Ninja Assassin Review

Published 5 years ago by , Updated September 10th, 2012 at 9:18 am,

Short Version: Ninja Assassin has many flaws; however, the ninjas are not one of them. All of the ninja action in this film is awesome, and for fans of the genre that’s probably enough.

ninja assassin header Ninja Assassin Review
Screen Rant’s Paul Young reviews Ninja Assassin

Ninja Assassin is the first action movie this Fall that delivers on what it promises: Lots of ninja action.

I’m a sucker for a good ninja fight, no matter how choreographed it is. The silent-but-deadly ninja was a huge part of the 80’s action movie sub-culture; since I grew up in the 80’s, I have seen every one that I can get my hands on (yes that includes American Ninja, I, II, III, IV AND V).  Ninjas doing what they do best (being sneaky) have slowly crept into popular culture over time. Mythbusters did an entire episode on ninja myth and lore and the website has grown in popularity in the recent years.

Ninja Assassin is a good (not great) attempt at making a good ninja action flick by director James McTeigue (V for Vendetta), but it’s far from perfect. The opening scene sets the tone for the type of action we are going to be treated to: Highly stylized, bloody and violent as hell (just the way a ninja would do it). There are so many severed limbs in Ninja Assassin that I was beginning to think I was watching a Saw movie or Saving Private Ryan (except with ninjas).

The plot of the movie is actually pretty good – that is, the ninja story is good. The non-ninja related material however, is garbage. The main focus is one of revenge, and to a lesser degree redemption. I also couldn’t help but feel a bit of sibling rivalry between Raizo (Rain) and Takeshi (Rick Yune) as they compete to win favor with their “father” Ozunu, played brilliantly by old school movie ninja legend Sho Kosugi.

There are 9 ninja clans that have been around for 1,000 years and they increase their ranks by kidnapping children and raising them in the way of the ninja until they become lean, mean ass-kicking machines. Over time, Raizo finds that he has a place in his heart for something other than ninjary. Her name is Kiriko (Kylie Goldstein) and she is a young girl in his clan.

The relationship between Kiriko and Raizo is actually rather touching and he soon begins to have feelings for her – until she decides to run away from the clan and he doesn’t go with her. That’s a big no-no in clan rules and she is ritualistically murdered by his “brother” Takeshi at the orders of Ozunu in front of all the young clan members.

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Jump forward a few years to Raizo’s first mission (presumably on his 18th birthday). He turns his back on the clan, his brother and his father and becomes one of the hunted. If writers Michael Sand and J. Michael Straczynski had just stuck to that story, then the whole movie would have been very interesting. Unfortunately, they decided to include several throw away characters and a ridiculous contrived sub-plot involving Europol agents Mika Coretti (Naomie Harris) and her supervisor Ryan Maslow (Ben Miles).

Mika finds a money trail that links several political murders to a group of ninja assassins by using nothing more than a vague reference to 100 lbs of gold and a bank deposit. The movie really goes off the tracks when the non-ninja characters are on screen. In fact, everything that isn’t ninja related in this movie just plain sucks and makes no sense whatsoever.

Mika and Ryan are based in Berlin, Germany and work as Europol agents but they are under investigation by the FBI, CIA, and Homeland Security for apparently getting too close to the “truth about ninjas.” Um, OK. Then for some unexplained reason, a Russian operative is introduced to the story for no reason other than Mika to end up with a box for of Ozunu Clan related scrolls and pictures.

Ryan then has a covert meeting with her (in a cliché parking garage) and tells her to get out and run for her life because all these big time police organizations, and ninjas, are after them. Ninjas attack in the dark, using the shadows to hide and wait for the right time to pounce on them victims. So what does Mika do when she gets home and finds out the power is off to her building and KNOWS that ninjas are coming for her? Why go into the dark building alone and try to pack of course, duh!

The rest of the non-ninja story is more of the same uninspired filler, including a mandatory Hollywood Bush-bashing reference to Guantanamo Bay. That entire scene was nothing more than a segue to have ninjas fight in a massive warehouse. Guys with guns versus ninjas with swords and stars; guess who wins that fight? Mika is constantly telling Raizo that “we can trust Maslow” but each time they do, the situation worsens. Is Maslow, bad? Is Maslow good? Who cares… Where are the ninjas?!?

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Well they’re here. When the ninjas are on the screen – in the classic full-ninja entire, including the black hood, split toe shoes and dual swords – it is truly remarkable.  Fight choreographers Chad Stahelski (The Expendables, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Rambo ) and David Leitch (Tron Legacy, Speed Racer) are in top martial art form here because every second there is a ninja on screen, then you can be sure the action is going to be intense.

My one complaint about the fights in Ninja Assassin was the use of all the digital blood. The same technique was used in Blood the Last Vampire and it’s becoming more prevalent in Japanese-stylized fights. I’m just not that into it yet I suppose; perhaps it will grow on me in time. The other thing I noticed is that the blood in every human on the planet is sitting in their veins at around 120 psi, because when they get hit by a sword of ninja star, their blood literally explodes from their bodies.

My favorite part of Ninja Assassin had to be the use of the digital ninja stars. Listening to them swoosh by my head in 7.1 digital surround sound was fantastic and watching ninjas mow people down with them instead of bullets was great.

Overall, I’d go see Ninja Assassin again. It’s the only real choice this holiday weekend for someone wanting to watch an action movie. Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Blind Side, both of which I hear are good films, would be GREAT films if they just had one thing in them: NINJAS!

Our Rating:

2.5 out of 5
(Fairly Good)

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  1. Don’t know why the Bush-bashing was a surprise. This is the same guy that did V for Vendetta, where the story would have been exactly the same without any references to current political parties, but they HAD to point out that the villain in the movie was a conservative, lol.

    Anyway, not really on the Ninjas are cool bandwagon, so I think I’ll have to pass on this one…

  2. only 2.5 c’mon man, i think you can push it up to 3 :-) unless the “non ninja” stuff was that bad hehhe
    i just saw ninja (starring scott adkins) and i loved it, not to stylised and heaps good fight scenes, the blood and special effects where heaps good, i think ‘ninja assassin’ should be more like ‘ninja’ – less blood. (havent seen ninja assassin yet but the red band trailer gives me a taste of whats to come :-)

  3. Damn it. Why can’t I hire them for some clandestine work!?

    Ninja’s wanted!!!

  4. I find it curious that this got the same rating as New Moon. Will wait for DVD on this one though i think, probably wont be showing anywhere near me.

  5. @jwalka – Yes the non-ninja stuff was pretty lame but don’t let that stop you from watching the film. The fight scenes were super.

    @Beckett – I never saw New Moon but I judge movies in the own genre on usually take into account a few things:

    Enjoyment – was I entertained during the film?
    Story – was everything necessary or was it filled with fluff?
    After thoughts – was I talking about the movie afterward?
    Replay – Would I watch the movie again?

    In case, I had a great time, the story was half good/half bad, I was talking about the cool scenes with my buddy afterward and yes I’d watch it again.

    Is it the next Dark Knight or Star Trek? Of course not.

  6. Is one of his nipples burnt off?

  7. Paul Young, so you’re saying it was worth seeing??? (for the fights. lol)

  8. How come no one can make a supreme ninja movie with the action of Ninja Assasin and the direction of, say, TDK? Well, since the action is great, I’ll check it out. But all I can think is…DRAT!!

    Just saw Speed Racer again. You know, it’s not as bad as I thought. I liked the racing the first time I saw it and I still do; the story and acting weren’t as horrible as I initially thought. My son really liked it.

  9. I didn’t know Sho Kosugi was in this. Now I’m going to have to see it…I love his movies in case you couldn’t tell. Any special appearances by Kane or Shane? XD

  10. Yeah Kahless the Dvd chapter selections are setup great on Speed Racer, you can click your way right to the race scenes if you don’t like the story. 😉

    The Nonja scene is pretty funny,,,

  11. Paul

    What did you think of Rain’s acting?

  12. I can’t imagine anybody seeing Speed Racer more than once…..

    I’ll be seeing this movie real soon and looking forward to it!

  13. Rain actually did a very decent job. He didn’t have any long expositions but the lines he did have were delivered fine. As an action star? Yeah, I can see him doing more down the road.

    I liked Speed Racer. It looks and sounds fantastic on Blu-ray!

  14. Oh I wasnt critising that it got the same as New Moon, I enjoyed that film, I was just curious.

    And Speed Racer, absolutely loved every single second, such a feel good film that made me remember why I love film so much. It doesnt always have to serious, and I for one hope there are more films like Speed Racer to come.

  15. Saw it yesterday. I agree with the review; Ninja action was very good, Europol stuff was crap. Man, those guys reminded me of demons the way they used shadows. Like Paul said, if they just had a movie about vengence, this would have been awesome.

  16. The guys who directed Speed Racer were on Acid. Seriously

  17. Saw it, loved it! Waiting for pt2

  18. Did you actually watch Ninja Assassin? There were no action scenes. There were movements, some noises but nothing you could discern and aside from the first 10 minutes there were no real after effects either.

    The fact they chose compositing over CGI or practical made it that much worse. Why, in this day and age, would you want to 2d animate blood?

    I wanted to tear my eyes out after the first half hour. Sadly I went in with friends who probably would have left me had I snuck into the fantastic mr. fox.

    In a stack up against other ninja movies it still fails. Drop that sucker down 2 stars. Though I would rather watch it then risk a twilight movie.

  19. Saw the movie yesterday, and as I expected a big MEH.

    @ Paul Young

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say the fight scenes were superb, they were ok and had some dang he got f’ed up moments, but overall it was pretty standard, and the crap CGI weapons and blood just added to overall downgrade of the fight scenes and made the movie seem as about as hyped up as when Electra first came out.

  20. Loved the ninjas, hated the europol. Why in the world did that europol came into this film?? The combination made it bad. I really liked the ninja actions but I got disgusted with how modern day police force intervene with the ninjas’ awesome skills. Guns versus swords and shurikens?? Oh come on..

  21. I was thinking, “damn, the plot sounds good!”.
    Up until you said that it got off track, what with those agents and obscure evidence.
    Sometimes, you’ve gotta think how the heck some think random happenings like that in a good story is welcoming and brilliant.

  22. I thought that Ninja Assassin was awesome, I don’t usually like gory movies but this was pretty bad, it was action packed. The ninja action was amazing, Raizo didn’t have many lines but the ones he had weren’t bad “The breath I take after I kill you will be the first breath of my life” and then the action began! The non ninja stuff was a little distracting but it wasn’t so bad. I would definitely watch it again.

  23. Finally had a chance to watch the movie.
    The action is quite awesome. And here are my conclusion

    – get a VW if you are going against ninja
    – states win with firepower again
    – states trampling over japanese culture again
    – the korean wins in the end

  24. I would have to say that Ninja Assassin was a really cool movie. but i think that the Blood in this movie just made it look a little to fake a stupid at the same time. I did watch both the ninja movies Ninja Assassin and Ninja with Scott Adkins and i would have to say i recommend the movie Ninja a lot more just because it looked like a better ninja movie and the story was a lot better and much more believable then the movie Ninja Assassin.

  25. I posted this originally in the “Red-banned” thread but then, I thought this is better suited here so, I’ve re-posted it. :)

    I saw the movie a couple of days ago. I have to say, I was so hyped-up coming into the theater because I was excited to see how the action sequences will look like based on those awesome training sessions of Rain and the stuntmen that was released on the net. After seeing it, well I have some negative and positive comments regarding it. First, the negatives:

    Well, it was quite a let-down for me since most of the fights took place in the dark and I could hardly make them out.

    I know, I know, ninjas are supposed to fight that way–in the shadows, but I was expecting that the fight scenes would have had a bit more lighting so that the audience could clearly see the movements. But of course, in the story itself, the actors would pretend that their surroundings are just a notch higher than “pitch-black,” you know what I mean?

    And…well, I’m really just sorry to say that the story itself didn’t connect for me, I mean, I left the cinema asking myself: “That’s it? I think there should be more to it.” Like, it sort of fell short on establishing the main character. It did give us flashbacks on Raizo’s origins but, it didn’t clue us in on what went on with him between that time when he left the clan and up to the present time. I mean, how did he make a living? Was he now a freelance assassin for hire? Or was he maintained by an unknown benefactor or covert agency? Who was his contact who informed him that he should protect the female Europole agent who was the next target of his former clan? What was he doing in Germany?

    The things that I liked about the movie was the way they showed the ninjas in a fresh and exciting manner. Didn’t know shurikens can penetrate kevlar helmets! And the way they swoosh through the air in full stereo made me bob my head every time I heard it, fearing that it might hit me! Hehe. I also like the idea they presented that swords and throwing knives can hold their own against automatic weapons, as long as you know what you’re doing.

    And it was kinda’ fun seeing Sho Kosugi again after a very long absence. I mean, I grew up seeing this guy portraying ninjas in the movies.

    Well, this just my personal experience with this movie. It fell short on some aspects but overall, it was okay enough I guess.

  26. This movie was amazing, lots of ninja action, check this out.

  27. I would watch this again…..I liked it better than Kick-Ass!

  28. Just watched the movie and I completely agree with your review. Ninja Assassin had some really amazing fight scenes — but it failed in story line. I didn’t really see a point to things. The non-ninja story failed. It was scattered and pointless. What should have been focused on was Revenge. Revenge should have been the main point to this movie. If producers had focused on that … and got rid of this non-ninja side story, it would’ve been excellent (well, maybe not excellent … but better!)

    Although the fight scenes were amazing, I had a few pet peeves about them. The blood, in some cases, looked fake (and I focused only on the fact that it looked like blood from a SEGA video game … which stopped me from enjoying the movie). Another thing … all the wounds Raizo got from most of the scenes would have killed a normal person … which is what he should be. He could also heal himself, apparently, which was so unbelievable that I chuckled at the absurdity of it. Ninjas are normal people who have honed their skills … but they are not immortal.

    I would give the movie a 2/5 rather than a 2.5 … but that’s my opinion. To fully enjoy a movie, I like to be immersed in the story, as well as the action (and watching the blood fly!) This movie lacked much of a story, but the fight scenes were great.

    All in all, I would watch the movie again … but only for the fight scenes.