The Lego Movie surprised almost everyone by being more than just a crass cash-grab for the Lego Group (though, sure, it was definitely that, too). Funny, dazzling and smarter than it often gets credit for, it was more than the sum of its assorted parts. The Lego Batman Movie was also funny but not as good as the original, though it did have the benefit of decades of Batman mythology to twist and blend into something that still worked on its own as a superhero story.
Now comes The Lego Ninjago Movie, the second Lego feature to be released in 2017. It’s basically everything we feared the original Lego would be and then some. At times clever and with the same visual elements that made the first two fun (if nothing else), this latest entry nonetheless proves the law of diminishing returns faster than any franchise in recent memory.
Garmadon and Wu (Justin Theroux and Jackie Chan), ported over from the Ninjago TV series, are here presented as Vader and Obi-Wan facsimiles to Dave Franco’s Luke stand-in, Lloyd (or “L-Loyd,” as Garmadon calls him). While Wu trains Lloyd in the warrior arts and teaches him that true power comes from within, Garmadon is there to forget his birthday and show him that true power comes from gigantic mechanical sharks. Neither of these scenarios proves as interesting as they should be, even given the kid movie trappings surrounding them. With a plot and cast of characters we’ve seen countless times before, it’s a shame that more wasn’t done with these elements to make the film stand on its own.
The biggest bummer here is that the film brings back the live-action framing device that gave the 2014 Lego some extra heart, but for no real purpose that I can point to as being worth the trouble. Besides the admittedly great gag of presenting an “ancient” wooden minifig as an entry point to the story proper, these segments feel more tacked on than they should, there only to get you in and back out again with not a whole lot else going on to justify their existence. More to the point, they reinforce the fact that this film doesn’t really have any reason to exist in the first place since all it does, really, is deliver the same message Glinda gave to Dorothy (and audiences) all the way back in 1939.
The Wizard of Oz, meanwhile, had the benefit of its Technicolor gimmick to get butts into seats, one it didn’t even need, in fact, since the source material was already hugely popular. By contrast, we’ve now visited this colorful fantasy world three times in as many years, so by having nothing new to say, the film fails on even that basic level as well. Rehashing the messages of the Lego Movie’s grade school ontological concerns with Lego Batman’s secret identity crisis schtick (and both films’ overheated father and son nonsense), it’s truly depressing to see this series flame out so early in its run.