Ninja Assassin: ** (out of 4)
Seeing movies on Sunday nights is generally a solitary thing. Sure, there's a few people in the audience with me, others that were looking to kill some downtime and see a movie without a huge crowd. This takes something away from comedies, as hearing when the rest of the world laughs is often as fun as the movie. But for action movies, dramas, and so forth, it's generally ideal. But every now and then, I run into an outlier, where more people show up than usual. I can never predict these times; certainly, I never would have predicted that people would come out in droves on a Sunday night to see a mediocre martial arts/ninja movie with an exceptional amount of gore.
I suppose that, by at least one measure, the movie fulfilled its goal: there were, indeed, ninjas, and they did, indeed, assassinate. In fact, the opening scene not only offered us those two concepts, it did so with style. If the rest of the movie had been as well-made, I would have been very happy; but there also wouldn't have been a plot, or characters, or actors from Coupling. And I suppose that would have been something of a loss.
Instead, we got a perplexing movie. The action scenes were clearly meant to be exciting set-pieces, and they were indeed pretty and exciting to watch; but they were also difficult to actually understand, to the point of incomprehensibility. The background was supposed to be detailed and tragic; but it turned out to be poorly balanced, with an odd combination of too-dramatic and understated. And the plot attempted to be both paper-thin and over-wrought, but managed to be... well, really not bad for something like this. When it comes down to it, I can't really tell how good of a film the creators were aiming for. And that's a bit weird.
As for the movie itself... well, I didn't hate it. Rain did a fine job in the lead role, I guess. The archetypical fights were fun. Those few fights that actually involved person-on-person martial arts battles, instead of just cutting people's heads off, were kindof interesting. And the training-to-be-a-ninja stuff was at least thought-provoking, even if it wasn't in the way that the creators were pushing for.
But I still would have liked something that had been polished. Give the fighting scenes a purpose beyond arterial spray; give a reasonable sense of scale of the ongoing war; revel more in the silly; and maybe all of the ninja trainees should actually be doing the same testing. Instead, we came up with something adequate, but not very good.
One random note: JMS, the creator of Babylon 5 (my favorite TV series), was the co-writer of this movie. It did shine through, but perhaps not in a great way. If you've watched the show or read his comics, some of the speeches will sound a little familiar. shrug That's not really a big problem, just worthy of observation.