Just to make sure that we know what we’re getting in Ninja Assassin, the film’s first sequence wastes no time telling us. A gang boss is getting a tattoo when a letter arrives. It is sealed with wax and when he breaks the seal and opens the letter, out pours some black sand. The tattoo artist goes pale – he’s seen this before. Even as the boss and his gang laugh at the old man’s fears, they are suddenly sliced to ribbons in one of the goriest action scenes I’ve ever seen.
In Berlin, Europol agent Mika Coretti [Naomie Harris] goes to her immediate superior, Maslow [Ben Miles] with the results of her research. She’s discovered a link between some recent assassinations and a group of nine clans who have hired themselves out for the rate of one hundred pounds of gold. Maslow’s reaction to the idea of ninjas is similar to that of our late gang boss. He’s amused. But Mika’s research piques his interest.
That night, when Mika returns home, she finds a window open and, just as a black clad ninja attacks from of the shadow, his weapon is intercepted by a chain wielded by someone else. I guess that, in ninja movies, this is how the hero and heroine “meet cute.”
Mika’s rescuer is Raizo [Rain], a renegade ninja from the Ozuno family. A girl in the family tried to leave and was executed for her audacity and dishonoring of the family. As the film progresses, we see how Raizo was trained and why he left – juxtaposed with present day scenes of Mika and Maslow trying to make sense of her research, and more bloodletting than in both parts of Kill Bill combined with Reservoir Dogs!
Ninja Assassin is not a movie that will stay with you, nor will it foster any great amount of discussion [beyond, say, “Did you see that???”]. Between the shadowy fight sequences and a fair bit of hand-held camerawork, much of the film is hard to follow – and when you can see what’s going on, it’s a bit of a mess.
In short, Ninja Assassin is a bit slicker than ninja movies of the past and there’s at least a nod in the general direction of giving us characters with a semblance of depth. It’s loud and bloody and will definitely get your adrenaline pumping, though whether it’s from the action or from laughter is hard to call.
Personally, I’m a bit disappointed. I expect something more from a film that has J. Michael Straczynski’s [Babylon 5, Changeling] name on it. And, as a follow up to James McTeigue’s excellent V for Vendetta, it’s doubly disappointing.
Final Grade: C-