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.
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 AskANinja.com 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.
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?!?
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!