As a quasi-professional movie reviewer, it is rare that I pay actual money to see a movie. Such occasions are reserved for movies that I want to experience, usually in the company of men. Real men watching a real men type movie. Enjoying the secret things that men do. Such a movie was Ninja Assassin (another such movie was The Hangover, but I saw that with my wife).
“Perhaps the path you’ve chose is not the path for which you are suited.” –Tattoo Artist
Hopes were high. We’re talking executive producers Andy and Larry Wachowski (The Matrix Trilogy) and director James McTeigue, the team who brought us V for Vendetta. The script was written by comic book scribe J. Michael Straczynski (Silver Surfer: Requiem, Thor, Strange, Squadron Supreme).
“It doesn’t make sense in a modern world.” –fbi boss
Ninja Assassin is slowed down by trying to have a raison d’etre for ninjas in a modern world. It’s like the movie experienced delusions of being an international thriller. Like we need a reason: they’re ninjas! It suffered from what I will call “the Hitman effect”: when an action movie decides to take itself seriously, so earnest and without humor rather than embrace its ridiculousness and being an enjoyable experience (like say, a Wanted or Crank). With their peppy mantra of “Weakness compels strength. Betrayal begets blood,” the problem with demythologizing or deconstructing the ninja is that it is reduced to being basically a movie about systematic child abuse by a cult.
Ironically, there was not enough … ninja-ing. In fact, at one point, our hero goes from ninja to Bruce Willis in Die Hard mode. The solo training sequences feel like action masturbation. The violence, once the movie gets going, becomes an excuse to hack limbs and sheer torsos. I’m good with violence for violence’s sake but this exercise in blood spraying was filled with some downright silly, poorly lit fight sequences. Not to mention relying entirely too much on CGI effects.
“All this loss, this waste because you put yourself before your family.” –father
All that being said, I can say that I learned a lot during the course of this movie:
1) It rains a lot in ninja world. Almost every ninja training school scene seemed to be mid-downpour.
2) Blood is red as Frank Miller’s ink well. It was splashed all over the place in ways I haven’t seen since Kung Fu theater.
3) Speaking of cost issues, for as intensive and expensive the training is to create one ninja, they sure have no problem sending a buttload of them into battle. Especially when …
4) You can still bust a cap in a ninja’s ass. This movie would have been a lot shorter if they’d just rolled in the military from the beginning.
5) A few gangs signs thrown work better than Mr. Miyagi’s hands (yeah … a Karate Kid reference. I went there) when it comes to healing injuries. But despite that …
6) Ninjas have keloid issues. At some point our hero ought to consult a plastic surgeon to take care of his scars.
7) Ninjas do not believe in recycling. This was a carefully observed lesson, but I remember from my days in junior high school (cause there was always “that” guy who had them, usually the one who whipped out his nunchuks in shop class), that Chinese stars are not cheap. Yet the ninjas in this movie were tossing them around like bullets in a John Woo flick.
“Every moment of your life is a gift.” –master ninja
And I bet you’re wondering what kind of spiritual musings I had while watching this movie. I suppose I could go on about how you must never forget who you are. Or how the path of the master is one of discipline and self-denial. Or how we must be careful about who our true fathers are and what voices we let speak into our lives. But in truth, the main thing I could think of was how different the New Testament would have read if Frank Miller re-wrote it. Cause you know what makes any story better? More ninjas.
“You were the son I was waiting for.” –father
Ninja Assassin didn’t deliver what the trailers promised, the cardinal sin of movie making. I didn’t even bother remembering or looking up the characters names of the actors/actresses who played them. What’s the point? The best any of its makers can hope is that this will do for kusara-gama (I think that’s what my Chinese star wasting friend from junior high shop class called that chain sickle thing … which of course he brought to class) what Bruce Lee flicks did for nunchuks. Or, maybe not. The last thing I need to do is come home to find my boys whipping their belts or dog leashes around at each other.