Walking into a movie titled Ninja Assassin, you should already expect a decent number of ninja assassinations and a fair amount of carnage. Martials arts movies have never skimped on the body count and why should this be any different?
What you might not be expecting is the blood-drenched massacre that is this entire movie. Director James McTeigue and the producing Wachowski brothers heap comical amounts of splatter onto the screen, racking up a higher body count and more buckets of blood than any torture porn horror flick or recent Rambo mission.
Each slice slashes an artery — precision only a ninja can master — out of which spurts a fountain of crimson with every whistling blade. Razor-sharp katanas and throwing stars whiz through the air, severing limbs and heads as if they’re made of cherry-flavored Jell-O. Now if only the audience could see any of it…
McTeigue must light his scenes with a laser pointer because several fights are carried out in almost pitch darkness, masking what I can only assume is impressive choreography. Flashes of ninja-quick editing allow glimpses of sharp displays of elaborate martial arts. Nevertheless, ninjas battle endless numbers of other ninjas in lengthy action sequences that should satisfy fans of Quentin Tarantino’s slippery Crazy 88 scene from Kill Bill.
Korean pop singer (slash!) entertainer Rain looks the part, ducking spin kicks and waving metal around like the rest of the ninjas. He is convincing as Raizo unless he’s required to speak, then he reminds the audience they’re watching a B-movie.
Raizo is a renegade ninja of the Ozunu clan, a secret organization that kidnaps children and molds them into merciless fighters. These shadow warriors aren’t passive samurais droning on about their code, they are killing machines trained from birth to bring only pain and death to their enemies. Wielding a chain-blade weapon (called a kusarigama), Raizo enacts his revenge on his former “family” by spilling their blood on the walls.
Forensic researcher Mika Corretti (Naomie Harris) stumbles upon evidence that high-profile assassinations are being carried out by a ninja organization known as the “Nine Clans.” Because while ninjas are masters of hiding in the shadows, apparently they’re not so great at hiding financial transactions. There should have been a lesson on money laundering at the Ozunu camp.
Corretti’s investigation gets her mixed up in the world of underground ninjas (hidden, not of the mutant sewer variety) and soon she’s a helpless sidekick. The plot makes a few predictable moves (e.g. flashbacks to a teen love interest) between slicing-and-dicing, though some demand leaps of logic even a ninja wouldn’t dare. But the movie takes a turn into cartoonish (anime-ish?) with ninjas whispering “traitor,” “kill,” and “ninja” as they slink into the shadows, healing by meditation, and inexplicable ninja teleportation. Not to mention an explosion-filled third act. I thought ninjas were supposed to be silent?
The fight sequences in Ninja Assassin are brutal and blood-soaked, but the rest is just cheesy filler.
2.5 out of 5.