Review – Much Less Awesome (“The Lego Ninjago Movie”)

First there was the hilarious The Lego Movie, followed by the equally hysterical, The Lego Batman Movie. Now, attempting the trifecta of comedy gold, is this CGI Lego adventure set in the mythical world of Ninjago, a Lego based toy line and video game. Will it score or do an epic fail?

*

We open in the real world where a lonely kid (Kaan Gulder) wanders into the ornate Chinese curio shop of Mr. Liu (Jackie Chan) and is told a story of bravery and daddy-issues in the CGI Lego world of Ninjago, where evil warlord, Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux) attacks the city nearly every day. The only thing stopping this crazed four-armed lunatic and his endless parade of henchmen are the teen Secret Ninja Force! Mixing the Powers Rangers with every Japanese anime that have teens inhabiting giant flying robots (mechas), these powerful Ninjas fight off Garmadon and are the unsung heroes of the city.

They are: team leader Green Ninja (Dave Franco), Blue Ninja of Lightning (Kumail Nanjiani), Silver Ninja of Water (Abbi Jacobson), Red Ninja of Fire (Michael Pena), Black Ninja of Earth (Fred Armisen), and the android White Ninja of Ice (Zach Woods). Just regular high school kids, they answer the call when the city is attacked, but they’re also best friends (okay, the ONLY friends) of their leader, Green Ninja, aka Lloyd Garmadon, son of Lord Garmadon! Suffice to say, the whole city hates this kid. The twist here is Lord G. doesn’t know Lloyd is the heroic Green Ninja! Not even his own mother (Olivia Munn) knows about him.

Until one fateful day, that is. While the Ninjas are being taught by Lloyd’s wise uncle, Ninja Master Wu (Chan), Lloyd learns of a secret ‘ultimate weapon’ that uncle Wu has stashed away. As Garmadon attacks… again… this time with a super-powerful mecha-shark-robot-thingy, the Green Ninja (Lloyd) has had enough and steals the Ultimate Weapon to use on his father, but unknowingly unleashes a worst enemy upon Ninjago! A live-action kitty cat! My God! The horrors! The city is in chaos, his true identity is revealed, and Master Wu tells the Ninjas they must travel into the treacherous jungle to retrieve another weapon to defeat the kitty.

In the jungle, the mighty jungle, Garmadon doesn’t sleep tonight and attacks the Ninjas but, when almost killed by his old fired employees, Garmadon joins the quest and, naturally, starts to bond with the son he neglected at birth. Will Lloyd finally reconcile with dear ol’ dad? Will Lord Garmadon ever stop calling his son “La-loyd”? Will there be a Star Wars rip-off line of “Together we can rule Ninjago as father & son!” thrown in? And will that kitty ever be defeated?!

With six (count ’em, SIX!) screenwriters, including two of the THREE directors (Paul Fisher and Bob Logan), witness the hiccup in the Lego animated franchise, folks. In the first two Lego movies, you felt the zaniness and non-stop, pop-culture rat-tat-tat hilarity that came at you at warp speed, but somebody got the bright (???) idea to put the brakes on and give the kiddies a less humorous and more poignant story about parental abandonment, deep life-learning messages, and heartfelt bonding between sons and dads. Really? In a LEGO MOVIE? WTH?! Which of the six writers (or all of them) has extreme daddy issues?

Although co-produced by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the masterminds behind the magnificent two previous films, this movie does retain some of the original magic and rapid-paced lunacy that made these films so much damn fun. But in all the “My dad is Garmadon” sub-plotting, all the twisted fun and joyous pop-culture references are jettisoned in favor of spotty, unfunny dialogue, a predictable plot, and a forced journey of self with a teen and his evil father. Now, don’t get me wrong, the V/O talent is amazing, the CGI is eye-popping, and I did laugh a few times, but this is clearly NOT The Lego Movie or The Lego Batman Movie, not by a long-shot!

Side note: The short Lego film, The Master, which promoted this movie last year, was actually funnier than this entire full-length motion picture! It had Master Wu (Chan) battling a Ninja Chicken for supremacy over the film’s opening titles. . .and losing badly. Very funny stuff.


The Empire Strikes Back (1977)

*

Reissued as Star Wars: Episode V, there isn’t a man, women, or child on Planet Earth that doesn’t know about Star Wars or THE most powerful line in this movie spoken by the menacing Darth Vader to Luke Skywalker, “I am your father”. Finding out your dad is evil personified is no day at the intergalactic beach and can really ruin your whole week.

Three years after the Death Star blew up, thanks to Jyn Urso (but that’s another story), Darth Vader (James Earl Jones voiced) collected the insurance and is going to build another Death Star, but in the meantime, he’s doggedly pursued the Rebel Alliance across the galaxy. Holed up on the remote ice planet of Hoth, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), are waiting for the right moment to strike back, but too late! The Empire attacks first and everyone flees, leaving our heroes scattered throughout the galaxy.

Luke, after getting a vision from Ben “Obi-Wan” Kenobi (Alec Guinness), goes to Degobah and starts his Jedi training with a Muppet. . .I mean, with Jedi Master Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz), while Han and Leia seek out a safe port in Bespin, the Cloud City, and Han’s old gambling buddy, Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams). BUT! It’s really a trap and Vader is there, ready to abuse Han & Leia as bait to lure Luke to him. It works! As Han is sealed in carbonite and shipped off to villain Jabba the Hutt with Boba Fett, Leia, Chewbacca, R2D2, and C3PO are secretly whisked away to safety by Lando in the Millennium Falcon.

As Luke arrives, it’s showdown time as Vader and Luke go toe-to-toe with an epic light saber duel, ending with Luke’s hand being cut off and Vader’s famous words, “I am your father”. Vader even sweetens the pot by enticing Luke with another famous line, “Join me and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son!” Luke, racked with pain, shock, guilt, and remorse, falls to his potential death, but is rescued instead by Lando & Co. The movie ends as Luke getting a robotic hand and preparations being made to save Han. What a finish!

With a whiz-bang screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan and Leigh Brackett, this movie went ballistic at the box office, not to mention the shocking revelation that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s daddy! No one wanted to believe it! It couldn’t be true! But, as we all know now, it’s all very true with backstories (and movies) to prove it. Directed by Irvin Kershner, who only directed forgettable films like S*P*Y*S and Up The Sandbox, he’s now become a household name. The Empire Strikes Back also gave us the beginning romance between Han & Leia, the first appearance of bounty hunter Boba Fett, gigantic AT-AT Walkers, and those lovable tauntaun’s.

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