Movie Review – “Justice League” (2017)

 

 

I’ve made it no secret that I do not enjoy the DC Cinematic Universe. With the exception of “Wonder Woman,” I’ve despised every entry in the series for being unappealing to the eye, far too serious for their own good, and above all else, dull and boring. Part of this is because DC wants to establish an identity for their films that is different from what Marvel is doing, by being dark, brooding and serious (in other words, every entry is trying desperately to be like “The Dark Knight” and mostly fails at it). But as “Wonder Woman” showed, you can still make a charming, funny, and poignant super hero movie without doing exactly what Marvel does.

But after watching the latest entry in the DC Universe, “Justice League,” I know exactly what’s holding these movies back – Zack Snyder. He’s directed nearly every entry in the franchise so far, including “Man of Steel” and “Batman V Superman” while also having his fingerprints all over “Suicide Squad.” While I think DC had good intentions by having one director for all of these movies, if the director you choose makes everything look like one big dark blurry mess crammed with far too many Jesus allegories, then you are going to be left with a disappointing product.

“Wonder Woman” broke the trend, partially because it had a different director, Patty Jenkins, and Snyder had little to no involvement in the movie’s production. With “Justice League,” we return to Snyder as director and we get many of the same problems that his previous films had – incomprehensible cinematography, an overbearingly dark and moody atmosphere, and fights that are hard to follow. While there is much more comedy and light-hearted moments than usual, I feel those scenes can be attributed to the films’ second director, Joss Whedon, the man who created “The Avengers” and “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

Yeah, DC was so desperate to liven their big crossover movie up that they brought in one of Marvel’s biggest directors to fix their problems. If that does not tell you that Snyder is the problem, I don’t know what will.

 

 

Because of this strange hybrid of DC’s atmosphere and characters and Marvel’s writing and comedy, “Justice League” is a bit off-putting and strange. It feels like a movie that desperately wants to create its own identity, but is so wrapped up in the previous DC films’ attitudes and Marvel’s idea of success that it feels like a hodge-podge that doesn’t get either side right. I will say it is leagues better than “Batman V Superman” and “Suicide Squad,” for having characters that you actually want to root for and enjoy being around, but this film is so crowded that it doesn’t give those characters enough time.

Set shortly after the events of “Batman V Superman,” the world is still mourning the death of Superman (odd, considering the world didn’t seem to give a damn about Superman while he was alive, but whatever), and some heroes like Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) have used this as a new opportunity to step out into the light and make a difference in the world again. But when a thousand year old threat named Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) returns to Earth with the intention of conquering it once and for all, the two heroes are forced to locate several other super-powered individuals across the globe so that they can team up to fight a threat none of them could take down on their own.

 

 

The aspects that I enjoyed about “Justice League” are few, but certainly worth noting, specifically the new super heroes. First is Aquaman (Jason Momoa), a thrill-seeker who isn’t afraid to speak his unruly mind and foul mouth. He is a brute and ends up being the least developed of the new characters, since we learn little about Aquaman outside of him being the rightful heir to the throne of Atlantis and that he’s an outsider. Other than that, his best scenes come from the pure joy and excitement he gets from a good fight and when he accidentally sits on Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth.

Up next is Cyborg (Ray Fisher), the techie with a tragic backstory and powers even he doesn’t fully understand. Of the new characters, he gets the most screen time and Ray Fisher’s performance sells most of his scenes, especially with his conflicted rage and confusion with his cybernetic body and implants and his fear that he could lose himself to the machine. He comes across the most down-to-earth and logical of the group, even if he never gets a chance to be funny.

Finally, we have the Flash (Ezra Miller), the comedic relief and the best part of the movie. He gets all the best lines in the movie, has great chemistry with Ben Affleck’s Batman, and it is refreshing to see a superhero with such a wide-eyed innocence and sense of fun to all of this. Erza Miller’s performance gives an honesty to the Flash the others lack – while people like Aquaman and Batman have to put on an act, with the Flash, we get the genuine article, a nerdy kid who likes to talk but has few people to talk to.

 

 

One of my favorite scenes in “Justice League” is when Flash admits that he’s never fought anyone in his life to Batman, and Bruce simply tells him to “save one life.” He uses his powers to do just that, and the reaction on Miller’s face feels so satisfying and proud that its infectious. We now share his desire and drive to keep going, to keep saving that one life and strive for more. For a character that was only supposed to be there to bring comedy, Erza Miller’s Flash also brings the most humanity and strength to the film.

As for the returning characters, Ben Affleck’s Batman is still his stoic statue-like self who only gets a couple of good scenes or one-liners about what his super power is. Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman takes the character that was established in her solo film, of an godly yet innocent warrior turned flawed yet loving human, and adds experience and wisdom.

Finally, we have Henry Cavill’s Superman who finally gets a chance to smile and be more than just a reference to Jesus, even if he does get resurrected in this movie. It comes across like he’s finally having fun with his abilities and immense power, like in the opening when a bunch of little kids ask him questions and he answers them honestly. His character also ends up having great chemistry with the Flash, since the two consistently go out of their ways to out-do one another. This is certainly Cavill’s best performance as Superman to date.

With all of that being said about the characters of “Justice League,” because there are so many characters that are new to us, it doesn’t feel like any of them get enough time to shine. Characters like Flash and Cyborg were the best part of the movie, but they spend far more time developing the lame and forgettable villain Steppenwolf with his effects that would have looked bad in the late 1990s, let alone compared to today’s effects. There is hardly enough time spent on the more interesting aspects to make “Justice League” feel like a satisfying experience.

 

 

There is one other aspect I adored about this movie though – the music. Hiring Danny Elfman, the composer of the original “Batman” to do the soundtrack for “Justice League” was a stroke of genius because we got to hear so many classic superhero tunes. Elfman uses his original Batman theme, Hans Zimmer’s Batman theme from the Christopher Nolan films, John William’s Superman theme, and the new kickass electric guitar theme for Wonder Woman. It’s like a perfect mixture of the best superhero music of all time and sells many of the action scenes.

However that’s about all I can praise “Justice League” for. The rest of it is your standard superhero-fare, with overly dark and CGI-filled action sequences. It doesn’t feel like anything is at stake, mostly because Steppenwolf is a terrible villain with no plans or motives outside of being evil and a desire to conquer. He has about as much character as a Saturday morning cartoon villain, or a monster-of-the-week from Power Rangers and is undeserving of being the threat that brings the Justice League together.

Overall, there are some fun and enjoyable aspects to “Justice League,” but I feel like most of those are due to Joss Whedon’s influence. The acting from Affleck, Gadot, Fisher and Miller is great, the comedy gives the film a breath of fresh-air, many of the new characters are great additions, and the soundtrack is phenomenal. But the film is overly crowded and too busy for its own good, to the point that nothing feels satisfying. The action sequences are rather forgettable, the effects are laughable, and Steppenwolf is the worst villain in any DC film. This is the superhero definition of a mixed bag.

Final Grade: C+

 

Advertisements

Movie Review – “Thor: Ragnarok” (2017)

 

 

If you were ask me which film(s) was my least favorite in the Marvel cinematic universe, I would be quick to point directly at the first two Thor movies. This is because both “Thor” and “Thor: The Dark World” seem at odds with the rest of the Marvel movies and don’t have fun with their ridiculous scenarios. In a way, the idea that the Norse Gods are real should lead to the most creative and awe-inspiring films in the series, yet the first two are so bland and forgettable that it makes them much worse. When you focus more on Natalie Portman and Kat Dennings than the god of thunder, you know you are doing something wrong.

Luckily, every problem I had with the previous Thor movies is fixed with the latest entry, “Thor: Ragnarok,” and we finally get a film that fully embraces its over-the-top ridiculous nature. This movie reduces Thor to his most basic elements and throws away all superfluous material to give us a all-out insane ride that never skips on laughs, thrills, and impressive visuals. Nearly every scene has something memorable, whether that’s a new character that steals the show, the superb acting from Tom Hiddleston or Cate Blanchett, or just the great sense of humor this movie has.

This is best brainless popcorn flick of the year.

 

 

This film takes place during the events of “Captain America: Civil War,” when Thor (Chris Hemsworth) returns home to Asgard after failing to locate any of the infinity stones, where he learns that his adopted brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been disguising himself as their father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) for a while. The two head to Earth to find Odin, who foretells of Hela’s return and her intent to retake Asgard. As Odin’s power diminishes, the goddess of death Hela (Cate Blanchett) emerges and effortlessly destroys Thor’s hammer and casts the brothers to some trash planet while she heads to Asgard to claim the throne as the rightful heir. Now it’s up to a devastated Thor, a treacherous Loki, a fallen Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), and a familiar green rage monster to retake Asgard from Hela before she destroys all nine realms with her undead army.

I would like to applaud these filmmakers for so drastically altering the tone and atmosphere of the previous Thor movies to a more light-hearted and joyous tone, while still keeping the same sense of scale and grandiose. Gone are characters like Kat Dennings’ Darcy and Stellan Skarsgard’s Erik Selvig, as well as a film that relies too much on Thor just swinging his hammer around a lot. Instead, we get a film that is still engrained in Norse mythology but has some of the best comedic writing of the entire Marvel cinematic series. Even the previous films’ over-reliance on Loki stealing every scene is toned down here while Hiddleston still turns in a great performance.

 

 

What I enjoyed the most about “Thor: Ragnarok” was its sense of humor. I sat in a fairly packed theater, and I probably laughed out loud more than everyone else combined. There are plenty of new characters that were designed specifically for laughs, especially the gladiator Korg, an alien made entirely of different types of rocks with a soft spoken British accent who always seems to be on the receiving end of bad timing. Another standout is the eccentric and kookey ruler of the planet Thor and Loki get trapped on, the Grandmaster, played by the always awkwardly hilarious Jeff Goldblum, who turns in his best performance since “Jurassic Park.”

The film takes every chance it has to tell a joke or point out the ridiculous nature of its setup. Most of the jokes worked for me, though there were a few that missed their mark.

On top of that, “Thor: Ragnarok” goes all-in on the crazy and goofy to give audiences a movie that is, above all else, fun. How can anyone hate a movie where the Hulk fights a giant wolf demon on a Technicolor rainbow bridge while Led Zeppelin is playing? How can you not have fun with Thor and Doctor Strange messing with each other? This movie had me grinning the entire time and I loved every second of it.

 

 

“Thor: Ragnarok” is the best escapist film of the year, packed with impressive visuals, great performances all around, the standard great sense of humor you expect from Marvel films nowadays, and is never short on thrills and fun. It is goofy and over-the-top, but never to the point where that gets in the way. This is some of the most fun I have had with a superhero film since “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and one I wouldn’t mind seeing again soon.

Final Grade: A-

 

Movie Review – “Blade Runner 2049” (2017)

 

Believe it or not, I was one of the few film buffs who wasn’t looking forward to “Blade Runner 2049” for a long time. I am not a huge fan of the original “Blade Runner,” especially since it took me three attempts to watch it all the way through without falling asleep. I attribute this to pacing problems with the original film and emphasis on style over substance. While the style of “Blade Runner” is unmistakable in its gritty film noir-esque depiction of the future, I never felt it was enough to carry the movie.

It wasn’t until they annouced that Denis Villeneuve was directing and Roger Deakins would do the cinematography that I started getting excited. Villeneuve had already proven himself in the science fiction genre with last year’s “Arrival,” while cinematographer Roger Deakins has shown that he is the most imaginative and creative eye for captivating images in all of Hollywood with films like “Skyfall,” “Prisoners,” “Sicario” and “No Country for Old Men.” Deakins is almost single-handedly responsible for just about every visually stunning movie out of Hollywood in the last ten years.

In this aspect, Villeneuve and Deakins do not disappoint with “Blade Runner 2049.” I went into the movie with slight skepticism and left the theater loving nearly every scene in that movie. It takes the concepts and visuals that “Blade Runner” started and gives it a 21st-century face lift, putting the visuals on an even bigger scale and telling a story that is dripping with style and substance.

 

 

Set thirty years after the original “Blade Runner,” we see that the bioengineered human race known as replicants have been remodeled to be subserviant and loyal to humans, while the remaining resistant replicants are still slowly hunted down and terminated by a special branch of the police force, known as the blade runners. One of these runners is K (Ryan Gosling), an obedient newer model replicant. During his hunt to locate the growing replicant resistance movement, he finds a buried box next to a dead tree, something people in this world don’t seem to know about anymore.

The LAPD examine the contents of the box and find the bones of a dead replicant, in particular Rachael from the first film, a highly advanced one-of-a-kind model that was lost years ago along with former blade runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford). But the analysis finally reveals what was so unique about Rachael – she died giving birth.

Lt. Joshi (Robin Wright) is stunned by this news, since it has always been believed that replicants could never procreate. She tells K to keep this startling news a secret, since if anyone finds out it could start a war between humans and replicants. Joshi also assigns K to track down Rachael’s child and terminate it before it’s too late.

 

 

The main takeaway from “Blade Runner 2049” is that it is visually stunning and the best looking film of the last few years. This film is worth seeing for the visuals alone. From the opening scenes of a farm that consists of crop-circle like solar panels, to the increasingly large landscape of downtown Los Angeles that looks like buildings are staked on top of other buildings. Nearly every shot in the this movie is pleasing to the eye, especially with its neon color palette that makes anything yellow or orange stand out like a forest fire in the night.

“Blade Runner 2049” is like “2001: A Space Odyssey,” in that both films are always throwing unique yet interesting futuristic devices at the audience to show you how much the world has grown. From its holographic girlfriends that you can pay extra to take outside of the house, to the cameras that can make the blind see again, to technology that allows you to create and recreate memories.

But unlike “2001,” the world in this movie is far from utopia. If anything this world is a dystopia. While the people of Los Angeles live in comfort for the most part, surrounded by all the creature comforts they could ever want, nature and animals are nonexistent. We never see the sun at all in this movie and the most sustainable food source are maggots. Entire cities have been turned into giant garbage heaps, while others like Las Vegas look more like the surface of Mars.

 

 

If the original “Blade Runner” wanted to look like a gritty and darker version of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis,” then “Blade Runner 2049” looks like if “Metropolis” went through a nuclear war.

Outside of the visuals and the world of “Blade Runner,” the film gives us a compelling mystery with enough twists to always keep the journey interesting while also having a great sense of humanity and emotions, even with its main character being a robot. The first film asked questions about robots having souls, but this movie basically asks what makes up a soul in the first place. Is a soul memories? Ideologies? Emotions? K certainly seems just as emotional as any other character and has a strong code of honor to not kill anyone with a soul; does that give him a soul?

Like the first film, this one has no shortage of philosophical questions about what makes us human and what it means to be alive. The difference with “Blade Runner 2049” is that it doesn’t make these questions tedious or uninteresting.

Overall, while “Blade Runner 2049” has some pacing problems from time to time, that is a minor nitpick to an otherwise great movie. Even if you’re never seen the original “Blade Runner,” the visuals are breath-taking and never lets up, while the world the film creates is imaginative while still being startling in its bleakness. The story is compelling and the acting gets the job done, with Ryan Gosling turning in a subtle performance. I highly recommend this film, if only to watch the most visually appealing science fiction movie of the last ten years.

Final Grade: A-

 

Movie Review – “My Little Pony: The Movie” (2017)

 

 

E’Yup. I saw this movie in theaters. Was it awkward? It was weird to say “Can I get one ticket to ‘My Little Pony: The Movie’ please?” but other than that, I was the only one in the movie theater. That’s what going at 10 p.m. on a Thursday night will do for you.

But I can honestly say that, if you’re a fan of the show “My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic,” then you will enjoy this movie. It is the same humor, characterization, storytelling, and mythology as the show but on a much bigger budget and slightly changed animation style. If you don’t care for “Friendship Is Magic” or outright hate the show, then you will hate this movie just as much if not more.

This movie isn’t going to convert any haters or disbelievers of the show into fans. Like “Friendship Is Magic” in general, it is targeted mostly towards little kids and this movie excels at keeping those toddlers and little girls engrossed. The adult fans of the show? It depends on what they’re looking for.

Personally, watching “My Little Pony: The Movie” makes me appreciate the most recent season of MLP even more because of how much the characters have changed. My biggest grip with the movie is that it focuses too much on certain characters, in particular Twilight Sparkle, Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie, giving them all the good lines, jokes, and standout moments. This leaves little for the three other main characters, Rarity, Applejack, and Fluttershy. AJ and Fluttershy especially get the shaft in this movie, as they get almost nothing to do over the course of the film outside of be in the background.

 

 

Even when Fluttershy gets to do something in this movie, it usually resorts to her traditional cowering in the corner and being afraid of all the threats they face. The problem is that the show’s version of Fluttershy has evolved beyond this point. In seasons six and seven, she has overcome her fears and anxieties to become a rather assertive yet still kind pony. The movie’s version of her resorts back to the early seasons, where every episode she had to overcome a new fear that hadn’t surfaced until that episode.

Also, not a single line of dialogue from one of my favorite new characters in “Friendship Is Magic,” Starlight Glimmer. This shows that the movie is stuck in the early days of the show, where characterization is basic and mostly revolves around simple ideas for the characters, like Rainbow Dash always talking about being awesome or Rarity only focusing on fashion. That was a little disappointing to see.

While I would prefer to watch a good two-part of the show over this movie, like “To Where And Back Again” or “Twilight’s Kingdom,” the movie still isn’t bad. It nails the style and sense of humor of the show and it does feel grand seeing our heroes traverse an entirely new land to discover all new races with their own backstories and mythology. I even enjoy the animation style since it makes all their movements feel more fluid and connected, and the detail on all their eyes is wonderful.

If you’re a parent with a little kid who wants to see this movie, they will have a good time. If you’re an adult fan of the show, try going to a late showing on a weeknight when there won’t be any kids around and you will at least enjoy some parts of the movie. If you’re on the fence about this movie, then this probably isn’t for you.

Final Grade: C+

 

Movie Review – “Kingsman: The Golden Circle” (2017)

 

 

It’s been more than three years since “Kingsmen: The Secret Service” came out and my opinion on the movie has changed slightly. In my initial review, I talked about it is a smart yet stupid action movie with a sense of class and dignity to their mission to save the world. Since then, while I still think there’s an air of class to the majority of the movie that you do not get from other dumb popcorn flicks, the scene in the church is way too much and really takes the audience out of the movie. Even if that’s the part everyone remembers, it was still unnecessary and went against the atmosphere and tone of the rest of the film.

Well, with the sequel, “Kingsmen: The Golden Circle,” imagine that church scene but stretched out to nearly two-and-a-half hours combined with an unbelievably cynical and hateful attitude towards all living creatures. That should give you an idea of how disappointing and off-putting this movie is.

The main thing this movie wants to stress is over-stylized action or violence, but does so in the most asinine or mean-spirited way possible. Even from the opening scene, we’re reintroduced to our lead character Eggsy (Taron Egerton) through a CGI car chase sequence through London, where we quickly learn the whole “manners maketh man” point of the first film has gone out the window just to showcase flashy action sequences.

Throughout the movie, we’re subjected to multiple cases of our “heroes” doing some really terrible things, like when Eggsy has to use a condom tracker on an unsuspecting woman by any means necessary, or nearly drowning a former colleague (Colin Firth) to job his memory.

 

 

I can forgive the utterly ludicrous and stupid plot of using recreational drugs to take over the world, but what I cannot forgive is how negative and horrible these people can truly be. This is not fun to watch, and feels more like an exercise in patience and strength of will.

The only scene I enjoyed in “The Golden Circle” came near the end of the film, after Colin Firth’s character has returned to his normal spy-self and Eggsy, his former apprentice, tells Colin that he has a girlfriend now even though it’s against Kingsmen protocol. Colin, usually being the stick-in-the-mud who always sticks to regulations, tells Eggsy about what he felt when he was dying – nothing. No fond memories, and no images of loved ones, because he did not have any. At that moment, he realized that emotional attachments are not a weakness, they make life worth living.

And this wonderfully touching and poignant moment is immediately followed up with this films’ equivalent of President Trump condemning everyone in the world who has ever taken recreational drugs to a slow and painful death and then calling himself a hero for doing so. Look, I understand that Trump is, for lack of a better term, “Trump” (and to keep politics out of these movie reviews), but the scenes with the President in this movie are painful to watch. I do not care what your stance on Trump is, but this movie is made so much worse because of its lack of empathy, which can be traced back to these President scenes.

 

 

The other part of “The Golden Circle” that gets me riled up is how it tries to build up having an all-star cast with dozens of big name stars. Channing Tatum is in the movie for all of five minutes, nor does he really do anything cool. Jeff Bridges is in the movie for about three minutes and the most exciting thing he does is throw a cowboy hat. Halle Berry has a few scenes but spends most of it staring at a computer screen and reading off reports.

And yet the “star” that gets more screen time than all three of these great actors put together, but was barely mentioned in advertising, is Elton John. I swear Elton John is onscreen more than Colin Firth. He supposedly plays himself, but this version of Elton John curses up a storm and threatens to fight several bodyguards and scientists. His inclusion would have been fine if he did not have such a prominent role and have so many speaking lines that were clearly written by a screenwriter instead of Elton himself. This version of Elton acted more like Deadpool than someone whose been knighted by Queen Elizabeth.

 

 

If you’re going to have someone play themselves in a movie, give us the genuine article, not some fantasized idea of that person.

There is very little I enjoyed about “Kingsman: The Golden Circle.” If the film was not boring me with its popcorn-flick science or unnecessary plot twists, it was being unbelievably cynical, taking all the drive and passion out of the action sequences. It tries to throw everything it can at the screen and hope that something sticks, only for most of it to miss the screen entirely. If you’re interested in seeing this film, save yourself the trouble and rewatch “The Secret Service” instead.

Final Grade: D

 

Movie Review – “American Made” (2017)

 

 

Here’s a type of story that is getting more difficult to tell with each passing film – the fading tale of the American Dream.

There have been a plethora of movies that have done this well, including “Goodfellas,” “American Movie,” “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” and more recently “The Wolf of Wall Street.” Films that showcase the highest of highs in passionate greedy glory and revile in the lowest of lows when egos become bigger than bank accounts and reality comes crashing back down. There’s a hard truth to these movies that hands down righteous justice to our characters, some going from a job that’s better than being the President to being an average nobody, while still taking the time to glorify how amazing their lives were.

“American Made” is the newest film to join this genre, and while it has some crazy moments here and there, it exchanges the pomp and circumstance for a more gritty realistic interpretation. This ends up taking a lot of the excitement out of the movie, especially when Tom Cruise’s performance is so mellow and underwhelming.

The movie follows TWA pilot Barry Seal (Cruise) after he contacted by CIA agent Monty Schafer (Domhnall Gleeson). Schafer hires Seal to be a private pilot for him, assigned to take pictures of small Central American villages and weapon shacks with a special camera inserted into his airplane. Eventually, Seal is contacted by the Columbian drug cartel to smuggle their produce into America without being caught, which Seal agrees to do. Seal is eventually caught, but Schafer bails him out and hires him for a new task of helping out the contras in Nicaragua by bringing them weapons and even training them on his own private airfield, all while becoming filthy rich.

 

 

My problem with “American Made” is Tom Cruise’s performance as Barry Seal and how lifeless he feels. Maybe this is because he’s always looking over his shoulder or because he knows he cannot trust anyone, but Barry never seems to take joy in anything he does. He has enough money to fill up his whole closet and burying more in his backyard, and I do not think he ever raises his voice above a whisper. Since he always acts like he’s in the middle of his lowest low, he is so unemotional here that it takes most of the fun out of his rise to glory.

The camera work in “American Made” is pretty horrendous, with lots of shaky or unsteady camera movement and unnecessary zooms in the middle of some shots. The cinematography is going for a home video from the 1980s feel, but it draws so much unnecessary attention to itself that it took me out of the viewing experience.

 

 

While Barry Seal’s journey from TWA pilot to CIA henchman to drug and soldier delivery man is not a boring one, and even has some great moments about the kind of power rush he can only get in America, “American Made” lacks any sort of charm to its journey. There was not any scene that stood out as being entertaining or note-worthy, just a dull version of “Goodfellas” or “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

Final Grade: C-

 

Movie Review – “The Lego Ninjago Movie” (2017)

 

 

If you asked me what my favorite animated film of the 2010s is so far, I would say “The Lego Movie” without any hesitation. Aside from one of the most visually stunning animated movies of the last decade, as well as having a visual style that no other movie has ever had, it has this massive sense of imagination and wonder where you feel like anything could happen. The movie even has a fantastic twist that makes the whole movie far more understanding and heartwarming.

It’s a movie where Batman, Star Wars, pirates, and astronauts obsessed with building space ships all set out on this massive adventure across equally imaginative landscapes. How can anyone hate this movie? Even “The Lego Batman Movie” still had this great sense of wonder and scope while still doing its own thing by acting as a love letter to everything Batman has ever done.

Which is why it pains me to say “The Lego Ninjago Movie” is such a disappointment. Not only does the film mostly limit itself to action movie clichés, but it does little with its Lego-setup, never fully utilizing that unique concept to its full potential. The movie feels like a 2-D animated kids adventure flick that was converted into a Lego movie at the last minute.

Told through the perspective of an old antique shop keeper (Jackie Chan), he tells a little boy the story of Lloyd (Dave Franco), a Lego teenager who lives in Ninjago City, a relatively peaceful metropolis except for the occasional attack from the evil Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux), Lloyd’s father. But everything Garmadon attacks the city, the Ninjago ninjas are always there to stop his evil plans with their giant mechas. Lloyd is the Green Ninja of this group of six ninjas, trained by Master Wu (also Jackie Chan), who face their toughest battle yet when their plan to finally defeat Garmadon goes horribly wrong.

 

 

Part of the problem is that most of these characters leave no impression on me. Most of the ninjas get little to no screen time or development, outside of Lloyd, and are mostly delegated to churning out one-liners or there to fight the bad guys. Lloyd is irritating at times and average at other points. The relationship with his father gets grating especially when the film forces hacky father-son moments near the end of the film.

The only character I enjoyed in the movie was Zane (Zach Woods), the ice ninja of the group. He’s a robot, programmed to act and think like a teenager, which leads to the funniest lines in the movie. He tries to act like he has all these problems every other kid in high school has, only to find out the way his “mother” yells at him is by screaming the old internet dial-up noise. He’s like a comedic-version of Data from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

This movie would have been so much better if Zane had a bigger focus or if he were the main character in general. He has more quirks and charm than Lloyd does, so that would have at least saved the movie. Instead, he spends most of the time in the background with an emotionless face. This makes it even weirder in the later parts of the movie when the ninjas need to concentrate and calm their minds to gain new powers and they never bring up the fact that one of them is a robot.

 

 

The biggest problem with “The Lego Ninjago Movie” is that it does not take any chances. The reason the previous two Lego movies stood out is because they tried to do so many different things with their characters and plot, some things that no other movies have done before in terms of scope. But this movie is so straight-forward and by-the-books. Even from the opening scene where Jackie Chan explains how to look at something from a new perspective, the point is made that this is your standard animated kids film with little to no surprises.

As a kids movie, “The Lego Ninjago Movie” is fine. It is bright and colorful with a fine story that will keep kids entertained. But as a fan of the Lego movies to this point, I feel let down by this film because it lacks that same grand sense of wonder. The film does not take a piece of plastic and make a grand adventure out of it for people of all ages, it just makes an average yet clichéd little kid movie.

If “The Lego Movie” is like a kid using his toys to reenact “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, then “The Lego Ninjago Movie” is like a kid lazily playing on a Sunday afternoon.

Final Grade: C-