Raizo (Rain) is one of the deadliest assassins in the world. Taken from the streets as a child, he was transformed into a trained killer by the Ozunu Clan, a secret society whose very existence is considered a myth. But haunted by the merciless execution of his friend by the Clan, Raizo breaks free from them... and vanishes. Now he waits, preparing to exact his revenge.
In Berlin, Europol agent Mika Coretti (Naomie Harris) has stumbled upon a money trail linking several political murders to an underground network of untraceable assassins from the Far East. Defying the orders of her superior, Ryan Maslow (Ben Miles), Mika digs into top secret agency files to learn the truth behind the murders. Her investigation makes her a target, and the Ozunu Clan sends a team of killers, led by the lethal Takeshi (Rick Yune), to silence her forever. Raizo saves Mika from her attackers, but he knows that the Clan will not rest until they are both eliminated. Now, entangled in a deadly game of cat and mouse through the streets of Europe, Raizo and Mika must trust one another if they hope to survive... and finally bring down the elusive Ozunu Clan.
There was a time, particularly during the 1980s through the mid-1990s, when ninjas were the bread and butter of martial arts movies. Films like 'American Ninja' and 'Enter the Ninja' were a dime a dozen, 'The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers' fad hijacked the airwaves, and the most widely recognized exploitation of this subject was Eastman and Laird's hugely popular 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' comic series that would eventually spawn multiple animated series, live-action movies, and a massive toy line that was just a fraction of the vast Turtle Power merchandising empire. But in the past decade or so, it seems all flavors of these covert masters of stealth have all but vanished in a puff of smoke from the big and small screen (and no, Stephen Sommers laughable 'G.I. Joke: The Rise of CoBLAH' doesn't count). So where have all the ninjas gone?
Ah, now I see the answer. Co-producers Andy and Larry Wachowski ('The Matrix Trilogy') along with director James McTeigue ('V for Vendetta') have been stockpiling as many as they could get their hands on so they could unleash a new breed of Ninja film with 'Ninja Assassin.' Their stylized spin could have been a wild ride, but sadly the movie is so poorly executed that "frantic bloody mess" doesn't just describe the visceral on-screen carnage.
Our story begins in Berlin, Germany. A Europol forensic researcher named Mika Coretti (Naomie Harris) strongly believes she has just uncovered a money trail linking an ancient clan of elite warriors to a series of high-profile political assassinations. Mika brings the news directly to her superior Ryan Maslow (Ben Miles), who advises Mika to tread very lightly as she's swimming in dangerous waters. So as any supposedly bright non-field agent would do when they suspect a secret society of deadly murder-for-hire assassins is behind a string of killings, Mika barrels forward determined to expose the truth -- which of course only signs her death warrant. Yep, we have a Darwin Award winner right here folks!
Anyway, just when Mika's investigation is about to end abruptly with her swift and gruesome demise, she's suddenly rescued by a mysterious stranger clad in black known as Raizo (Korean pop-star Rain of 'Speed Racer'). Raizo also turns out to be wanted dead by the very clan that is hunting Mika, after having a major clash with his former leader and mentor, Lord Ozunu (martial arts film legend Sho Kosugi). Now with a skilled group of ninja hot on both of their scents, Mika must aid Raizo the best she can as he slices and dices his way to bring the Ozunu Clan to justice.
In all fairness, I wasn't expecting a deep plot to begin with, as this is a ninja film after all, but this story is riddled with so many clichés and inconsistencies that it just comes across as half-assed. Apparently the Wachowskis didn't like the original script written by Matthew Sands and they needed something to get production underway, so they hired J. Michael Straczynski to come to the rescue, and he produced a finished draft in less than three days. Well, the lack of time spent on this effort definitely shows. The opening scene sets the stage showing how wickedly fast and superhuman just one of these ninja is, and it certainly carves a lasting impression. The problem is the filmmakers don't maintain this same level of consistency throughout the movie. Later on, an army of ninjas take their sweet time decimating a military task force when the assault really should have been over before Europol knew what hit them, and they even managed to let some agents slip through their fingers. Another example is sometimes the ninja are shown sensing when enemies are closing in, then other times they get completely ambushed -- by a massive strike team in noisy humvees no less! How is that honorable? If I were a ninja, I'd be hanging my head in shame or falling on my katana. Then there's a scene added to demonstrate these ninja have regenerative abilities and can heal wounds almost instantaneously without leaving a scar, yet Ozunu, who shows off this power to his students and the viewers at home, collects new scars by the third act. So is this selective healing, or what? How about a statement being made that guns are completely ineffective against ninjas one minute, but then all the sudden bullets are taking them down left and right? And then there's the anti-climactic climax between Raizo and Lord Ozunu (hey, you knew this showdown was coming) which I won't spoil, but when it was over I was left scratching my head wondering why didn't either of them do that at the beginning of the fight? You'll know it when you see it, it's impossible to miss. My main beef with 'Ninja Assassin' is far too many things happen by coincidence or for convenience, and it's really hard to get into a movie when you're constantly rolling your eyes.
The characters are also mostly flat and uninteresting so that doesn't help matters, either. Rain does the best he can with the material he was given and at least he devoted months of physical training to chisel his physique for the role, but Raizo has very little personality and enters the picture so late that we really don't get a chance to sympathize or care for him. There's an attempt for sure, with his whole backstory and all, but it just doesn't mesh. Naomie Harris is in the same boat, mainly because she's just so damn irritating in this performance that we feel nothing for her character. Her accent also slips through from time to time, so why the filmmakers didn't just make Mika British in the first place (since we are dealing with Europol here after all) is beyond me. Ben Miles is okay, though he plays things so serious that he might very well think he's in a 'Bourne' movie. In the end, the only real solid portrayal is by Kosugi, but with him having the most experience in these kinds of movies it should be a given.
Yes, I'm aware that plot and characters are often irrelevant in certain action movies, as long as the action is entertaining. In fact, I fully enjoy many style-over-substance films if done right. So does 'Ninja Assassin' at least deliver in that regard? Honestly, I'd have to say no on that one too. The fights are well choreographed, but they lack the wow-factor I expect from a film where the action sequences are the only real draw. McTeigue tries to compensate by plastering CGI over most scenes, the only thing is some of it looks really hokey and unfortunately all he really ends up doing is suck out the pizzazz. There is no suspense. There is no excitement. Basically, it's like watching somebody else play a video game for an hour and a half, which isn't my idea of "fun." So if you're going to produce a movie that's nothing more than a one-trick pony, then it's imperative to make damn sure that said pony ain't lame.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Brothers unleashes 'Ninja Assassin' onto a BD-25 Blu-ray disc housed inside a standard blue keepcase. There's forced previews for Warner Brothers Blu-ray and Digital Copy. My screener copy also came with a slipcover, as well as a DVD/Digital Copy that may not be included in later pressings. The disc itself is reported to be region free and therefore should function properly in all PlayStation 3 and standalone players.
The movie may be sloppy and disappointing, but at least 'Ninja Assassin' springs from the high-definition shadows with a striking 1080p/VC-1 (2.35:1 aspect ratio) encoded transfer that should makes most fans ecstatic.
This is a high gloss presentation that is very pleasant to watch. The transfer has terrific delineation and the sense of dimensionality is exceptionally strong. Contrast is nicely balanced, although it can run a little hot in daylight scenes. The palette consists mainly of warm neutral colors, with occasional splashes of bold and vibrant primaries. The CGI blood is so overdone it often appears dated already, but it does boast a nice deep crimson. The foliage of trees and shrubs is a fresh, bright green. Fine detailing is also top-notch, making textures in clothing and facial features really stand out. Flesh tones are accurately rendered as well, if a tad golden. The picture remains sharp when darkness falls, which is critical in films of this type. Black levels are incredibly deep and inky, while shadows rarely hinder detailing. I did notice some minor aliasing, a slight application of DNR, along with brief spurts of digital noise that are by no means distracting, but they are present. Other than those nitpicks, though, 'Ninja Assassin' looks great.
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix provided on this Blu-ray also leaves very little to complain about from a technical standpoint. The forgettable dialogue comes through clear and sharp at the center of the soundstage, but I did find a few conversations (notably the early exchanges between Mika and her boss) to be a little on the soft side. The rest of the soundtrack is insanely immersive, however. This is where it's at, as every speaker plays a significant part in delivering a variety of sounds--from wooshing blades to spiraling shurikens, and rapid gunfire to screams of agony--which fully envelope the viewer for every grisly bloodbath with spectacular results. The chilling whispers of ninjas stalking their prey echoes around the listening area with precision and rainfall delivers an engaging wraparound experience. Bass is highly active from within the score and the arsenal of Europol's tactical team, vibrating the floor with an onslaught of growls and grumbles. It's just an all-around tight mix, and 'Ninja Assassin' will constantly make your head spin and rock your sound system.
The Blu-ray also includes Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks in French, Portuguese, and Spanish, as well as optional English SDH, French, Portuguese, and Spanish subtitles.
Warner Brothers has once again decided to make the bulk of the supplements exclusive to the Blu-ray release, so they've been shifted into the next section below.
Thanks to a perforated script, dull characters, and equally bland acting, the only thing 'Ninja Assassin' has going for it is its relentless over-the-top violence, and unfortunately even that disappoints by lacking tension, thrills, and freshness. I get that it's meant to be a mindless action flick, but I just can't give a favorable score to a film that fails on so many levels. On the plus side, this Blu-ray is strong, having video and audio that are both near demo-quality, on top of an acceptable supplemental package. With that said, if you're already a fan of the movie or just get a kick out of seeing a hailstorm of body parts, geysers of CGI blood, and not much else, then this one's for you. For the rest of the crowd, you've been warned.