While I appreciate the inherent ambition behind the script written by Matthew Sand and J. Michael Straczynski, any and all potential for absolute entertainment is wasted in the first fifteen minutes. Folks looking for a splatterific ninja quest will find the prologue to be one of the most grotesque and twisted openings to a ninja film. And then it goes downhill from there. It seems like the writers just aren’t happy enough with exploring the quest of ninja Raizo, but they instead want to focus on back story after meaningless back story.
Rather than relying on his quest to go rogue and become his own franchise of ninja assassin, he’s instead focused on to where the script can never be sure if it wants us to empathize with his folly or root against him. There is so much exposition and back story that it’s impossible to call this an action movie at times. We learn Raizo’s origin, the origin of his first love, then we’re sent on a mission with two federal agents (one of whom is Naomie Harris looking as great as ever) tracking Raizo and the conflict within the confines of his clan that involve politicians, a government conspiracy and the raising of a ninja army that could decide the fate of the world. “Ninja Assassin” seems to miss the point of its whole purpose and it’s to be primarily an action film first and foremost and then something of a mystery.
But for a while, the action moments take a back seat with fleeting action segments and ho hum delivery in what is an obviously well paced and wonderfully directed film by James McTeigue. The special effects are stunning, offering up some of the most imaginatively directed and composed action sequences I’ve seen in ninja fare in years, it’s just a shame there’s not much of a story behind most of what occurs. Did we really need to learn the origin of a Russian KGB officer who was killed by Raizo? Did it have a lot of relevance to the overall narrative beyond a conveniently placed camera still that could add to some dramatic tension that was overall limp and forced?
McTeigue’s direction is powerful as the action elements are sometimes a secondary element, but when put in to the forefront nonetheless superb. The fight sequences make up some marvelous material and add an abundance of breakneck pacing that the film desperately needs in certain places. Once it becomes an on the run film with both allies of the law and the mystical fighting side by the side, “Ninja Assassin” is a marvelous little guilty pleasure, and one that deserves at least a viewing for folks who can’t get enough of ninja entertainment. Ninjas never go out of style. McTiegue’s ninja installment is purely a guilty pleasure, and one that could stand to be simplified and brought down to the bare minimum if it wanted to entertain more. But filled with endless amounts of exposition and back story, “Ninja Assassin” has too much story for one movie and ends as merely a mildly entertaining ninja actioner.