Here is a film that by most standards is not a "good" film. This brings me to the classic defense for someone who is ashamed of a movie they like. You know the line, you've probably used it yourself on occasion: "It's not a good movie, but it is fun." To me, this has been revealed as more of a cinematic shorthand to say that the movie has no hopes of Oscar gold, but still proves to be an entertaining movie that I did not mind sitting through. In other cases it can be used to describe a guilty pleasure. However, if you liked the movie the filmmakers did something right and this makes it inherently good. Ninja Assassin is one of those movies.
I sat there thoroughly entertained and wanted to watch it again. So, while I can sit here and say it is not a good movie, I would be lying. By the fact that I liked it, it is a good movie. That said, I do not expect everyone to agree with me. There is plenty of bad dialogue and the non-ninja story is downright lame; these indicators would point toward the film being not good. However, take those elements and combine them with a classic ninja/martial arts plot, some wild action, a ton of blood (albeit CGI blood), and a bit of a throwback feel, and it all balances out the bad elements and makes this an absolute blast.
Ninja Assassin was directed by James McTeigue (V for Vendetta) and written by Matthew Sand, with rewrites by J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5). The Wachowski Brothers are on board as producers and they do know their way around inventive action. With this talent, Ninja Assassin delivers high octane action in a fashion not seen on the big screen in some time.
I do not recall the last time I saw legitimate ninja action on the big screen. More often than not it is some variation on the kung fu movie. American screens have probably not seen this brand of action since the ninja craze back in the early 1980s. This makes it all the more appropriate that the film features old school ninja legend Sho Kosugi.
The story of Ninja Assassin? Straightforward as they come. There are two sides to the story. On one hand there is a Europol (is that a real organization?) investigation by a young researcher named Mika (Naomie Harris) into a series of assassinations she believes to have been committed by ninjas. She digs deeper into the case with the help of her boss, Maslow (Ben Miles). Of course, the more they uncover, the more danger crops up around them. This plays out in typical conspiracy fashion. Nothing particularly special.
The other story is the one that makes the movie tick. It provides the real thrust of the film and if it had been fleshed out a little bit more would have been all the story that was necessary. It centers on Raizo (Rain), an orphan taken in by the Ozuno clan and trained in the way of the ninja. The orphan works hard to master the skills required but when he is betrayed, he turns on the clan and flees. This makes him a target even as he turns his not inconsiderable talents on the clan.
Ninja Assassin's story is slight, never developing past the surface. It is what it is, but when it comes right down to it, we are not here for the story. What helps here is Rain's ability to be quietly interesting. He is not great, but he is able to accomplish plenty while doing very little. The other element that helps the story out is Sho Kosugi — the man embodies the evil of the film and is very good at it. You will not be able to look away.
You want to know what makes Ninja Assassin successful? Easy. It is all about the ninja action. The action is fast, brutal, and wild. The very first scene of the movie gives you an idea of what to expect. Ninjas melt out of the darkness and inflict their damage quickly and with great amounts of blood. Of course, the blood is CG, but I got over that pretty quickly as the action is wild. Ninja fights are often hard to see, but you see enough to get what they are doing and it works quite well.
Something that helped this film is the authenticity of action. The filmmakers sought out trained martial artists, parkour experts, and gymnasts in an effort to make everything more realistic. There is little wire work here — the majority of what you see is actually being performed. It is a breath of fresh air in this age of wires and CG touch ups.
I really enjoyed this film. It delivers what it promises and that is all I could have asked for — it's packed with high energy, fast pacing, and plenty of ninja dismemberment. Although I have to wonder what it may have been like had a director like Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus, Azumi) been at the helm. No matter, I still get a blast out of this.
Bottom line. I will make no apologies for liking this movie. You may hear me say "it's not a good movie, but I like it" and you will know what I mean when I say it. I use the shorthand to make it palatable, but make no mistake, I like this movie. The action is fantastic, the dialogue cheesy, and the experience a blast.