Like its predecessors, 2014's The Lego Movie and this year's The Lego Batman Movie, The Lego Ninjago Movie makes inventive use of the famous plastic toys and remarkably constructs an entire world (in this case the city of Ninjago) and cast of characters out of the things.
But while The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie feature witty dialogue and compelling storylines, The Lego Ninjago Movie presents a rote coming-of-age theme, and the flat storyline diminishes the end result. The film opens area-wide Friday.
The movie begins with a forgettable live action sequence featuring a pawnshop owner (Jackie Chan), a cat and a young boy. The young boy complains that his friends bully him. In order to assuage the kid, the pawnshop owner tells the story of Lloyd (Dave Franco), a young boy that had a similar experience because his father Garmadon (Justin Theroux) routinely attacked the boy's hometown, making Lloyd the least popular kid at school.
Because of that, the other kids at Lloyd's high school hate him. Lloyd, however, has assembled a gang of close friends. The group — Kia (Michael Peña), Nya (Abbi Jacobson), Jay (Kumail Nanjiani), Zane (Zach Woods) and Cole (Fred Armisen) — regularly thwarts Garmadon's attacks while working undercover as ninjas.
Predictably enough, Garmadon one day returns with a weapon so powerful and destructive, Lloyd must employ the "ultimate weapon" to try to contain him. When that fails, he and the crew must then find the "ultimate ultimate weapon." Their mentor Master Wu (Chan) leads them on the dangerous journey that takes them outside of the city.
The film has its strengths. Theroux makes for a particularly good bad guy, and his sarcastic put-downs of Lloyd are often hilarious. He always pronounces both of the "Ls" at the beginning of Lloyd's name and regularly dismisses his generals with witty remarks about their incompetence. Nanjiani also delivers some good quips, especially when he and his ninja pals appear to face their demise at the hands of Garmadon's disgruntled former generals who have formed a rogue battalion on the outskirts of town.
But the storyline here has such a predictable arc that it fails to be engaging, and the middle of the movie really drags along slowly as Lloyd and Garmadon try to work out their various issues.