I feel strongly ambivalent about Ninja Assassin. On the one hand, I love how the ninjas are brought to life with a supernatural and mystical edge, how they emerge from the shadows and move with incredible stealth. They're stacked with lots of wicked weapons and they leave a trail of blood and death in their wake, they can even feel like demons at certain points and the introduction to them at the start is perfect. So the conceptualization and realization of the ninjas is brilliant, especially for the fans of the genre, how they fight is fantastic and the 'shadow step' is a technique that any ninja fan is sure to recognize. Ninja Assassin also gets bonus points for including Sho Kosugi as Ozunu, the man who introduced the ninja genre to American audiences back in the 80s.
In a lot of ways, Ninja Assassin feels like a live action movie of Ninja Gaiden. We follow Raizo (Rain) in Ninja Assassin, a deserter from his Ozunu clan, who is constantly being hunted down for abandoning his clan. Raizo fled the ruthless Ozunu clan after an unbelievably quixotic girl was put to death for trying to escape. Raizo later crosses paths with Mika (Naomie Harris), a Europol agent who's been researching these mythical ninjas and has found herself in their line of fire for getting too close to the truth. Raizo rescues Mika from their cross-hairs because he needs Europol for something, I'm not sure for what exactly, storytelling is not Ninja Assassin's strong point.
Aesthetically, Ninja Assassin is very obviously inspired by 300 and the copious amount of cgi blood on display is extreme, not that I have a problem with that, but I prefer fake blood over cgi blood any day of the week. Visually and stylistically, Ninja Assassin is a pretty wild ride, the choreography of the fights is impressive and a lot of work clearly went into the physical aspects of Ninja Assassin, however this has seemingly come at the expense of a decent story. Naomie Harris and virtually every westerner in Ninja Assassin is entirely superfluous though, they don't need to be there and they serve no real purpose other than to provide some faux-drama. I think Ninja Assassin could have been a far, far better movie had they focused on the nine ninja clans and Raizo's betrayal, it didn't even need to be a modern setting, it could have been a period piece, which I think would have worked in its favor.
The script is horrendous in most parts, although I have to admit that there are a few great lines in there like, "Come, beg your father for forgiveness", it may not sound like much on print, but Sho Kosugi delivers it so very well. Every character is thin and entirely one dimensional, even Raizo's motives are a bit of a mystery and he's the main protagonist. I especially hate guns vs swords in ninja movies and Ninja Assassin falls victim to this particular pitfall as well. The once invincible ninja are being gunned down en mass with remarkable ease at the end, the consistency of their abilities just isn't there. The 'heart' excuse (you'll know what I mean) gets a pass once, but not twice, it's too serendipitous. Everything in Ninja Assassin was too cliche, laughably so. I would have been happier if they just dropped the westerners altogether and focused solely on Raizo, the Ozunu clan and the other nine ninja clans. So Ninja Assassin is very much a mixed bag for me, great visuals and awesome fights, but a terrible script lets it down at every possible opportunity.
Written by - The Sentry - 08/07/2015