Review: Ninja Assassin
This film was reviewed as part of Fantastic Fest
PLOT: Raised by a secret ninja clan as a young orphan to be an assassin, Raizo (Rain) is now on the run after engaging in a secret affair and defying his "father". Meanwhile, Mika Coretti (Naomie Harris), is working with Europol investigating strange deaths and a string of clues that seem to lead back to a secret society of ninjas-for-hire. Once she stumbles upon this she becomes marked by the Ozunu Clan (Raizo's clan) and joins forces with Raizo to bring the clan down.
REVIEW: NINJA ASSASSIN had a lot of potential to become the dream film of many fanboys. And until those fanboys see it, it may remain so. However, I found my dream slightly shattered after witnessing the film for myself. The first area in which this film fails, and the element that works entirely to its detriment, is in story. For a movie like this to work without exception we either need to believe in the ninja as a real being traveling the world unnoticed and assassinating people, or we need to not care that they aren't real. Unfortunately, NINJA ASSASSIN plays everything straight faced and we're left to force ourselves to remain interested until the next CGI-blood soaked action scene.
During these segments of storyline, many huge gaps in logic become very frustrating. One utterly painful story point (a MAJOR story point at that) comes when Raizo, who we have spent the entire film learning is a badass ninja, makes a stupid mistake and is caught completely off his guard. Why the extended scenes of ninja training if you're going to throw it completely out the window when the story needs a turning point? Things like this rear their heads throughout the film and further negate the need for any story at all. Furthermore, Maika's entire investigation (the scenes where we are meant to "believe" that this could all be true) is so forced and weak that we have to literally be fed spoonfuls of exposition to summarize her findings.
The actors attempt their best to deliver some of the worst dialogue seen in a big budget action movie. In an attempt to demystify the ninja, the script isn't sure what style of dialogue to use. No matter, though, as it all comes out uniformly wooden by the cast. Rain may be a gigantic Korean pop-star and he may play well with the ladies, but when handed bad English dialogue, he can make your ears bleed. Every other major character is drawn from the shallowest of stereotypes. So maybe it's not the actors but, again, the script that is to blame for the failures.
So it's up to director James McTeigue (V FOR VENDETTA) to save the day with visual flair and spectacular action sequences. Unfortunately, it's a mixed bag in the direction and action department. The story scenes are directed adequately at best with no real attempt made to mask the story and dialogue problems. The action scenes are quite bloody. In fact, this is probably one of the most blood soaked films I've seen at the theater. Unfortunately, McTeigue made a conscious decision to use CGI blood to make the action more comic book style. Not only does it look rather fake most of the time, it directly conflicts with the stylistic choice to ground this tale in some semblance of reality.
Outside of the blood though, there is more often little going on on screen of interest. Ninjas and shurikens fly by quickly with McTeigue never really settling on the best way to capture the action of an entity that is never seen as part of its mythology. The camera never stops moving, the takes are only seconds long and there's never a real grasp on who is fighting who. It's all just a big ninja mess with one particular extended action scene in the middle being reduced to uselessness by the wild direction that prevents the audience from having really any shred of an idea of what is going on. This, in turn, further diminishes the story as we are left to guess what the stakes are when we can't tell who is winning a battle.
Overall, NINJA ASSASIN is a failure. However, the film opens with a strong sequence that really captures the spirit of the ninja legend. The final action scenes are actually enough over-the-top that there's some good fun to be had. McTeigue's cameramen seem to have gotten a bit worn out by the time they filmed these scenes as the movements of the camera are far less seizure-like. In between there are brief moments where we get to see what we have imagined it must be like for a ninja to slip in and out of the shadows. Had this been incorporated better in the action, had McTeigue rented a steadicam, had the mythology been made fun we might have a solid ninja film to return to time and time again. Instead we have a watch once and throw away, frustrating curiosity.