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Brick-ass ninjas

Masked avengers: Green Ninja and his pals save the day

THE BIG RELEASE

The Lego Ninjago Movie (U)

★★★★✩

HOW can you not love a film where the Ultimate Weapon is a kitten? It’s just as well The Lego Ninjago Movie taps into feline fever because where The Lego Movie had novelty factor and Lego Batman had a superhero pull, this is a rather harder sell. For a start, what is Ninjago, anyhow?

For those over the age of 12 and unfamiliar with the cartoon series, this is the story of Lloyd (voiced by Dave Franco), an everyday high-schooler who is unpopular not just for being a dweeb but for being the estranged son of Lord Garmadon (Justin Theroux), a four-armed baddie fixated on blasting their home island of Ninjago to rubble.

But Lloyd (pronounced ‘Luh-Loyd’ by his dad) has a secret identity as Green Ninja, a superhero who repeatedly thwarts daddy’s plans. He is aided by Master Wu (Jackie Chan) and his ninja school chums, all of whom are a tad underdeveloped: Kai (Michael Peña), Jay (Kumail Nanjiani), Cole (Fred Armisen), Zane (Zach Woods) and Nya, aka ‘the girl ninja’ (Abbi Jacobson).

The film is full of the nostalgic charm of the cartoon series and wittily references the fact it is entirely made out of fingerprint-smudged bricks in a way Lego Batman kind of forgot.

The fact it’s packed with gags and surprises at every turn also makes it a treat for adults, as does the detailed animation.

Still, for all this, you wonder where the franchise will go next. It needs fresh legs. As with Lego Batman, the plot centres on a father/son relationship and this is yet another family film where there’s only one female character for little girls to identify with. We all loved Wyldstyle from the first Lego film but how about letting her have some gal pals?

For now, we’ll have to settle for that cute kitten — and a basket-load of funny.

The verdict

More awesome than The Lego Batman Movie, this gag-packed charmer is a must-see

Also out

The Party (15)

★★★★✩

THIS is a superior cinematic canapé from British writer/director Sally Potter (Orlando, Ginger & Rosa). Shot in cool black-and-white, it sees a newly appointed shadow health minister (Kristin Scott Thomas) throw a celebration party for her nearest and dearest, only to uncork a whirlpool of secrets, lies, sex, drugs and singed vol au vents.

A spiky script that skewers the contemporary liberal elite is clearly relished by the splendid cast, which includes Timothy Spall as an overshadowed husband, Emily Mortimer as a lesbian mother of triplets and Cillian Murphy as a gun-toting, coke-snorting banker. Ending with a bang, not a whimper, it’s played with unusual flourish.

A tragicomic chamber piece that daringly teeters on farce, this is more like watching theatre than a film. Potter wraps big themes (feminism, mortality, sexuality, fertility) into an elegantly small space. Checking out at a delightful 71 minutes, The Party certainly never outstays its welcome.

The Ritual (15)

★★★✩✩

‘THEY should’ve gone to Vegas’ was this scary movie’s original tagline (hastily changed to ‘Ibiza’ following the recent shootings). Instead, a group of old university pals find themselves on a lads’ hiking trip to Sweden in tribute to their mutual friend, who was recently killed during a random crime.

A witness to his murder was Luke (Rafe Spall’s pained, haunted-eyed everyman), and guilt and recrimination surrounding it bubbles to the surface as the four men find themselves lost in a spooky forest decorated with disembowelled elks. They seek shelter in an abandoned cabin with a weird headless wicker statue for company. ‘Well, this is clearly the house we get murdered in,’ one remarks cheerily. Indeed.

A jumble of very familiar elements means this effort is far from a genre-breaker. Yet director David Bruckner makes the most of the misty, twiggy Scandi location to conjure a memorable sense of unease, while his cut-above cast are believable as early middle-aged blokes whose once close friendship is tested.

A solid ‘good job’ all round, it’s one to catch on home streaming.