Big props to studios who make big budget B-movies: extravaganzas of sex, action and blood that titillate the senses but keep the mind on the backburner while still managing to say something about our culture. Arguments that all Hollywood blockbusters are B-movies are somewhat valid but few films achieve the coveted status of “good B-movie” and though Ninja Assassin certainly tries to get there and almost succeeds, it simply doesn’t manage to be as fun as needs to in order to succeed.
That’s not to say it doesn’t try. The opening sequence in James McTeigue’s V for Vendetta follow-up is a spectacular feast of darkness, blood and mind bending martial arts, a spectacle that starts the film off on great footing and which mixes its action with a touch of wry humour but once the title sequence finishes and the story kicks into gear, the film goes from fun to serious much too quickly.
In this film’s world, there are deadly assassins, men and women trained in the ancient martial arts, and who are then contracted by governments, corporations and individuals, for measly sum of 100 lbs of gold, to kill. They move in shadow, make no sound and are deadly weapons. The greatest of these assassins is Raizo but he left the fold years before and now he spends his time protecting the innocent who have become entangled in an investigation that is dangerously close to putting the clans out of the killing business and hence becoming major targets.
It’s a convoluted plot and one which is third to the film’s brutal action sequences which are shot in near darkness. The film is so dark it’s sometimes difficult to see what’s going on with sounds and occasional glimpses of movement expected to be enough to keep audiences happy. It’s a cheap trick, and one that mostly works though I expect some of it may also be in favour of keeping the ultra-violent film within a rating that allows for wide release.
If the action is the main drive of the film, the secondary attraction is South Korean superstar Rain. The Wachowski brothers introduced North American audiences at large to the star, casting him in Speed Racer (our review) but McTeigue is trying to elevate the young man into major Hollywood action star while also catering to the large Asian market and Rain does a great job of his role. He’s sufficiently brooding, handsome and the camera never lets the audience forget that he is a physically superior being with extended training sequences in which he wears little more than sweatpants; good looks will get you somewhere in Hollywood.
Accompanied by a supporting cast that is neither memorable nor important, the film prances along from one ridiculous action sequence to the next. All fine and good except the action itself starts to get old at the halfway mark. A girl can only take so many shots of hands and legs being lopped off before getting bored and sadly, that’s exactly what happens and by the time the film returns to daylight and we actually get to see the climactic action sequence, I was too bored to care.
Lots of action, ridiculous amounts of blood and more than one handsome face is a good start but the movie takes itself much too seriously. Once the bad guys capture Raizo, there is a half-hearted attempt to re-incorporate a bit of humour into the story but it’s simply too little too late making Ninja Assassin an entertaining enough but ultimately disappointing movie.
Ninja Assassin opens in wide release on November 25th.
See VIFF screening schedule for show times.