23 September 2017

First Impressions: The LEGO Ninjago Movie

Okay, okay, okay. I know. Listen, I actually did see this film in the theater. I had four beers and even less sleep the night before and I'll be honest, I'm actually a little fuzzy on the ending. I remember getting really really bored about two-thirds of the way through. There were still a few giggle-worthy moments that I enjoyed in my delirium, but let's start these impressions with my whole journey:

This is becoming a rough trend that started with me watching Transformers: The Last Knight (2017) two months ago, when I showed up twenty minutes late and basically just picked the worst the theater had to offer because it was something to do. Last night I literally just picked the shortest film they had in the cinema. Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017) was nearly two and a half hours! What the hell is that? LEGO Ninjago (2017) beat that by forty minutes. Sold.

A volcano that erupts sharks!
The ticket counter dude was incredulous. He actually tried to talk me into seeing Kingsman or IT (2017) instead. Now, I'm sure either of those would have been a much better movie, but that's not what we're about here. We're all about the EXPERIENCE, especially when that experience is bizarre and awful. I've always had a passion for terrible movies, especially terrible commercial movies without any real redeeming factors. I'm always curious how we can live in a world where this shit is actually made. I mean, of course it's about the cash, but is it? No one was in this fucking theater! It's such a misguided trainwreck that's beautiful and amazing to watch. SPOILERS probably, but who cares, you aren't going to see thi smovie.

For the record, as I said, I don't know what fucking Ninjago is. I have no idea if this is true to the existing LEGO sets or the show, which has existed for a whopping seven seasons, but little of that matters to me. This is the freshest I could possibly get going into a film and it did a nice job establishing everyone and their little quirks. Let's talk about that cast first, then we can go into...whatever the hell else there is.

The voice cast was phenomenal, especially Kumail Nanjiani, Abbi Jacobson, and especially Justin Theroux who relished his role as the inexplicably evil Lord Garmadon with relish. Kumail pulls off his role as a nervous yet passive aggressive twerp really well and Jacobson is almost a parody of other cool action chicks like The LEGO Movie (2014)'s Wyldstyle, to an awesome extent. Zach Woods playing the worst fake robot ever is spectacular. I expected more out of Fred Armisen and Michael Peña, who round out the core Ninja cast, but their characters weren't that distinctive.

Finally we have Dave Franco as the main Green Ninja, Lloyd Garmadon, who is routinely verbally abused for his relationship to megalomaniac Lord Garmadon, who ironically, barely registers that Lloyd exists. The development of this relationship forms the core of the film, which makes it really feel like a boy's club as well as something that's been done a lot. Still, it did partly feel like a cool inverse of a Luke Skywalker / Darth Vader thing except one where Luke and Darth were stuck in the jungle fighting a giant cat and bonding. Franco is just fine.

What's really nice is seeing (and hearing) Jackie Chan, who seems like has been a way for a while. Then again, the dude's 63. Still, his character is the exact same as Morgan Freeman in The LEGO Movie, down to his funny idiosyncrasies that put a lampshade on wise master types. On that note - Black LEGOs exist, right? I mean, Vitruvius was black. I was a little put off by Michael Strahan making an appearance as himself....as an ostensibly "white" LEGO (sure, they're all yellow, but this film was weirdly homogeneous). Same with the relatively diverse cast that was all whitewashed into...being white. It was kind of bizarre.

So, the film plays out like a better version of Power Rangers (2017) that totally realizes and gives into how stupid it is. Very literally, there are ninja teenagers who jump into big mechas, "Zords" if you will, and battle an egomaniac mystical villain (who was bitten by a snake who was bitten by a spider, thus growing an extra pair of arms). It's in creative bits like that where Ninjago really shines, even if it's incredibly derivative of The LEGO Movie, down to the "Ultimate Weapon" (code for: Ancient Relic - a real life laser pointer that attracts a life-sized cat [a huge weapons of mass destruction, "Meowthra" to this universe]). Some of these gags worked really really well, and it's definitely an enjoyable experience.

Carmelo Anthony just traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder -
Go Knicks! New York Forever!
Still, there's no real hook or deeper experience that would make this film something to cherish for years to come. Its unfortunate, but inevitable to continuously compare to The LEGO Movie, but part of the reason that worked so well is that it had so many pop culture references, idiotic non sequitors, and outrageous bits of animation that flowed through a brilliantly philosophically sophisticated meta-storyline that also served as an advertisement breaking down the very means of playing with LEGOs itself. It's a really high bar to clear. Ninjago just kind of feels like a normal churned out story - one that could have been done with any kind of animation, not necessarily LEGOs, and that's where it becomes a little fruitless.

I also noticed how the characters didn't really live in an all-LEGO world like The LEGO Movie. I weirdly got pissed off when I saw REAL fire, smoke, and water, even some land and trees! Fuck that shit. It may be something that no one else would ever notice, but it bothered the hell out of me.

It's hard to knock a film that has robot dragons fighting shark-themed mechs that shoot sharks out of its hands, but that's where we are. Gags galore are solid as hell, but structurally the film doesn't hold up that well. Or it at least doesn't really innovate. Kids may like it or something, who cares, but as a drunken adult it was a solid giggle fest without much depth. Maybe that's just fine, and is probably what I should have expected, but I just want my LEGO to transcend the boundaries of time and space, dammit.

Have you see this thing, yet? Leave your thoughts below!

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