Ninja Assassin

Ninja Assassin


Reviewed by: Adam Woodward

It’s been more than a decade since the Wachowski brothers catapulted the sci-fi thriller into the 21st century with their ground-breaking Matrix trilogy. Since then they’ve never really stepped up their game, becoming passive protractors of a cinematographic style that has long since surpassed them. Here, the sibling writer/director team have taken a notable step back, acting as co-producers alongside former understudy and sometime collaborator James McTeigue, who previously helmed the brother’s adaptation of Alan Moore’s seminal graphic novel V For Vendetta.

Superficially, Ninja Assassin is a slick, swaggering action flick, boasting an internationally renowned martial arts icon and an entrepreneurial pop culture phenomenon. Indeed, it is the tenuous bond between the two that forms much of the film’s narrative. As an orphan, Raizo (Rain) is taken in by a mythical group known as the Ozunu, with its merciless mentor Lord Ozunu (Shô Kosugi) moulding a faction of super human mercenaries by way of the harshest of home schooling methods.

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Raizo soon emerges as the most likely successor to Lord Ozunu, but when Raizo is forced to watch on while the love of his life is served the ultimate punishment for her betrayal within ranks, the young ninja swears to one day get his revenge on his tyrannous master.

For centuries the clan have gone about their ways, undetected by the rest of the modern world. But when the central European intelligence agency, Europol, investigates a spate of unaccountable and mysterious executions, one open minded agent, Mika Coretti (Naomie Harris), begins to wonder whether the Ozunu should be written off so hastily as mere fable. Inevitably, it doesn't take long before the paths of the two organisations cross. What ensues (for pretty much the remainder of the runtime) is a bloodthirsty, dizzying danse macabre that threatens the very existence of civilization.

Yet somehow, all this over zealous action feels trivial - trying and failing, as it does, to shock and astonish the audience. The problem is that the carnage is so consuming that you fast forget what the whole point of the facing off is. As guns blaze and shurikens dash across the screen, it’s hard not to become desensitised to the excessive hyper-violence playing out before you, which has clearly been employed to patch up what is an agonisingly threadbare plot. What’s more, the effects themselves aren’t even particularly impressive.

It might seem like such vilification might be more justly aimed at the man who penned this mindless splatter-fest, but considering the Wachowskis hired J Michael Straczynski to completely rewrite Michael Sands original draft just six weeks before filming, an element of sympathy might well be evoked. Amazingly Straczynski’s reposte to this daunting assignment came just 53 hours later, when he turned in his entire amended screenplay.

His haste shows. This is a woefully constructed piece of popcorn fodder, dim-witted and morally baseless. If nothing else, Ninja Assassin proves that without a strong source to work from, both McTeigue and the Wachowskis are incompetent filmmakers, content to deliver trashy action thrillers which they themselves must be aware are messy, pedestrian cinema.

Reviewed on: 21 Jan 2010
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A young ninja rebels against his clan.
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Director: James McTeigue

Writer: Matthew Sand, J. Michael Straczynski

Starring: Rain, Naomie Harris, Stephen Marcus, Shô Kosugi

Year: 2009

Runtime: 99 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US, Germany


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