The Bock’s Office: ‘Ninjago’ is likable but lacks kick of better ‘Lego’ movies
Nobody’s relationship with their parents is perfect, but when you’re constantly dealing with a dad hell-bent on global domination like the hero of “The Lego Ninjago Movie,” it kind of puts not getting the family car on Friday night in perspective.
On the island city of Ninjago, no one is less popular than teenager Lloyd Garmadon (voice of Dave Franco) — unless it’s his father, Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux), an evil entity whose sole purpose in life is the conquest of the city.
Lloyd’s heritage has won him no points with the people of the metropolis, who are increasingly annoyed by Garmadon’s takeover attempts, but Lloyd and his friends are fighting back as a team of incognito ninjas.
When Garmadon’s latest plan finally succeeds, Lloyd’s efforts to defeat him only bring about more disaster to the city and reveal his identity in the process.
With the fate of Ninjago at stake, Lloyd and his crew must follow the advice of their ninja master (Jackie Chan) to find a way to set everything right and also deal with a dad who has suddenly shown an interest in his son for the first time in his life.
Franco takes on the voice work from the animated TV show admirably, giving Lloyd an angsty attitude as a neglected kid who’s channeled his frustration into serving as the city’s lead protector, the Green Ninja.
That’s right, the awesome elemental power of green is at his fingertips — or whatever the Lego equivalent is with those little plastic claws — a confusing ability to be sure, considering his friends command fire, water, ice, earth and lightning.
Chan is as great as you’d expect as Lloyd’s mentor and uncle Wu, a decidedly cryptic sensei, whose guidance of his pupils is more about fortune cookie philosophy than real training.
The ancient art of Spinjitzu is less impressive than it sounds when you see a group of blocky teens clumsily attempting to pirouette.
While Wu goes the traditional Fu Manchu route, Garmadon is downright demonic as his warlord brother with four arms and the egotism of 10 men, well voiced by Theroux, who’s played his share of deluded villains.
And, even when there’s years of abandonment to work through with his son — known to him as Luh-loyd — there’s nothing that cuts through him more and makes him cry tears of fire than having the kid say he wishes he weren’t his father.
He doesn’t have to take that from someone who doesn’t even know how to ride a bike or throw a ball or… Oh.
There’s been a father-son dynamic to each of the Lego films so far, and though there’s nothing more heartwarming than seeing figurines bond over a shared building project set to a Jim Croce song, that sweetness somehow isn’t as powerful as it was the first two times.
Standing separately from the ongoing “Ninjago” series, there’s a greater emphasis on recognizable voice talents and goofier humor, which may draw in more viewers while alienating those who were with the franchise from the beginning.
Plus, a muddled live-action intro with Chan operating what looks like the curio shop from “Gremlins” is only going to make you groan.
That being said, that same sense of irreverence and extreme meta-humor that made “The Lego Movie” and “The Lego Batman Movie” great is still present and makes the latest entry in the universe an entertaining one even if it isn’t likely to have much staying power.
“The Lego Ninjago Movie” may have too much in common with “Power Rangers” and countless other “special teens saving the world” stories, yet it’s funny and energetic enough to make you smile.
Just remember, whether you’re using the Ultimate Weapon or the Ultimate, Ultimate Weapon, it’s guaranteed to be adorable.