James McTiegue’s second movie as director (following my one-time favourite film, ‘V for Vendetta’, and preceding ‘The Raven’) sees him tackle Japanese culture in a blood-soaked homage to all things ninja.
And it’s nice to see an American movie (albeit a German co-production) taking on anything other than the mighty US of A. But, in an effort to make it accessible to Western markets, they skimped on the subtitles and just went all out with American/British/Japanese/German-accented English. Now, this isn’t a major issue, but it does take away from the authenticity somewhat.
As does McTiegue’s over-reliance on CGI. Although it allows him to have endless shurikens zipping around the room, it ultimately results in overly cartoonish violence that diminishes the dramatic heft of the fights.
But I don’t exactly think dramatic heft was what they were going for with this one. The focus is set squarely on the ninjas and that’s where the movie really comes to life. The fights are often exhilarating, in a gory kind of way. Also a big shout-out to whoever suggested the ‘Aliens’ homage. There’s one particular dimly lit splatter-fest against silent enemies that’s straight out of James Cameron’s seminal action movie (and my current favourite film). These scenes work well, as does much of the supernatural portrayal of the ninjas. This is where CGI is used most effectively to send these warriors flitting off into the darkness.
Unfortunately some of this good work is undone by a tendency to fast-cut through the action scenes. It’s something that becomes increasingly noticeable later on in the film, which is a shame because those final fights deserved a steady camera. It would have also been nice to have a few more daytime fights. I know ninjas live in the shadows, but is that really worth straining my eyes for?
There’s little worth mentioning beyond the ninjas, and all of the Interpol mumbo-jumbo with Naomi Harris and Ben Miles is dull (as are their performances). But they're only a minor hindrance to what is an otherwise enjoyable, if gruesome, big-budget ninja movie.