Ninja 2: Shadow of a Tear (2013)
An ancient hero returns with a vengeance.
A beautiful way to start the new year. It's an action movie through and through, and a sequel that contains a complete self-contained story that makes it irrelevant whether you've seen the first. It's also got ninjas in it, and ninjas never get old! If you're a fan of action packed fight scenes, ripped guys not wearing their shirts, and / or ninjas then you might want to skip the review and just go ahead and watch it first.
Casey Bowman (Scott Adkins) is living the happy life, married to a beautiful girl and doing his ninjutsu at the same dojo his wife is at (who happens to be the daughter of the head-master). What's more? Casey and wife are having a kid! Casey get's to celebrate this occasion by making a late-night run to the grocery store for some kelp and chocolate (those silly pregnancy cravings!), when he realizes he doesn't have his wallet (which was stolen earlier) and returns home. The happy story ends here, as Casey returns home to a dead wife with very distinctive marks on her neck. He get's mad (real mad) and goes to exact some revenge on the thieves who took his wallet (although it is unclear as to if he believes they killed his wife or he's just gone bonkers from RAGE!).
Fleeing Japan after committing his little escapade, he arrives at a friends dojo in Thailand, where outside of some emotional control issues things seem to be proceeding rather normally - until one of his friends students is murdered in the exact same fashion as Casey's wife! The plot thickens, and Casey's friend elaborates a story about how their masters used to be friends back in the war - when the master who happened to be Casey's wife's father killed the third member of the friendly masters group so that he could take over his dojo. The younger brother of the murdered master saw this act, however, and put forth the statement that "Even if it takes three lifetimes" he will have his revenge.
Casey then travels to the jungle to find the now-evil drug lord ninja and take vengeance upon him for the death of his wife. The plot here is about as elaborate as one might expect from a standard fare action movie - which this very much is. It holds together, even if some moments are left a little unexplained, and they try and work in a twist or two that has the potential to surprise the viewer if they aren't paying heavily attention (it caught me off guard, although I fully admit I was watching it with a large intent of mind numbing fun and sweet martial arts). As with most action flicks, there are moments where it feels as though the only reason this part of the movie exists is to fit in another action scene - particularly a "I'm so sad / angry" bar scene - to which I would normally complain, if not for the quality of the fights.
As stated, the action scenes here are phenomenal. The choreography is spot on, never breaking the illusion of heavy hard-hitting blows, and the only time it could be conceived to be sloppy is in one specific scene after Casey has taken a hit off some back-alley light bulb bong while trying to get information from a guy. Of course, considering that he doesn't seem to be handling whatever he inhaled very well, the few missed punches only adds to the effect of the scene as opposed to detracting from it. Also to be lauded is that the action scenes - even while being kinetic and swapping back and forth between shot angles or moving along with the action - is very much steady as opposed to the rather annoying end of shaky cam everything in some of todays movies. By far, if there is one thing that should sell this movie to anyone, it's the fight scenes and their furocity.
Actors do a pretty decent job with their roles, although most of the movie involves Casey being a little bit Kristen Stewart, which is to say the entire revenge-mode tends to carry with it a single robotic facial expression. It's not a huge deal - most of it is action scenes, and they go through enough of an attempt to show a bit of pain and anger during those. All I'm saying is that you shouldn't expect any real emmy-winning performances out of this flick is all, at least not as far as making you really get into the characters emotionally or anything. It's almost kind of sad, because with all the "emotional flashbacks" that crop up to plague our hero on his quest for revenge you kind of get the feeling that they want you to try and connect emotionally behind them. Of course, then you have a few actors who effectively pull of making you wonder if they didn't just grab someone off the street doing their everyday job and ask them to ignore the cameras.
Audio is good and even, never destroying ones ears when combat mode kicks in after a soft-spoken tender moment. Music helps pick up and set a bit of visceral blood-pumping akin to what you'd want to have on your mp3 player while working out. It never really takes over the scene, but it definitely aids the on screen action more than it detracts from anything. Some Japanese is spoken (possibly some Thai) and those parts are most the times subtitled (minor thinks like "thank you" won't always crop up, but most of it that's actual dialogue you should know will). Impacts and steel on steel come through quite well also I should mention, being the emphasis on action here.
What it really comes down to with this one is what state of movie watching you find yourself in. If you are hankering for an action flick, then this is more than good enough a bet to satiate your hunger. If you want a romance or a comedy, than this is most likely going to fall flat on its face. Beautiful one-liners exist (an example of a statement-response combo can be seen as the picture caption), and they very well might get a chuckle out of me and some others, but by no means is this a laugh through-out kind of movie. The plot is there enough to give intent to the action (most the times), and thankfully to that extent the action really raises to the top and excels. I guess I should probably mention that the ninja outfit that Casey dons at the very end of the flick is pretty darn cool as well - even if it pretty much the only time you'll see a fancy not-normal costume in the entire movie outside the intro.