So… okay. What makes for a truly Only Alright movie? The Lego Movie (2014) is a hilarious, upbeat, colorful, and action-packed adventure/comedy with jokes that work in congruence with the plot and goals of the film. The Lego Batman Movie (2017) is even more hilarious than the former, with in-jokes that are funny to even those who aren’t privy to the Batman Universe and a moral compass that, while shoehorned in by its definition’s standards, is treated with enough flippancy to let us suspend our disbelief that Lego Batman can even have a lesson to teach in the first place.
The Lego Ninjago Movie (2017) attempts all of these feats, but is never as successful with them. I’ve touched the surface of movie franchise oversaturation before, but I’m gonna do it again right now. Two Lego movies in one year tires out the writers. People have a set amount of genius plot-driven jokes in them and that reserve doesn’t refill itself right away (I should know, I’m hilarious). So when The Lego Ninjago Movie is funny (and it is), the jokes don’t land as well as those of its two predecessors because the jokes don’t come from anywhere within its world, and it creates an out-of-place feeling. “I’m laughing at this because by definition it’s a good joke, but it doesn’t really make sense that it was made in the first place.”
So after being given our Princess Bride-esque framing device, which only exists to have Jackie Chan catch flying cups (I can’t complain about that) and cop out on a fulfilling end to the main story (I can complain about that), we’re introduced to our main character, Lloyd (Dave Franco). Lloyd is celebrating his birthday, or rather, just trying to get through it, because everyone in the city of Ninjago hates him for being the son of the already-existing evil menace, Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux). Garmadon shows up, the ninjas spring into action, Lloyd voices the issues he’s had growing up without a father, and they fend off the threat. He comes back bigger & badder than ever, Lloyd reveals himself as his son, and the ninjas need to unlock the hidden potential of their elemental powers now that their mechs have been destroyed so that they can scare away the cat.
So there’s a lot going on. And that doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but in this case, it comes off as kinda… ‘sophomoric,’ to use a word that Reed said the other day. When I was just getting into screenwriting as a high schooler I would’ve written a script like this, where jokes exist to just be jokes, and segues to ends of stories are rushed, feeling like the tired screenwriters just didn’t know how to properly wrap things up. Where the five other ninjas in the team doesn’t really add anything to the movie other than a few laughs and to fill the movie’s elemental (Fire, Lightning, Water, Ice, Earth) quota. Where a proper moral for the story and a feeling of actual conflict is overshadowed by the need for a funny bad guy. Would I have thought this the pinnacle of cinema in high school? I don’t know. I feel like I would’ve maybe taken it more as a lesson in what not to do.
This isn’t a terrible movie, and doesn’t totally fail where the superior Lego movies succeeded, but it doesn’t measure up to them either. I had fun with it and I laughed some very genuine laughs, but when it was all over, I felt myself wondering what exactly it was that I sat through, and yaknow? What I sat through was an Only Alright movie.
It’s not a waste of money or anything, but it won’t earn the repeat viewings that The Lego Movie or The Lego Batman Movie will. If you can get past the ‘forgive horrific tyrants to find peace within yourself’ moral to heed the clearer, ‘accept yourself in spite of your upbringing’ one, it’s a fine movie to turn your brain off to.