‘The LEGO Ninjago Movie’ Review: Zany jokes can’t justify cultural appropriation, soulless plot

In The LEGO Ninjago Movie, whose title suggests Japanese history and culture, one of Jackie Chan’s first lines is “对不起,” the Chinese phrase for “sorry.” Though it’s presented as a cute exchange between an antiques dealer and a kid who wanders into his shop, this single line of dialogue can be read as an apology for the film’s quest to lump distinct Asian cultures into one vague, cinematic PF Chang’s, held together by performances that are literally yellow-face. But forget for a second that the film wants you to believe that Dave Franco is a ninja. Even if Japanese actors were approached to be in The LEGO Ninjago Movie, it’s easy to see why they would avoid this film like you would a rogue 2×4 LEGO brick on your carpet.

This film attempts to copy the aesthetic of The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Batman Movie, but captures none of the heart of those previous films. This film is predicated on the father-son dynamic of the warlord Garmadon (Justin Theroux) and his estranged son, the ninja Lloyd (Franco), but there’s no particular reason why we should care for their reunion. Garmadon doesn’t have any redeeming qualities, and Lloyd is doing fine without him. Sure, it’s cute when Garmadon teaches Lloyd how to play catch, but one feels more attachment to one’s bag of popcorn — the consumption of which, may be the only upside of watching this film.

Okay, maybe not the only upside, since this film has a few good jokes in it, though they’re not as funny as live-action Will Ferrell showing up in the third act, or Lego Batman roasting 50 years of cinematic Batmen. Yet, a character named Meowthra, some bonkers live-action montages and a Locke joke are wacky enough to keep adult audience members from sneaking into a neighboring screening of It — a film I’d rather take my hypothetical child to. Sure, Pennywise would traumatize Harry Jr., but at least he wouldn’t have to sit through yet another example of Hollywood whitewashing and a plot that gestures toward emotion without ever eliciting it.

Grade: 3.5/10

 

Featured image via Warner Bros.

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