Massawyrm says NINJA ASSASSIN commits seppuku right before your very eyes!!
Published at: Nov. 24, 2009, 11:10 a.m. CST by merrick
Hola all. Massawyrm here.
The ninja is dead. Long relegated to a protracted and no longer funny internet meme involving pirates, the concept of the legendary assassins once shrouded in mystery is no longer strong enough to support bad or even mediocre filmmaking. When I first saw the tedious and mind numbing ELETKRA I openly wondered how one went about making a boring ninja movie. After all, ninjas couldn’t be boring. They were awesome. And anyone who failed to capture that awesomeness on film clearly wasn’t trying. So when I heard that James McTeigue was setting out to make an A-budget B-movie about ninjas, I got all sorts of excited. I fucking love ninjas. A ninja movie with serious production values? What the fuck would that look like?
Boring. Seriously fucking boring.
NINJA ASSASSIN doesn’t start out dull, but it certainly spends an hour and a half working to get there. The opening scene is incredible; a bad ass, balls to the wall sequence of claustrophobic assassination evocative of a mix of modern horror and, more appropriately, Luc Besson’s THE PROFESSIONAL . But it rapidly becomes clear that this isn’t an intentional riff as much as it is that McTeigue shoots all of his fight sequences so close that it is damn near impossible to make out the action. After a while the bevy of too close and too-dark-to-see-what-is-going-on fights get stale and cease to pay off while the cartoonish levels of digital blood that is spilled fails to entertain once you notice that not a drop ever touches the floor or the fight’s participants.
Oddly enough, the film’s biggest liability is at first its greatest strength. NINJA ASSASSIN goes all out and treats the Ninja not as highly skilled warriors, but as supernatural creatures. And the initial sequences in which the ninjas weave in and out of darkness, completely vanishing before your very eyes only to melt back into reality when they step into a light source is breathtaking. Truth is that it is just plain fucking cool. But this leads to a gigantic problem by the third act. McTeigue treats them as if they really are supernatural creatures and deals with them the way one would fight any swarm or infestation of evil creatures: by sending in the army with machine guns and floodlights.
Once you begin to see these badasses foiled by something as simple as a mobile light source and readily mopped up by equally faceless troops, all the magic is gone. Every bit of mystical cool given these ninjas is sucked dry and left to rot onscreen. I see where McTeigue was going, but ultimately he takes a wrong turn towards the end and completely ruins all the work he initially put into building up such cool concepts. From there, the film just slowly begins to self-destruct.
It doesn’t help that the script is as anemic as they come. A true throwback to the 80’s, NINJA ASSASSIN focuses around an Interpol agent who uncovers a web of intrigue surrounding ninja clans and begins to run into roadblocks uncovering things no one wants revealed. No one believes her wild theories of course, but when a mysterious rogue ninja begins to aid her she can’t help but pursue the case to its logical conclusion. We’re occasionally treated to the backstory of our movie’s heroic ninja (played by Asian superstar Rain) and it proves as humdrum as one would expect, completely devoid of the emotional resonance needed for the third act.
At this point mentioning the acting seems like I’m just making fun of it. At its best moments, the acting is passable; but most of the time it’s pretty weak, if not altogether bad. Not that I expect top notch performances out of a ninja movie, but we’ve seen what McTeigue can do with genre and this doesn’t even come close to anything he did with V FOR VENDETTA.
I was really digging on this at the beginning, but as things began to wear thin, my patience soon eroded and I was grumbling and disappointed by the end. And I didn’t let go easily. I WANTED to love this and held on to that love with both hands and duck tape, but as I walked out of this and the ninja lover in me tried to convince me that there was some merit to be found here I finally relented, unable to find a truly worthy excuse for any of the film’s failings. It is simply the epitome of big budget, uninspired violence lacking the artistry to make that violence itself worth seeing.
Until next time friends, smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em.