Monday, September 25, 2017

The Lego Ninjago Movie

I like to see movies in 3D but part of MoviePass dropping to the $9.95 price was dropping the ability for those of us in Boston and Denver to pay an extra $10/month and see 3D movies (although I still appear to have listings for Imax at AMC theaters), so now I'm looking for bargain shows because I'm cheap, and the only "AM Cinema" show was off in Assembly Square, although at least it was there at a time when the bus route favored me (if I catch the 90, it's really easy to get there; if I don't, it's a pain). Only a few of us, but there was a family that reserved my preferred seats, and since I'd rather be too close than too far, I sat in the row in front of them, which may not have been the best move, because busy action scenes don't work great that way.

More important, though, was the chance to see a raft of family-oriented movie trailers, and I feel sure I'm going to be very disappointed in America when they make Daddy's Home 2 a big hit and more or less ignores Paddington 2, because the latter looks to be as genuinely sweet and funny as the first, and the Will Farrell/Mark Wahlberg thing… Well, it looks bad. Like, I'm way more okay with Mel Gibson having a comeback than most people, but this looks genuinely terrible

The Lego Ninjago Movie

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 24 September 2017 in AMC Assembly Row (first-run, RealD 3D DCP)

As unexpectedly brilliant as the first Lego Movie was, it's impressive how quickly and thoroughly diminishing returns have set in. This second spin-off isn't really bad, but it shows how precarious a foundation the first was built on, and how it's perhaps not built to last. There was care taken not to overwhelm with The Lego Movie, a precision in when to make little-kid jokes and when to be satirical or sneakily perceptive, and that's not so present in the follow-ups, with Ninjago not having the advantage of being about Batman.

There have been some direct-to-video Ninjago movies, although this one seems to start relatively fresh, describing how Ninjago City falls prey to regular attacks by supervillian Garmadon (voice of Justin Theroux), from his volcano island across the bay. Fortunately, Ninjago City is defended by six secret ninjas in fancy mechs, each representing one of the elements. What the citizens don't know is that those ninjas are teenagers, including Lloyd (voice of Dave Franco), the outcast son of Garmadon. He usually holds it together, but today's his birthday, and his father choosing not to acknowledge it amid his latest attack on the city has Lloyd a little more on-edge, leading him to steal "The Ultimate Weapon" from their mentor Master Wu (voice of Jackie Chan), which of course backfires and forces the ninjas (and Garmadon) to travel to the other side of Ninjago Island and seek out "The Ultimate, Ultimate Weapon".

There are three directors, five editors, and something like a dozen writers or people with "story unit" credits on this movie, and while that's not necessarily unusual in animation, they often seem to be working against each other. For instance, The Ultimate Weapon is something that would seem right at home in the world of The Lego Movie, where one of the best third-act twists in recent memory gave the filmmakers free rein for a lot of absurd self-referential goofiness (but also an earnest emotional core that packs an unexpected wallop), but doesn't really make sense given the live-action bookends with Jackie Chan as a shopkeeper telling a story to a kid who wandered in off the street. It makes the moments of self-parody kind of generic, not clever, pale reflections of what Phil Lord and Christopher Miller did so well the first time around rather than things which create the same kind of excitement. It also seems like a case where a lot of people contributing jokes leads to a movie without a specific sense of humor, like no one writer or team could actually get a whole movie out of this, and maybe some of the weirder parts get lost to fit a generic template (the third song over the closing credits, "Dance of Doom", feels like it should have been a number in the movie somewhere but couldn't be fit in).

Full review on EFC.

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