REVIEW / ANIMATION
THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE
120 minutes/Opens tomorrow/3.5/5 stars
The story: Evil warlord Garmadon (voiced by Justin Theroux) tries to take over the island city of Ninjago, but is thwarted by a group of teenage ninjas led by his estranged son, Lloyd (voiced by Dave Franco). But when Lloyd awakens the monster Meowthra, he must work with his father to save Ninjago.
In 2014, The Lego Movie took audiences by surprise with its subversion of "the chosen one" narrative. Its follow-up earlier this year, The Lego Batman Movie, was a thoughtful exploration of a superhero's self-imposed solitude.
With The Lego Ninjago Movie, Australian animation studio Animal Logic, credited for the special effects here, has once again constructed a pretty blockbuster, this time integrating real-world elements such as plants, water and smoke with the nearly 12.7 million bricks making up Ninjago city - reminiscent of Big Hero 6's (2014) pan-Asian metropolis - and its surrounding mountains.
The Lego Movie directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller are only producers here, with Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher and Bob Logan helming this third outing that is loosely based on a TV show with an army of writers. Like its predecessors, The Lego Ninjago Movie explores daddy issues through a villainous father and his heroic son's awkward reconciliation attempts.
Theroux steals the show as resident baddie Garmadon, who resembles a Japanese oni beast with the four arms of Hindu goddess Kali.
He is a social maladroit with a child-like insouciance for his underlings and family. When he is not mispronouncing Lloyd's name as "Luh-Loyd" (a running joke suggested by Theroux), he is blithely defending his paternal absence with lines such as "How can I ruin your life? I wasn't even there".
Jackie Chan voiced Lloyd's deadpan mentor Master Wu and advised on the fight choreography. The chopsocky action is impressive, but his character and the rest of Lloyd's crew, ninjas only in name, are an afterthought.
Older viewers may enjoy the homages to Shaw Brothers gongfu movies and the tokusatsu (specialeffects) genre, such as a rope-bridge duel and the giant mechs ridden by Lloyd's Power Rangers-like squad.
That and the phenomenal soundtrack, which includes Master Wu's power ballads on flute and the end-credit song, I Found My Place, by Oh, Hush!, who also did The Lego Batman Movie's equally catchy Friends Are Family.
Sure, the plot is sentimental and it appears that toy-selling is starting to take priority over story-telling in this instalment. But the movie builds up so much goodwill through its effervescent humour and spectacular set pieces that, like Garmadon, it is easy to look past its shortcomings.