Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Brick Fist Way: THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE



Life in 2017 is weird enough. Now we have to add “able to say you have a favorite Lego movie of the year” to the list. In my case that’s The LEGO Ninjago movie, a bright and colorful comedy adventure film animated out of those blocky yellow figures and their multicolored brick surroundings. A platoon of screenwriters and jokesmiths have teamed up with a multitude of animators with slick algorithms for maximum Lego look as far as the eye can see. Unlike the rat-a-tat inventive Lego Movie or the endlessly referential meta-gagging Lego Batman Movie, this one is largely hilarious and exciting within the confines of its own story. The pleasures come from it springing forth inspired by kung fu movies, wrapped in a live action framing device (starring a charming Jackie Chan leaning into a wise old mentor role with an impish sparkle in his eyes) and content to be its own thing. Based on an original line of Lego products, instead of nestled in an endless array of cross-promotional synergy, leaves this iteration has the pleasant taste of only advertising one product line in its hectic cartoon silliness. 

In the Lego-mation story Chan narrates, we find a team of ninjas protecting a coastal city from an evil attacker (Justin Theroux putting on an Arnett-level growl) who swoops in with dullard henchpeople and towering mechanical beasties. In true Saturday morning cliffhanger fashion the ninjas constantly beat him back before he does irreversible damage. He sulks back to his cave to lick his wounds and plot anew, while the ninjas fit seamlessly back into their normal lives as plucky high schoolers. The wrinkle in the plot is that the lead ninja teen (Dave Franco) is secretly the son of the villain, a secret so potentially devastating that he dare not let it out lest it ruin his Ninjago reputation. Of course, it’s also the source of great angst. His parentage is a wound that’ll need to be healed over the duration of the fairly typical rise-fall-rise hero’s journey plotting on display. But luckily around it flies the zippiest, zaniest, cleverest computer-animated action this side of the Kung Fu Pandas (the other martial arts CG kids’ flick co-starring Jackie Chan) and, unlike the other Lego movie of the year, you can generally get your bearings and figure out what’s going on. The little ships zoom and zap and click and clack; the people (a charming cast of comedians and character actors) shout cheerful one-liners and quippy random nonsense. There are prophecies and curses, secret backstories and wild weaponry; charmingly cracked evil lair staff meetings and fast-paced goofs on the usual chop-socky tropes of training montages and surprise reversals of fortune. The jokes are good; the action is fun; the Legos are bright. I laughed my fool head off. And I barely felt the sales’ job underpinning the whole endeavor.

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