It’s been only three years since The LEGO Movie hit theaters, and already this mini-franchise may be running out of steam. The third installment, which focuses on characters from LEGO’s ninja-themed line, produces the feeling that kid audiences might be better off just playing with their toys and inventing their own stories.
The film follows Lloyd Garmadon (Dave Franco), an unlucky teenager who gets mocked by classmates for being the son of an evil warlord and deadbeat dad, Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux). Every time Garmadon’s forces invade the city of Ninjago, they’re repelled by a squad of warriors led by the Green Ninja, who is Lloyd in disguise. But Lloyd’s resentment at his father abandoning him eventually boils over, and he makes a costly mistake that allows Garmadon to seize the city. To repent, Lloyd and his friends must journey into a dangerous wilderness to discover (wait for it) their inner strength and the power of friendship. Zzzzz.
Credit is due to Jackie Chan, who gives his all to make Ninjago work. The martial-arts icon pulls triple duty, appearing in the film’s live-action framing device, voicing Lloyd’s teacher Master Wu, and choreographing the LEGO action scenes. Otherwise, Ninjago’s voice roster is not on par with its two predecessors. Franco is no Chris Pratt, and Theroux falls flat in his attempts to capture the spirit of Will Arnett’s Batman. Their Diet Darth Vader dynamic practically suffocates the movie. So much screen time is devoted to paternal-abandonment issues that it seems more like The LEGO Kramer vs. Kramer Movie. And about as fun. C+