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Ninja Assassin

A Bloody Mess

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars.

Nothing says happy holidays like a solid ninja film. What could possibly be better for assuaging holiday stress than watching a ninja cut someone to ribbons amidst fountains of blood? The idea of exploring the mysterious subculture surrounding an individual born and raised to kill (a.k.a. a ninja) is intriguing and would seem to have promise, but Ninja Assassin tries and mostly fails to deliver.

Ninja Assassin does manage to start with a bang as a mysterious, shadowy ninja unleashes hell on a den of yakuza thugs — cutting them in half, beheading them, and generally making a huge, bloody mess. Even the toughest stomach in the theater will likely be a bit queasy after this opening segment. Rest assured, there will be more blood.

It turns out that ninjas are in fact real and being employed as assassins in a myriad of settings and contexts. This clan of ninjas somehow has managed to eviscerate god knows how many people for eons and yet no ninja (in 1,000+ years) has been apprehended. However, a seemingly brilliant Europol agent, Mika (Naomie Harris) is hot on the ninja trail.

As Mika digs deeper into the mystery of the ninja, she finds herself being hunted by a few of them. Enter Rain (Raizo), a rogue ninja who intervenes on Mika’s behalf. The bloodletting commences in spades as he hacks his way through seemingly innumerable black masked ninjas one by one.

What Ninja Assassin manages to get right is the glut of surreal, stylized fight sequences, of which there are plenty. If you’re not squeamish and appreciated the stylized violence of films like Sin City or 300, it is likely you’ll appreciate Ninja Assassin. People are killed in just about every possible, conceivable way. Death is not pretty in the world of Ninja Assassin and frequently includes maiming, severing of limbs, and blood geysers.

The problem with Ninja Assassin is pretty much everything else. The film requires one to unilaterally suspend all disbelief and wantonly accept the idea that a clan of people born and bred to kill could somehow exist in secrecy for thousands of years. If you can buy this idea, Ninja Assassin is a great film. But, I imagine most people can’t fully invest in the concept.

Setting aside the attempt at narrative, there are no real performances of note in Ninja Assassin, with the exception of Raizo’s turn as Rain. Orphaned at an early age and taken in by the head of Ninja Academy, Rain was been beaten, bloodied, and battered constantly as a child and yet is seemingly a highly functioning individual (as far as ninjas go that is). There’s no question Raizo has a certain presence on screen and looks magnificent when fighting, but there’s a fundamental lack of humanity that makes it hard to completely root for him.

If fountains of blood, severed heads and limbs, and eviscerations are your thing, there’s no question that Ninja Assassin is the film of the year. But, if you consider a good film one that contains at least solid performances from the primary cast and a decent story, this one will leave you more than disappointed.