batman gets a primal squeal from everyone’s inner eight-year-old boy. I’m no exception. The LEGO Movie having become an unexpected modern classic, it’s no surprise if the follow-up LEGO Batman Movie ends up being a bit more ordinary … but still far more entertaining than most other movies of the year. Best described as a Batman movie made with Lego bricks, this comic take on an archetypical character finds insightful things to say. The emerging “Lego house style” of storytelling is heavy on humour and knowing references to its own nature, and The LEGO Batman Movie certainly follows in that vein, all the way to daring to deliver a heartwarming family-oriented comedy featuring one of the darkest superheroes out there. It does work, although it should be noted that the high-energy comedy of the first few minutes does give way to a more measured pace for most of the film. Batman fans should prepare themselves for a tornado of references to past films and comic book series, from obscure characters to quick-cut homages to previous movies, alongside other pop-culture references. The jokes are certainly rapid-fire: at times, like its predecessor, this is a film that calls for the freeze-frame button and repeat viewings in order to appreciate the complexity of the backdrop, the layered jokes, the mind-boggling animation and the overall sweep of the cinematography. Far more visually ambitious than its predecessor, The LEGO Batman Movie uses a bold colour palette, numerous atmospheric effects and a far more permissive animation style (including bending mini-figures to impossible poses) to give a pleasant blockbuster-movie sheen to the results. The voice talent is up to the film’s humour: Will Arnett’s voice is perfect as Batman, while notables such as Michael Cera, Zach Galifianakis, Rosario Dawson and Ralph Fiennes also contribute their distinctive tones to the results. Overall, it’s a successful film, and one that is, court-jester-like, far more revealing in moving past Batman’s arrested development than in other more serious takes on the character. Those wondering if the Blu-ray is worth purchasing should be reassured: Not only is the film worth watching in freeze-frame high resolution, it comes with a small but entertaining basket of special features, including the unexpectedly hilarious “Dark Hoser” paean to Batman’s Canadian roots.