Movie review: The Lego Ninjango Movie

Movie reviews

Hello!

Welcome to a review of the 3rd Lego movie and the 2nd one this year. This is The Lego Ninjago Movie!

IMDb summary: Shunned by everyone for being the son of an evil warlord, a teenager seeks to defeat him with the help of his fellow ninjas.

To begin with, I really loved the 2014’s original The Lego Movie and adored the 2017’s The Lego Batman Movie as both a continuation of the Lego franchise and as a parody of the comic book movie/the superhero genre. The Lego Ninjago Movie seemed like a cool expansion of the Lego cinematic series though I didn’t know anything about the Lego ninja sub-brand. Also, I had no idea why they chose to release it this year, so close to The Lego Batman.

Writing

The Lego Ninjago Movie was written by a bunch of screenwriters, way more than it should have had. The two directors Bob Logan and Paul Fisher, and the writers William Wheeler, Tom Wheeler, Jared Stern, and John Whittington. Additionally, the story credits went to Hilary Winston, Dan Hageman, and Kevin Hageman. This just seems excessive: why would not that original children’s movie need 10 writers????

Speaking about that lack of originality: The Lego Ninjago Movie was super similar to The Lego Movie. And while we applauded its originality in 2014, 3 years later and a second-time around, the same ideas just don’t seem that fresh. This film had the same type of a framing device – real-world/live-action set-up which enveloped the lego story. The message – one about encouraging the imagination, play, and the storytelling during childhood – also stayed the same but I can’t really fault it because of how positive even if repetitive it is.

Speaking about the Lego part of the narrative: it was fine but nothing new. The plot focused on the child of a villain (Disney’s Descendants?) and dealt with his experiences as a high schooler (any teen movie ever?) who has a secret superhero life (Big Hero 6?). The ninja characters, in general, seemed to have been inspired by Transformers, Power Rangers, Pacific Rim, and Ironman. I’m guessing that a lot of Japanese/samurai movies were also consulted (and their clips included in the actual film). The elemental powers were cute but old. Lastly, the whole father-son thing was very Star Wars.

The humor of the film wasn’t bad but, at times, it did feel like the movie was trying too hard to be hip and cool (and the kids are cynical these days). That ultimate weapon reveal was super dumb but still hilarious, though.

Directing

The Lego Ninjago Movie had three directors: Charlie Bean, Paul Fisher, and Bob Logan – all long time animators but new to directing.  Speaking about that part of the film which they were best at – the animation was spectacular. This animation style still amazes me and I applaud all the animators for achieving the visuals that I haven’t thought possible just a few years back. The pacing was good too, stuff was always happening for the most part and the movie’s runtime wasn’t stretched out for no reason. Also, this quick pace kinda gave a movie a video game-esque feeling, which was good. There were a lot of dances and songs included too, similarly to the other two Lego films. However, The Lego Ninjago Movie differed from its predecessors in one aspect: it actually did feel like a commercial for the Lego toys way much more than the others did. I know that both The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie were ads for Lego too but at least they were not as obvious about it and had something extra (like the originality or the references) to embellish the ad. The Lego Ninjago Movie lacked that extra.

Voice work

The Lego Ninjago Movie assembled quite a stellar voice cast. Of course, one cannot make a ninja movie without Jackie Chan, so he both voiced a character and appeared on screen (I kinda think that he is still appealing to kids, while the adults don’t care much for him anymore). Dave Franco (Nerve, Now You See Me) and Justin Theroux (The Girl on The Train) voiced the son and the father and were fun to listen to. Silicon Valley’s Kumail Nanjiani (The Big Sick) and Zach Woods played the child-friendly version of their characters from the HBO show. Michael Peña (Ant-Man, The Martian, Collateral Beauty), Abbi JacobsonFred Armisen, and Olivia Munn (X-Men) rounded out the cast and delivered good aural performances too.

In short, The Lego Ninjago Movie was an okay addition to the Lego movie franchise. It mostly just rehashed the same stuff and didn’t add anything new but was still entertaining and enjoyable.

Rate: 3.2/5

Trailer: The Lego Ninjago Movie trailer

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Movie review: Ghost in the Shell

Movie reviews

Hello!

Hollywood’s first big attempt at recreating a beloved anime property has hit theaters, so, let’s discuss it. This is the review of Ghost in the Shell.

To begin with, the 1995’s Ghost in the Shell movie was my introduction into the world of anime as an adult. During childhood, I would sometimes watch Dragon Ball Z after school, however, in later years, I got really into American and British films and TV series, so there wasn’t really enough time for the pop-culture of the Far East. Nowadays, as anime is becoming more and more popular and easily accessible, I’m tasting it bit by bit. What are some shows or pictures I should watch? I really loved the recent film Your Name and would have loved to review it but, sadly, I couldn’t find time to do that.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. I thought that the original animated picture was really cool. I liked the visuals and the themes. It had an unexpected, interesting, and exciting ending and a unique soundtrack – nothing that I’ve ever heard before. I have yet to watch the sequels and the TV shows of this franchise or read the original manga but I’ll definitely put them on my infinite list of things to do.

IMDb summary: In the near future, Major is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals.

SPOILER ALERT

Writing

2017’s Ghost in the Shell’s script was written by Jamie Moss (known for writing Street Kings), William Wheeler (wrote Queen of Katwe and contributed to the upcoming The Lego Ninjago Movie), and Ehren Kruger (wrote the last 3 Transformers films). It was inspired by/based on various different elements from the Ghost in the Shell franchise as a whole rather than just the 1995 movie. The writing for a film was a mixed bag. The narrative, during the first two acts, was pretty basic: the characters were just going from point A to B to C. The story did pick up in the last act and felt way more cohesive but also way more complex and interesting. And yet, for a plot set in such a futuristic world, it had a very traditional and very basic villain – an evil businessman.

Speaking more about the characters, their development was scarce. The supporting cast was just there to serve the story and to fill in space on the screen. The main character did not fair much better either. She was introduced as an individual without the past with only fragments of memories (which turned out to be false). Only in the third act, she and the viewer find out her true background, which was super problematic in itself by being connected to the whitewashing issue.

So, if Major’s real mother was portrayed as Asian, that means that the real Motoko was also an Asian young woman. On the other hand, the shell, built by Hanka Robotics, was that of a white person. So was this the filmmakers’ way of justifying casting Scarlett Johansson? If that’s the case, then it’s a very flimsy explanation. In general, everything in the screenplay appeared as flimsy and inconsistent. It might have worked conceptual, but fell flat in execution.

For example, the picture attempted to tackle big ideas, like humanity, AI, memories, and identity, but the treatment of these ideas was so convoluted and, one again, inconsistent. At the end of the film, Major embraced her identity by saying that her memories do not define her. And yet, she was only able to embrace her identity, when she find out her true past. Practice what you preach! In addition, the fact that Major even began to question her existence came out of nowhere and way too suddenly.

Directing

Ghost in the Shell was directed by Rupert Sanders. This was his only second feature film, the debut being 2012’s Snow White and the Huntsman, which did earn a sequel/prequel for which Sanders did not return. His work on Ghost in the Shell was of mixed quality. I didn’t think that he paced the movie that well, but he did have impeccable visuals, which were both gorgeous to glance at and interesting to analyze further. The whole mise-en-scene did look like it was ripped from animation. If I tried describing it in relation to other live-action films, I’d say it was most similar to Blade Runner’s world with some more color of The Fith Element’s world thrown in. Plus, the opening ‘creation’ sequence reminded me a lot of Westworld (the white liquid) – another great futuristic property.

And yet, while the mise-en-scene was really cool, it had a very much Asian/Japanese flavor. The soundtrack was also very much one from the Far East. Now, this was very good for a film trying to replicate an anime feel but this was not good for a movie who had a multinational cast. I didn’t think that it would take me out of the movie but it did. If they wanted to have the multinational cast, I felt that they should have brought more global elements into the setting as well. But then, the film wouldn’t be Ghost in the Shell, although I didn’t feel that it was Ghost in the Shell now either.

Acting

To discuss the cast of the movie is to get into the issue of whitewashing. I don’t feel too well versed on such a complex issue so I’m just gonna briefly state my opinion.  Since it is a Hollywood remake I didn’t really expect them to cast a Japanese actress in a lead. I also am a fan of Scarlett Johansson so I’m a biased in that I’m happy that she was the one who got the role. Then again, I do feel that the filmmakers should have stayed true the source material and focused more on the creative rather than the financial aspects of the project. Moreover, as I have already mentioned, the discrepancy between an obviously Asian/Japanese setting and a multi-national cast did take me out of the movie.

That last thing – the film’s multi-ethnic supporting cast – is another problem in itself. Was it a step forward, trying to present a multi-cultural/multi-nationalistic world? Or was it a step back and a failed opportunity to showcase Japanese or at least broadly Asian talent in a Western-made picture?

Speaking of the actual actors in this role, Scarlett Johansson was good but I did not think that she made the role totally her own and proved us that she was the only one, who could have played Major. Needless to say, I much prefer her as Black Widow or Lucy. The prominent Japanse actor Takeshi Kitano, who was supposed to be the saving grace of this film, did not have much to do and was basically wasted in the role. Michael Pitt played the most interesting character: I actually wish that the movie would have focused on him. Game of Thrones’s Pilou Asbæk was good and I did like his character’s look, but once again, there wasn’t much for him to do. Lastly, Juliette Binoche – a French art-cinema actress – was also underused in her role.

In short, Ghost in the Shell was an okay movie. If felt uneven, inconsistent, and convoluted. The whitewashing of the main character and the majority of supporting cast did actually ruin a lot of other elements of the film.

Rate: 2,5/5

Trailer: Ghost in the Shell trailer

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