Ninja Assassin Review
Certain movies demonstrate that remarkable ability to delicately construct a detailed plot, introducing events and characters with carefully paced timing and judicial restraint, and injecting steadily increasing shots of intrigue, before enveloping you in a powerful and exhilarating climax that lingers long after the closing credits.
Ninja Assassin isn’t one of those movies; indeed, I would even suggest that within the first five or six minutes of this audacious martial arts production, you’ll have seen some of the most outrageous and full-on violence to ever grace the content of a major studio release. Whilst I’m certainly not denigrating this approach to filmmaking (some wall-to-wall bloodfests can feel gloriously therapeutic), there is a problem here; the crimson-spurting action takes such precedence over the plot and performances that when the admittedly breathtaking and often beautifully choreographed violence is over, we’re left with a sensation that is decidedly flat. For the uber-violence, it would seem, has been so all-consuming as to deprive the movie of any genuine depth.
This net result is odd, since the movie is underpinned by a team of considerable pedigree. If producers Joel Silver and the Wachowski Brothers aren’t enough, and you discard Director James McTeigue, then you would think that a heavyweight cast including respected ninja actor Shô Kosugi, British duo Naomie Harris (with an admittedly convincing American accent) and Ben Miles, and Korean pop sensation-turned-actor Rain would collectively be able to construct an impressive output with the requisite filmic integrity.
Yet the performances are varied, and this impacts upon the final product. Harris completes a decent if functional job, providing a considerable visual appeal and proving convincing in her role as a Europol forensics officer, Mika. Miles, as colleague Ryan, struggles to define himself in an uncertain characterisation, swinging between traits that produce a frustratingly nebulous result. Kosugi is satisfyingly sinister and brutal as clan head Ozunu, the weathered ninja who beats his fledgling ninja ‘orphans’ into ruthless killing machines, yet his dry delivery still fails to execute the killer blow. And Rain, whilst looking the part with his intricately sculptured torso, produces a character who, whilst not engaged in combat, is insipid and uninspired.
With all that in mind, it’s thankful that Ninja Assassin saves some face with an explosive volume of intricately detailed, mindless, bloody action. The thin plot, surrounding the break-away of Raizo (Rain) from the Ozunu clan and their subsequent hunting of him (‘like wolves’) and Mika, serves little more purpose than to string together a series of events, locations, and scenes for wave after wave of impressively constructed violence. And what demented fun it can be; whether this is Raizo completing handstand exercises on a bed of nails, ninjas frenetically leaping in and out of darkness around Mika’s apartment as she tries to track them vainly with a torch, or the stunning moment where the warring ninjas run out into streams of traffic, continuing to clash in amongst the oncoming cars and leaping over the fast moving vehicles.
The vividly colourful backdrops provide an impressive canvas for the unleashed action, particularly during the opening sequence. The combat itself can be equally rich in colour, and is represented using a combination of physical action and liberal volumes of CGI. Some may be disappointed with the manner and frequency of the CGI, yet this decision is making a statement; this is comic book violence, and does not purport to be representing real life. The consistent flow of dismembered limbs, decapitations, and splashing scarlet would almost certainly have not been possible without it, and it still carries a capacity to shock.
For all of its shortcomings, Ninja Assassin knows exactly what it is; a film rammed to the rafters with extraordinary violence, exhilarating action, and limitless bloodshed. With a thin plot and limited depth of characterisation, you can disengage the majority of your brain for this viewing experience, for it is your most base instincts that constitute the only requirement for enjoyment. This doesn’t absolve the producers of blame for overseeing a movie that lacks the depth and soul that could have transformed it into something special, but once you’ve reconciled this with your conscience, you can sit back and absorb the lightening-fast and expertly choreographed action safe in the knowledge that any flicker of guilt should not be your own.
This Blu-ray edition of the Warner Brothers film is encoded for all regions and is presented in widescreen, with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The result is a picture that is crystal clear, with a very high level of definition and detail. The movie features scenery and backdrops that are often very detailed and colourful – take the opening sequence of the gang lair as a strong example – and this release does not disappoint with an excellent reproduction.
Detail is precise, with well represented and natural skin colours, and the most intricate of features being portrayed in the faces of the characters. You can see all of the details in Naomie Harris’ face, for instance, and the wandering, deep lines in Shô Kosugi’s experienced face are captured in suitable glory.
Despite the rapid fire action, motion is captured well, with little in the way of blur during the combat sequences.
In terms of the disc contents, the film file size is almost 20 Gb, with extras and the like bringing the total disc size up to approximately 24.5 Gb. The frame rate is 23.976 fps.
Different languages are well served - there is a raft of subtitle and language options, and additionally there are hard of hearing subtitles in English, plus English descriptive narration.
Note that this bumper pack includes not only the Blu-ray edition of the film, but also a copy on DVD, plus a download copy. There’s no excuse not to see the movie, wherever you are, if you buy this edition!
English audio is presented in 5.1 DTS-HD. The thunderous explosions and rapid swells of machine gun fire are delivered with hearty and satisfying punch. The placement of sounds is strong; there are moments where explosions rip open the sound spectrum then disappear again, to the crystal clear sound of shards of glass raining down on all sides with delicate chinks.
Sometimes the action sounds seem so engulfing that the contrast with dialogue seems too strong; yet this is a small criticism of a well delivered soundtrack.
Extras are fairly well served, and actually complement the film rather nicely.
The Myth and Legend of Ninjas is a straightforward but nonetheless interesting history of ninjas, and places them in a handy historical context. The featurette runs for approximately 19 minutes, and constitutes the longest item on offer.
The Extreme Sport of a Ninja is quite easily the best extra here, and boosts the impact of the movie considerably. The featurette documents the work that went into the combat elements of the movie (did you expect it to focus on anything else?), and some of the expertise that was involved in putting the intricate combat scenes together. Rain spent 6 months in training for the combat, and his accomplished delivery is simply quite remarkable.
We get to see the filming of many of the crucial scenes in the movie, including the traffic sequence, but most stunning of all is the well choreographed scene in the abandoned warehouse where the fighting occurs on various different levels. Even the unfinished result is quite breathtaking.
The other interesting insight in this featurette surrounds the use of 3 cameras on one unit to capture much of the action. The technique certainly provides a visually impressive result.
Training Rain illustrates just how much work Rain did to get into shape for the movie, with some fascinating ‘before and after’ shots of his figure as he trains hard. The team suggest that he could be the ‘next Bruce Lee’, but I think we’re going to hang fire on that one for the moment.
Finally, we have approximately eight minutes of Deleted Scenes, without any accompanying commentary. They don't offer any new dimensions to the story (although the trigger for why Internal Affairs are rifling through Ryan's office becomes clearer), and as such are justified being in a deleted scenes section.
The extreme and graphic violence will be as much of a turn off for some as a turn on for others, but there’s no doubting that this is a great package. Its presentation is of a very high quality, and on Blu-ray it presents a visual and aural feast. The accompanying DVD and download copy provide further incentive to invest, and the selection of extras bolster a film that is sometimes built upon a shallow foundation. Intellectual content, a satisfying plot, and compelling performances are not the order of the day here, and you may well experience your IQ slipping away like black sand through your fingers, but in terms of full on, outrageous, and audaciously extreme, mindless bloody action, Ninja Assassin delivers.