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Ninja Assassin (2009)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/16/2010

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/16/2010

In my recent reviews for Gentlemen Broncos and The Box, I wrote about how the directors of those respective films had been seen as the saviors of alternative cinema following their debut films. However, their subsequent movies didn't fulfill this promise. The Wachowski Brothers were in a similar position following their sophomore film, The Matrix. But, instead of showing promise for a nice genre, they were seen as the future of cinema overall. The innovations found in The Matrix took most by surprise and the effects of the film are still felt over a decade later. But, the hope placed on The Wachowski's was soon extinguished with the arrivals of the Matrix sequels. While both films were box-office hits, they were met with confusion and disdain from critics and fans. Their next film, Speed Racer, was a visual treat, but it was hollow and the public stayed away. The Brothers faired better as writers and producers, as 2005's V for Vendetta, which was directed by James McTeigue, was favorably received. Now, they've teamed with McTeigue again for Ninja Assassin. Will this be another step by to success for the siblings?

Ninja Assassin opens with the violent slaughter of a group of Yakuza. Europol (is that real?) agent Mika Coretti (Naomie Harris) begins to investigate and learns that there have been other assassinations. She discovers that a Russian agent had looked into this and disappeared. She goes to her colleague Ryan Maslow (Ben Miles) with this, and he tells her to back off. Upon returning to her apartment, Mika is attacked by a ninja, but she's saved by another ninja, Raizo (Rain). She learns that Raizo had once been a part of the Ozunu ninja clan, but he's now on his own. He explains to Mika that due to her investigation, the Ozunu will be coming for her. They decide to team-up, but what can they do against an army of ninjas?

Wow! That certainly seems like a simple synopsis for such a needlessly complicated movie. When Ninja Assassin arrived in theaters last Thanksgiving (?!), I'd never heard of it and was surprised to learn that The Wachowskis were behind it. (Well, not that surprised, given their well-known love of Asian cinema.) So, I really didn't know what to expect from the film. But, I don't think that I would have ever predicted that it would be over-written. Again, the movie opens with an insanely bloody action scene, and then it becomes a snooze-fest, as the story of Mika's investigation is inter-cut with scenes where Raizo remembers his boyhood life as a ninja-in-training. These flashbacks just keep coming and just when we think that something is going to happen, we get another blast from the past. These scenes are supposed to explain who Raizo is and why he is who he is, but his lackluster character in the present never justifies these glimpses of the past.

However, if you wait long enough, the action scenes do arrive. And they are surprising as well...but not in a good way. Coming was The Wachowskis, I thought that the action in Ninja Assassin would take traditional martial arts cinema and do something different with it. But, this doesn't really happen. The action here is "bigger" than the average film, but not necessarily better. The show-stopper is meant to be a long scene in which a ninja battle spills over into a city street and the ninjas are fighting in heavy traffic. Yet, the action here is marred by the overuse of CGI blood. I didn't like this effect in Blood: The Last Vampire, and I don't like it here. To me, it comes off as cheesy and cheap. And while its easy to understand why one would expect the action here to be over-the-top, I was surprised by just how silly it got. One scene echoes Aliens, as a group of soldiers are surrounded by the hidden ninjas. And many movies have portrayed how ninjas can hide in the shadows, but by the end of Ninja Assassin, they can actually become invisible. Really? The only truly creative and clever thing here is when a ninja goes down in what looks like a hail of gunfire, but it's actually ninja throwing-stars.

Martial art films aren't really my cup of tea, but when done well, I enjoy them. Being a semi high-profile release from a team which has made a name for itself in action movies, I had expected much more from Ninja Assassin. Whereas V for Vendetta had a cerebral and political slant to its action, Ninja Assassin is simply brain-dead. The slack pacing and unnecessary attempts at creating a backstory will bore martial art fans and the effects-heavy action scenes will turn off mainstream audiences. I got the feeling that this movie was supposed to blow us away, but I felt that I'd seen it all before. I had hoped to like Ninja Assassin, as I love the unique key art used in the posters and the Blu-ray cover, but the movie was a disappointment. I'm going to watch Riki-O again.

Ninja Assassin makes us re-thing holistic medicine on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, but there is a slight hint of grain here. There are no defects from the source material. The film has an overall dark look, but some scene are notably too dark, something which we rarely see from a modern film on Blu-ray. The image does sport a nice level of detail and the depth is acceptable. The colors look good, although the only really bright colors here are red. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are well-done and help us to orient to where the ninjas are in the darker scenes. The surround sound effects are great, as the sounds of the stars whooshing by us is very impressive. The subwoofer effects help to ensure that we feel every punch to the chest.

The Ninja Assassin Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. "The Myth and Legend of Ninjas" (19 minutes) uses the movie as a springboard to take an academic look at the meaning and history of ninja. The piece contains comments from historians and those trained as ninja. "The Extreme Sport of Ninja" (10 minutes) looks at the stuntwork involved in the film by showing rehearsal footage and the training that the actors did. "Training Rain" (10 minutes) takes a closer look at the exercise and physical preparation which the lead ninja endured. The Disc contains five DELETED SCENES which run about eight minutes. Hey, more flashbacks...great. Most of these are simply longer versions of scenes from the film.

Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long