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Family Movie Review: The LEGO Ninjago Movie (PG)

Kernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalhalf popcorn kernal (2.5 out of 5)

MPAA Rating: PG       Length: 101 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 8+. The latest LEGO-themed children’s film is about the Ninjago TV show and toy line, and although the story is separate from that universe, it mimics the look already established by LEGO. A variety of cartoon violence, including explosions, hand-to-hand ninja combat, characters being ejected from volcanos, characters falling off of bridges, city destruction, and zombie-like characters; an arm of a character is detached and needs to be popped back in. Some bathroom humor, including rude insults about butts and smells; a subplot that involves the dissolution of a family and a child raised without a father figure; and some school bullying.

‘The LEGO Ninjago Movie’ is the weakest of the LEGO big-screen adaptations, a derivative regurgitation of what the toy line has already done in preceding films. It’s a spinoff you can skip.

By Roxana Hadadi

TheLEGONinjagoMovie ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewAfter only three movies, the LEGO film universe already has a formula: put-upon male protagonist, spunky female love interest, meta jokes about the anatomy of LEGO toys, and action scenes that incorporate the real world into their fantastical scenes of mayhem and destruction. “The LEGO Ninjago Movie” does all that, following the path laid out by 2014’s “The LEGO Movie” and February’s “The LEGO Batman Movie,” but this spinoff accomplishes little that is profoundly unique. It’s a case of diminishing returns.

“The LEGO Ninjago Movie” is somewhat based on a line of toys and a TV show that also share the “Ninjago” name and design, but this story is self-contained—and clearly imitative to “LEGO Batman,” which came out barely six months ago. There’s a male hero trying to figure out his identity, there are father-son relationship dynamics, and there’s a self-sufficient female character who doesn’t really get to do much because the men are sucking up all the air in the room. “LEGO Batman” had a lot of fun mocking the Dark Knight’s brooding persona and bringing characters from other pop culture universes, like Harry Potter’s Lord Voldemort, into the fray, but “Ninjago” doesn’t pull off the same kind of self-aware humor. (You know what did? This spring’s “Power Rangers,” which honestly wasn’t half-bad!)

“Ninjago” focuses on the teenage Lloyd (voiced by Dave Franco, of “Now You See Me 2”), who lives with his mother Koko (voiced by Olivia Munn, of “X-Men: Apocalypse”) in Ninjago City and is mocked and feared by practically everyone—classmates, teachers, strangers—for being the son of the evil warlord Lord Garmadon (voiced by Justin Theroux, of “Zoolander 2,” doing a distracting Will Arnett-as-Batman impression). Lord Garmadon tries to overthrow Ninjago City practically every day, but for 16 years, has ignored Lloyd’s existence—like accidentally phoning him on his birthday and saying, “I didn’t call you, my butt called you.”

To say that Lloyd is struggling with a combination of hating his father and craving his approval and love would be an understatement, especially because he’s channeled his energy into being a ninja that defends Ninjago City from Lord Garmadon’s attacks. As the Green Ninja, Lloyd is a member of a team that includes his five friends, all of whom have built mechanical suits that harness their elemental powers and channel water, lightning, fire, earth, and ice. But Lloyd doesn’t have an elemental power of his own, and his uncle, Master Wu (voiced by Jackie Chan, of “The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature”), is ambiguous about what Lloyd’s true strength actually is—and refuses to let Lloyd near the “ultimate weapon” that is supposed to be their final defense against Lord Garmadon.

True heroism isn’t only having fancy weapons and sick outfits, though, as Lloyd learns when Lord Garmadon wages his most vicious attack yet on Ninjago City, and being powerful isn’t just about strength and violence. As “The LEGO Ninjago Movie” takes Lloyd, the team, and Lord Garmadon on a journey together, the film challenges its own characters and its audience to consider what real bravery is—in the exact same way as “The LEGO Movie” and “The LEGO Batman Movie” before.

While the recurring message of these LEGO movies—that communication and honesty are valuable qualities—is an admirable one, at this point, it’s so regurgitated that it feels stale. Add that to action scenes that are confusingly edited, supporting characters that are barely developed (there is no way you will remember any of the other ninjas), viral videos that are frustratingly incorporated into the film’s narrative, and a reliance on demeaning jokes, and “The LEGO Ninjago Movie” feels like a lot of annoying bombardment for little payoff.

There is some good parenting humor nestled in here (like when Koko says to Lloyd, “Why did we get a family plan if you’re not going to text me?”), and a fight scene between Master Wu and Lord Garmadon on a rope bridge is one of the most visually satisfying portions of the film. But it how nice it would have been if LEGO had veered away from its previous two films and created a female protagonist or put together a different conclusion that could reinforce the same themes. That refusal to think outside the box curses “The LEGO Ninjago Movie” to solely going through the motions.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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