I kinda love ninjas.
I know, I know.
Which is why I found myself at Ninja Assassin, a film many of you would object to on the grounds of the myriad plot holes, the senseless and poorly edited violence, the lousy score, the horrific dialogue, the misuse of GPS technology, and a surprising ignorance of Japanese culture for a film ostensibly about ninjas. (It's actually about the myriad ways we, as filmmakers, can use CGI blood.) This is not, to put it mildly, a Good Film.
Film OPENS with a shot of an elderly man giving an EXCEEDINGLY PAINFUL and SURPRISINGLY BLOODY tattoo to an ILL-BEHAVED GUY in a bar while various people drink EXPENSIVE cocktails and WATCH.
Elderly tattoo artist: To distract you from the pain, and the audience from the multiple problems with my tattooing procedures, I shall give you a lot of very clichéd advice.
Ill-behaved guy: I can't kill you until you finish this tattoo!
Elderly tattoo artist: Let me congratulate you on your mastery of the concept of incentive!
Another man ENTERS, carrying a parchment envelope filled with OMINOUS...black sand.
Elderly tattoo artist: It's THE SIGN OF THE NINJA! I know, because the ONLY REASON I am alive is that the last time the ninja tried to kill me they didn't realize my heart was on the WRONG SIDE and so they STABBED the wrong place. Come to think of it, maybe they aren't really all that fearsome after all if they didn't even have the sense to cut off my head.
Various people in room: We shall react to this decidedly dull story by LAUGHING at the mere idea that ninjas might exist. Ha, ha, ha!
Suddenly, the head of one of the laughing people is SLICED off with the assistance of a COMPUTER. CGI blood streams out EVERYWHERE in glorious defiance of the laws of physics. More people SUFFER TERRIBLY from dreadful CGI removal of legs, hands, and occasionally heads.
Ill-behaved guy: Please don't kill me! My tattoo's still not finished! I'll double whatever you're getting!
With the ongoing help of special effects, Ninja SLICES off Ill-behaved guy's hands, and then his head.
Ill-behaved guy: If only my pleading dialogue had been better!
Elderly tattoo artist: Wow! You really exist! I'm surprised because so many people doubted my story I was starting to doubt it too which is kinda odd given that, you know, you guys nearly killed me which you'd think would be memorable. Please don't kill me.
Raizo: I am killing you, even though later in this film it will be implied that the reason I am hated by other ninjas and am killing them off is because I have a hatred for random violence and assassination. It's probably best if you don't look too carefully at my character motivation here. Me = NINJA!
Guy from Coupling: What, what can I do to get back to British comedy instead of roles like this? Anyway, here I am as an European agent based in Berlin, chatting with my partner. Oddly, instead of investigating the mystery of why everyone in Berlin, including masked ninjas, is speaking English, and not one person speaks a word of German (or Japanese) in the entire film, I am instead investigating what my employee is doing. You'd think, given that I'm apparently her boss, I would known this, but apparently not.
Mika: I'm chasing ninjas!
Coupling Guy: You must be kidding me.
Mika: Seriously, not. I have BANK STATEMENTS.
Ninjas: Apparently, we have stuck to our system of charging exactly 100 pieces of gold for any assassination. Not only does this make us regrettably easy to track, it also shows that we have an admirable lack of concern for inflation.
Coupling Guy: Your bank statements have convinced me. Go get the ninjas!
Two ninjas MEET at a Laundromat.
Ninja girl: Let me pretend to flirt with you!
Ninja boy, who will turn out to be Raizo: Although I have been named one of People Magazine's Most Beautiful People of the Year, you couldn't possibly want me for my body. You are a ninja! Kill kill kill!
Ninja girl: Sure! Let me throw a SHEET at you to COVER UP all the exciting ninja violence!
Ninjas FIGHT, incidentally RUINING a perfectly innocent WASHING MACHINE.
Coupling Guy: Because I have now found a poorly sourced and insane KGB story, I shall now believe your insane ninja story. And not because you are the most attractive woman I have ever met. I am actually saying this last part.
Movie FLASHES BACK to NINJA SCHOOL.
Ninja Daddy: For pre dinner entertainment, I shall slash my hand, let it drip some CGI blood, and then HEAL it again. Now you just think of that while you eat your noodles.
Raizo: Your healing hand dinner show has taught me to entertain myself by doing handstands on beds of nails. This severely cuts down on my cable bill.
Ninja Daddy: In our next lesson, I shall severely cut your feet every time you make these boards squeak. Your feet will rain down CGI blood!
Little Ninja Girl: I shall heal your feet. Possibly because your tossing and turning is keeping me awake, and not at all because this action is showing an unexpected trait of compassion that will leave me dead later. Whoops. Did I give that away?
Mika: Now, let me go to the nice wife of the dead KGB agent and revive all of her painful memories of his death.
Wife of KGB agent: Yes, now that you mention it, my husband did behave oddly before his odd ninja assassination.
KGB agent: Lights! Lights! Leave no shadows! THESE ARE NINJAS!
Naturally, the rest of the film is FILMED IN SHADOWS.
Wife of KGB agent: Although my husband never met you, I feel certain he would have wanted you to have this box of Silly Clues including Ancient Scrolls and Videotape, even though the mere possession of them could Kill You. Which makes it a bit difficult to understand why I'm still alive after hanging on to this for years.
Mika WATCHES videotape, where in decidedly unninja like fashion, Raizo the Ninja has been CAUGHT on camera.
Mika: Who ARE you?
Raizo: A man with a very well oiled chest! With a convenient body double to swing chains and weapons for me!
At ninja school, ninjas FIGHT between dangling flaming balls. This is actually MILDLY AWESOME. Young Raizo, less impressed, is HURT.
Ninja Daddy: You just THOUGHT getting hit with FLAMING OIL is PAINFUL. I shall now show you real pain by DIGGING MY FINGERS into your intestines.
Weaker members of the audience: Can we get back to the decapitations?
Ninja Daddy: Now, your real test: Survive the night!
Raizo: The SATs weren't an option?
Improbably, Raizo SURVIVES the night.
Ninja Daddy: Guess we won't be saving money on food bills. On the other hand, potential new assassin, so, bonus!
Internal Affairs: Hi Mika! Because we have all the subtlety of Fox News, we shall question you so blatantly that you will easily know we are On Your Trail!
Mika: Oh, Coupling Guy! They're WATCHING US!
Islamic Guy VISITS ninja school in the apparently DISTANT past.
Ninja school: Yeah, all that ninja secrecy thing? We're apparently not so good at that.
Raizo: I see a sewer, and it makes me think of you, my lost love! And head into YET ANOTHER FLASHBACK, to distract the audience from the LACK OF PLOT so far. Don't cut the tree like that! It's against the rules!
Ninja girl: Technically, it should also be against the rules to have a conversation about tree trimming in a NINJA MOVIE. But never mind that! I am following the heart of the tree!
Ninja girl: Oh, never mind. Just put your head on my breast. Has anyone else noticed I'm the only girl here?
Ninja school: And now it's time for BLIND training. What, you were expecting plot?
A blindfolded Raizo DEFEATS other ninjas and then, in a shocking development, almost FALLS asleep, until he hears the beating heart of ninja girl, which would almost be romantic if they weren't surrounded by 50 other sleeping ninjas, and almost kinky if they DID ANYTHING, which they don't.
Ninja Daddy: Ninja girl! Cut other ninja boy with this razor!
Ninja girl: Er. No.
Ninja Daddy SLASHES ninja girl's face and PUTS her in a cage, where Raizo feeds her WATER through a straw.
Ninja girl: Instead of working out plans for, I dunno, my rescue or something, let's exchange turgid dialogue stolen from bad kung fu movies!
Ninja girl RUNS into the rain. Raizo follows her. They KISS. This romantic moment ends up delaying her just LONG ENOUGH for undramatic things to happen in two more scenes.
Coupling Guy: Remember me? I'm here to tell you that EVERYONE is investigating these ninjas! Odd, given that no one believed in them just two weeks ago.
Mika: You can't lose your job!
Coupling Guy: It might be safer if I did.
Mika: I shall go home. Although the lights in my building are MYSTERIOUSLY OFF, and although I've been told that ninjas LIKE SHADOWS, I shall ENTER ANYWAY.
Mika finds an envelope with OMINOUS...black sand.
Audience member behind me: Don't open that!
Mika OPENS IT.
Audience member: Damn it!
Me: This film needs pirates.
Instead of pirates, ninjas GO AT IT.
[Ok, I admit – I just like that phrase. On with the snark!]
Bad ninja LOSES HIS HEAD with horrifically obvious CGI help.
Reizo: More ninjas are coming. However, even though you've just watched me decapitate someone with my magical CGI skills, you must TRUST me! Do you know who I am?
Mika: Yes, I saw you on a security camera.
Reizo: So I'm not exactly great at the whole ninja, hiding, secret, thing.
More NINJAS show up and whisper things in ENGLISH. The number of ninjas sent to kill a self-described researcher and one rogue ninja is oddly flattering and leads to, yes, another FLASHBACK.
Ninja girl: Because I stopped to kiss you, I have been captured and am now bound to this post ready to be killed.
Another ninja flamboyantly WAVES A SWORD, and then KILLS her.
Reizo: They're following our scent!
Mika: Like dogs?
Reizo: Wolves. Which, come to think of it, is not really all that different, and only sounds vaguely cooler. Drive faster!
Mika: Why did you save me?
Reizo: I can only answer that in another flashback.
Ninja Daddy: Your target is wearing a gold watch. Bring that to me.
Reizo and British guy who is apparently his target FIGHT.
Reizo: Huh. For a trained assassin I'm surprisingly terrible at this.
Reizo finally kills British guy with EXCESSIVE VIOLENCE and a TOILET. He heads OUTSIDE in the rain to be greeted by ninjas carrying UMBRELLAS.
Ninja Daddy: Keep the watch! It will remind you that you owe your every breath to me! Now, kill this girl who is shivering pathetically in the rain!
Girl: Hopefully, before I die of pneumonia.
Reizo: I will kill overweight British guys in bathrooms, and watch you kill the woman I love, but I draw the line at killing pathetic girls in the rain! I'll slice you instead!
Ninja Daddy: KILL HIM!
Astoundingly, the 40 odd ninjas behind Ninja Daddy FAIL to do this, perhaps BECAUSE they are still encumbered by UMBRELLAS even as they are THROWING SHINY STARS.
Mika: You need protection!
Reizo: Actually I just need clothes. You're size 36?
Mika: No, 34.
Reizo: I should warn you that lying about your dress size now will prove painful very shortly. But I won't, because otherwise I would miss the opportunity to tell bad jokes about dress sizes later and rob the movie of its one attempt at humour.
Mika: Oh, these jeans are tight!
Reizo: ...and my point is made.
Coupling Guy: I'm here, with no plans to betray anyone. Really!
Mika: Of course not! You're one of the good guys!
Coupling Guy: Of course, now that you've SAID that...
Reizo: You idiot! By betraying me, many people will die!
Coupling Guy: Yes, I betrayed you, but in another convoluted character change that makes no sense, I actually betrayed you because I'm on your side. Don't ask.
Reizo: Mika. You have a special heart. Also, ninjas are coming.
Mika: Ninjas are coming!
Coupling Guy: I could NOT have foreseen THAT plot twist. But, seriously. How SCARED can we be of guys in pajamas?
Lights suddenly go OFF.
Coupling Guy: Ok, pretty scared then. This sucks. Why doesn't this secret underground government torture place have extra generators and back up emergency lighting systems?
Various people WALK around in darkness.
Reizo: Mika! Get out!
Mika: Not without you!
Reizo: Then we all die together.
As if to PROVE THIS, gunshots and ninja weapons EXPLODE EVERYWHERE which would look MUCH COOLER if it WEREN'T DARK. Various ninjas APPARENTLY PERFORM awesome NINJA tricks but since these are on a SHAKY CAM and in the dark I can't VERIFY this.
Reizo: Although I was just telling you to leave, I am not at all surprised that you, Mika, are helping me to escape in the middle of this ninja attack!
Mika SAVES Reizo just in time as everyone else is SERIOUSLY DEAD, except, surprisingly, Coupling Guy.
Coupling Guy: Don't ask me. It has become clear to me that I am only a plot contrivance. Which, given the lack of plot, is quite something.
Mika HEADS to her car. Still more ninjas RISE UP and begin WHISPERING CURSES IN ENGLISH. This is enough to summon more CGI blood and chains which begin to slice digital people up. Ninjas start CUTTING THROUGH Mika's car with Ninja Stars. Mika starts to DRIVE AWAY. In utter abandonment of their reputation for silence, sneakiness and secrecy, ninjas DASH OUT into the Berlin streets on foot, causing cars and SUVs to CRASH EVERYWHERE. Mika PICKS UP Reizo in the street.
Berlin: Next time, send pirates!
Mika: I can't believe I found you! Although this car is filled with Ninja Stars and therefore kinda stands out, let's go hide in it!
Reizo: Great idea! No matter what you do, just keep moving! Don't STOP!
Mika STOPS at a hotel.
Mika: Since I'm just a forensic researcher, which means librarian, and therefore have no idea what exactly I'm doing, I shall toggle this convenient GPS device so that Coupling Guy and other agents can FIND US, even though they just proved to be utterly ineffective against ninjas only a few minutes ago. In retrospect I should have spent more time studying Logical Thinking.
Ninjas all appear beside Reizo's bed, CURSING in English.
Coupling Guy: Ah ha! The GPS device is beeping! Let's go catch ninja guy, even though our last ninja confrontation got about 100 people killed.
Mika: They took him 10 minutes ago! He's gone!
Other agents: Well, that's a relief!
Reizo HEALS his stomach wound with the power of his mind as he is taken back to Ninja School for being a Bad Ninja.
Ninja Daddy: My child, it is good to see you again. I had such pride. No child had as much promise as you. You were going to take my place. You shamed us!
Reizo: Kinda the plan!
Ninja Daddy: Tonight we avenge our honor! For some reason this involves me shoving my fist into Reizo's intestines, conveniently DISLODGING the GPS device.
Agents: Waaaaiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit a second. If that GPS device was in Reizo's intestines the entire time, and we were tracking it, why didn't we notice it move when we were closing in on him and Mika, and why did we leap into Mika's room instead of noticing this movement and following him and grabbing him in Berlin and -
International Army from Nowhere: No time to waste on explanations! We must SHOOT OFF a ROCKET which shall WARN everyone that we are coming while failing to KILL ANYONE.
International Army brings in TANKS and SOLDIERS, even though it is not clear HOW THE HELL the tanks CLIMBED UP to the TOWERING MOUNTAIN RETREAT, or how they got permission to essentially INVADE a foreign country while hunting for ninjas.* Soldiers begin MASSACRING NINJAS.
Reizo, to Mika: What took you?
Mika: You knew I'd come?
Reizo: Of course! I am master ninja! Plus, I didn't think the screenwriters would pass up the opportunity for more inane dialogue!
Ninjas GO AT IT AGAIN, this time, aided by sparkling CGI things.
International Army: Come to think of it, it's not at all clear why, after using a rocket with fireworks to announce our arrival, we don't just bomb the shit out of the place instead of entering on foot. Oh well. Bullets!
Ninja: Do you still think about Ninja Girl and the way I cold-bloodedly killed her?
Reizo: Enough to chop off your hands with excessive CGI violence! And now, I shall walk on the whispering floor where I was tortured earlier in the film but this time I shall break the floor with no consideration for its antiquity, engineering or rich cultural history.
Ninja Daddy: Come! Beg your father for forgiveness!
Reizo: Or, we could try to save the film with a Ninja Fight, setting things on fire and destroying several lovely Japanese wall decorations along the way!
Ninja Daddy: Ok. But, your heart is weak!
Reizo: In my defense, I've been responsible for most of the slaughter of the film!
Ninja Daddy: All this waste, because you put yourself before your family! Not because I'm a terrible father figure or anything.
Mika SHOOTS Ninja Daddy, who then STABS her. The sight makes Reizo and his shiny chest GO INVISIBLE. More POORLY EDITED violence follows until Ninja Daddy FINALY DIES.
Ninja Daddy: I don't get it. How could all of that emotional and physical abuse have gone so terribly wrong!
Outside, the Army has finally BROUGHT a helicopter. Reizo STAGGERS out, holding Mika. Coupling Guy shouts for a medic, who RUSHES UP, ignoring the burnt and bleeding Reizo to kneel by the cute and cuddly Mika.
Mika: I'm ok! My heart is on the other side!
Paramedic sitting beside me: Um, NO.
In a final scene, Reizo CUTS the bonsai that have miraculously SURVIVED the attack on ninja school, before WALKING OFF into a CGI WORLD. It's probably a metaphor for something, but it's painful to think of what.
* Unless the ninja school was in Germany the whole time, which, maybe. That would make as much sense as the rest of the plot.