As we near Thanksgiving we discover a few new techniques in carving up the old turkey, courtesy of our friends at Ninja Assassin. Who new that yielding sharp objects is more efficient than firearms? At the least it’s a trademark of the director, James McTeigue, and he’s not shy to flaunt it in his latest adventure.
Raizo (Rain) is a runaway shinobi who crosses paths with a Europol agent by the name of Mika (Naomie Harris). Both of whom are, by the logic of a merciless and seemingly omniscient ancient ninja clan, due for a murdering. With his years of arduous training, Raizo comes to Mika’s aid and singlehandedly strikes back at his former clan.
It’s not a crime to tell an epic from the perspective of someone who plays the role of an observer, but here Mika adds nothing to the film. She’s not the hope-for-a-better-life, she doesn’t pass on knowledge, or even do anything entertaining. Her whole motivation is, “ninjas want to kill me, time to book it.”
Naturally the silver lining to Ninja Assassin is the effects work. Many times have I seen full on decapitations in films, and these were some of the better examples. There is enough carnage in this movie to go around for everyone; enough blood to keep you pumped. It never gets boring. The unfortunate burden is that there are tons of effects in the film. I personally feel that ninjas, being historically realistic, shouldn’t need the aid of a wire harness, blur effects, and dissolves that allow them to fly through the shadows; it takes the fun out of seeing martial arts. Even the worst sports movies don’t feature CGI footballs… to the best of my knowledge. Looking at Rain, I’d say he conceivably has some skills, but the quick cuts and computer assistance in Ninja Assassin could have made my mother look just as competent with a shuriken.
The title may appear redundant, but it’s also deceptive. A closer focus on the protagonist ninja would have been welcomed. It doesn’t matter if his scenes were to be met with his silence, just do something to take lines from the plot wise useless Mika. Naomie Harris doesn’t deserve to have less screen time; she just doesn’t play a vital part in what this movie should have been about. In fact the protagonist doesn’t either since he’s only an assassin for all of one night in a flashback. It would have been more inviting to focus on his life chronologically, taking us from his kidnapping, through his grueling training (here presented with unusual brevity), up to the point where he’s had enough and opts to take on his clan. That screenplay could have shed light on what I can assume is a rivalry with Takeshi (Rick Yune). I say rivalry with some apprehension since in the film there isn’t anything between them till the end, and what Takeshi did in the flashbacks doesn’t count since every action was while under orders.
In closing, Ninja Assassin does provide much of what you want to see when you purchase your ticket. The unfortunate reality is that it doesn’t go the extra mile by adding appropriate context to the mayhem. A mixed pouch of tricks. **