The title Ninja Assassin pretty much tells you everything you need to know about this movie. For instance, there will be ninjas. Another important point: they will assassinate people. Not just assassinate them, but chop, slice, and dismember them in new and impressive ways. These ninjas assassinate the hell out of people.
You might ask yourself, why hire a ninja assassin? Why not just get a regular old assassin? Well you might as well ask why buy a Bentley instead of a Geo Prizm? Having a ninja kill your enemies is a really high-end, status-symbol way of saying “I hate you so much that instead of just shooting you, I’m having a man in black jammies hack you to pieces. You should be touched that I care so much. You’re welcome.”
Ninja Assassin is the new attempt by the producing Brothers Wachowski (The Matrix) and their lapdog director James McTeigue to bring back the ninja movie. They did this by putting “Ninja” right there in the title. Which really makes anything better. Try it—put a little “ninja” in everything and see what happens. Suddenly you don’t have a car, you have a ninja car. You’re not eating a sandwich, you’re eating a ninja sandwich. You’re not stuck watching Old Dogs, you’re watching Old Ninja Dogs! See?
A few years back McTeigue directed V for Vendetta, which, while hit-and-miss, seemed to be a film made by competent, sentient beings. This led many people to speculate that in fact the Wachowski Brothers had directed most of it, instead of McTeigue. Well no more of that scurrilous speculation! Because this time the W. Bros let go of the handle bars and McTeigue did all the directing himself, like a big boy! The resulting film makes it very clear that James McTeigue could not possibly have directed V For Vendetta. Unless he’s spent the four years between these projects receiving daily blows to the head.
Ninja Assassin is about a modern-day ninja played by Korean Pop Star Rain. That is his official name and must be used in its entirety when referring to Korean Pop Star Rain. (It should be noted that Korean Pop Star Rain has a lot of trouble keeping his shirt on–it seems to be going around these days.)
He was once part of a clan of ninja assassins, but despite being the best ninja anyone had ever not seen, Korean Pop Star Rain left the clan when it turned out he really didn’t believe in cold-blooded killing for money. Which is kind of like having a unicorn that hates rainbows. So now he’s a rogue ninja, a lone wolf, a ninja without a clan, a Korean Pop Star without a last name. Or a shirt.
There’s also a Europol crime researcher (Naomie Harris, Tia Dalma from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies) who starts poking around into why infamous or important European folks are turning up dead. She and her boss (Ben Miles, Patrick from the UK Coupling) suspect a ninja infestation—probably because of all the throwing stars left stuck in the victims. However, it turns out ninja assassins are a lot like sullen teenagers—they hate when you talk about them, look at them, or try to tell them anything. So the top ninja clan sets out to kill Harris. Luckily Korean Pop Star Rain shows up to rescue her. And that’s pretty much the whole deal: Korean Pop Star Rain saves her, they run away, the ninjas follow and attack again, rinse and repeat. Oh, and all this takes place in Berlin, ‘cause you know… Berlin… totally off-the-hook ninja scene.
Then at the end there’s an even bigger fight between ninjas and Europol troops, with even more cool weapons and blood and jumping about. If Ninja Assassin serves just one important purpose (and really, I think it serves several—the worldwide ninja problem is everyone’s problem), it’s that it proves Sean Connery wrong: If you’re a ninja you really do bring a knife to a gun fight.
However, I am concerned with how ninjas from opposite clans tell one another apart in a giant battle. After all, with the identical black pajamas and hoods, it’s really like fighting a room full of frogmen. And if you’ve ever had to fight a room full of frogmen, I think you know exactly what I’m talking about. Perhaps in the next big ninja movie the ninjas could all wear something that helps you tell who’s who. Like big white numbers on their pajamas. Or matching Ed Hardy t-shirts.
Anyway, you know those kids you see hanging around the mall, or the classmates you knew in school who were always drawing ninjas in their notebook? And then making throwing stars, nunchucks, and swords in shop class? Remember how their obsession with ninja instruments of death made you feel a little uneasy and a little like calling the authorities? Well now imagine a film made just for them! A film full of ninja weapons and whirling fight scenes and gory CGI blood and severed limbs. (Is the head a limb? How about just the top half of the head? And who cleans up after these ninjas? Is there a guy with a broom just pushing all the severed body parts off to the side? A limb mopper?)
Actually, that does sound like a fun movie, doesn’t it? But now imagine that in between all those scenes of spastic violence there were long stretches that did not have any blood or severed limbs. And instead just had people talking about ninjas or staring off into the distance as they underwent interminable flashbacks to their youthful life in Ninja Day Camp–which is a lot like Hogwarts, only with throwing stars and kantanas instead of potions and wands–and to some sort of High School Ninja Musical plot about young ninjas in love that involves the sweetest, biggest-hearted ninja girl in the world.
And unlike Jackie Chan, Jet Li, or Tony Jaa, Korean Pop Star Rain is better at singing and looking good with his shirt off then at actually doing stunts and ballet-like fighting moves. So Ninja Assassin is all flash-edited jerky special effects fights, without any of the jaw-dropping martial acrobatics that fill Chan, Li, and Jaa’s kung-fu films. All of this makes for some pretty dull ninja-ing. After a while it’s not even fun anymore when someone loses a limb to ninja aggression. Which is very disappointing for something that has “Ninja” right there in the title. Still, Ninja Assassin is probably a perfectly decent waste of time, as long as you have a good comic book to read while watching it. Or maybe a better ninja film playing right next to it.
So what have we learned, class? That ninja assassins are a real global crisis that someone like Bono or Sarah Mclachlan should write a song about. And that just having ninjas in your movie or the title of your movie doesn’t guarantee it will be fun, or even tolerable. And that James McTeigue should probably stick to letting the Wachowski Brothers direct his films for him.