Can this hyper-stylized bloodletting resuscitate a once proud genre?

Ninjas are real. And they’re psychos. Psychos for hire, apparently. An elite ninja clan has been farming out its elusive all-stars to assassinate targets (for the modest fee of 100 pounds of gold) and only an Interpol analyst (Naomie Harris, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End) believes they exist.

Her snooping grabs the attention of these ninjas, and she almost gets intimate with the business end of a katana, except for the sudden appearance of Raizo (Korean pop star Rain), a clan apostate who’s got himself a lethal set of skills, which he will use to decapitate fools with extreme prejudice.

Having heard mixed reactions to director James McTeigue’s action opus, I went into this with modest expectations. They were promptly exceeded. Ninja Assassin really rocked it for me, delivering some genuinely thrilling action sequences and…well, that’s all really. And when you’re dealing with a movie called Ninja Assassin and there are ninjas assassinating, the quality of said ninja-ing rules all.

Fine, maybe it doesn’t rule all. A godforsaken mélange of low-grade plot and acting would mortally wound anything, even something as action-focused as Ninja Assassin, but the good news is all that superfluous movie stuff is adequate here. Barely adequate, yes, but effective enough to keep the film humming along and tying the big beat ’em-up set-pieces together.

It’s a story you’ve seen many, many times before; the well-tread convention of a prodigal son who flees his cruel master (and, by the way, happens to be the best pupil), fights against corruption, drags a girl into the bloody proceedings, and ultimately squares off with both his arch-rival and the master himself. Along the way, a couple of twists are tossed in, but I have no doubt you’ll see those coming.

So, no, if you want a thoughtful, richly-plotted examination of loyalty, betrayal, and revenge, Ninja Assassin will falter. If you’re simply hankering for some kinetically exciting, blood-soaked ninja fighting, then you’ve come to the right place. As is the case with most action movies, the fights are progressively more intense and, thankfully, better lit. At first, it’s just quickly edited glimpses of badassery, and, truthfully, I was growing restless. Once the home stretch presents itself, the battles become truly bodacious. Highlights include a ninja assault on a fortified Interpol headquarters, a free-running slash-a-rama in an abandoned factory, fisticuffs in the middle of a thruway, and a giant finale that includes a full-on ninjas-versus-soldiers battle royale. Invest the time and you will have your balls kicked with well-choreographed, ultra-bloody mayhem.

One last thing about the ninjas. In the film, they’re framed as shadowy monsters, lending the big attack scenes a horror/action feel, not unlike Aliens. It’s a cool stylistic choice and gives Ninja Assassin added kick.

If you have the means, the Blu-ray is a brain-melter and absolutely the way to go. The 2.40:1 1080p transfer is fantastic; a gorgeous treatment that offers a rich, high-def sheen and detail work that will smite your eyeballs. This is Blu-ray at its best, and perfectly suits the stylized nature of the film. A must-see. Joining the perfect picture quality is an equally perfect, hugely aggressive DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix that will envelop your viewing room with well-mapped surround effects and an engrossing score. Top marks all around.

Extras: three nice making-of featurettes (in HD) looking at Rain’s training, the mythology of ninjas, and the stunts; a handful of disposable deleted scenes; and a promotional “sneak peek” of the Clash of the Titans reboot. A DVD/Digital Copy combo disc accompanies.

THE VERDICT
Ninja Assassin is swimming in the shallow end of the pool, but it’s thrashing about violently and is lots of fun to watch.

 

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