Ninjago falls short of its creative forebears, though the kiddos will never notice nor care that the main father-son conflict simply reclasses Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker as ninjas rather than Jedi. Evil, four-armed Lord Garmadon (v. Justin Theroux) keeps trying to conquer the city of Ninjago, but is continuously foiled by a team of colorful ninjas. Unbeknownst to Garmadon, the Green Ninja is the son he abandoned years before, a sweet kid named Lloyd (v. Dave Franco) who has channeled all of his frustrations with his absentee father and the awful treatment he receives as a result of being the son of a big bad into learning the Ninja Way from his uncle, Sensei Wu (v. Jackie Chan).
Despite a strong voice cast, the ninjas not named Lloyd—Cole (v. Fred Armisen), Jay (v. Kumail Nanjiani), Kai (v. Michael Pena), Nya (v. Abbi Jacobson) and Zane (v. Zach Woods)—are interchangeable. The movie’s internal logic may suffer from the ninjas taking Garmadon with them as they search for the ultimate weapon needed to defeat him, but the movie needs this loquacious Darth Vader wannabe—Theroux’s not-quite self-aware villainy is the movie’s sole standout. An act as simple as calling his son “L-Loyd” never gets old, while the bulk of the movie’s gags thud unfunnily.
But kids love ninjas! Shockingly, the city of Ninjago does not even coexist in the same universe as The Lego Movie or its Batman variation. Instead, the filmmakers needlessly conjure up a live-action frame reminiscent of The Neverending Story. Far from a no-go, Ninjago simply arrives missing some vital bricks.