In the words of eminent philosopher Robert Matthew Van Winkle: “The power of the ninja is strong\ Fightin’ all crooks until they’re all out cold\ Go Ninja Go Ninja Go!\ Go Ninja Go Ninja Go!” Indeed, good sir. Well said.
This week’s Roundtable is about our favorite fictional ninjas, whether they be from movies, TV, books, comics, videogames or any other media of your choice.
This week’s topic is a good one, as I realized that not a whole lot of movie ninjas have captured my interest. Why isn’t there a great ninja movie out there?! With that in mind, I must default to the most obvious choice: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But which movie of theirs to pick? Let’s be honest, no ‘TMNT’ flick yet has completely done these characters justice. I guess I’ll have to go with the original 1990 film which, for all its cartoonishness, probably had the best fighting/action sequences featuring the Turtles of any of the movies we’ve seen so far and was geared more toward older teens than all the sequels and reboots that have followed it.
Ninjas have never really done much for me. They tend to only serve one of two purposes: being indestructible ghosts, or be faceless cannon fodder. While my pick certainly fits into those categories, I chose it because it gave them a purpose and a background.
I’m going with ‘Batman Begins‘. I know it’s hard to think back that far, but do you remember when the first footage of Christopher Nolan’s adaptation was released? I recall it premiering during an episode of ‘Smallville’. I never watched the small-screen Superman series, but being a huge Batman fan, I tuned in for that. The only thing better than the extended trailer was the reaction that people (including myself) had to it. The movie took a superhero and placed him in the real world, something that only the X-Men had come close to doing at that time. Grounded in our reality, a plausible explanation was given to nearly everything. How did Nolan and David S. Goyer choose to make the superpower-less superhero a force to be reckoned with? They wrote his character as being trained in a far-off fortress by a group of elite rogue ninjas. I can’t think of a more perfect way to bring Batman into our world.
M. Enois Duarte
Back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, there was a crazy trend for all things martial arts, evidenced by the surge of action movies featuring a variety of fighting styles. A majority of them are pretty bad but weirdly entertaining – for me, at least. The infamously bizarre 1984 action/horror flick ‘Ninja III: The Domination‘ is related to its previous two installments more by happenstance than being a direct follow-up. Here, a telephone-line worker who also happens to be an aerobics instructor by night (because… why not?) is possessed by the malevolent spirit of a murdered ninja vowing revenge on those who did him wrong.
The whole thing is hilariously funny as the young possessed woman struggles with her literal inner demon, slowly growing insane as the body count mounts. Nevertheless, director Sam Firstenberg and cinematographer Hanania Baer do some decently impressive work while Lucinda Dickey, the star of two ‘Breakin’ films, is surprisingly great in her role for a largely forgettable production.
Of the many cybernetic ninjas found in the ‘Metal Gear‘ saga, Gray Fox has to be the most memorable. With a cyber skeleton, full-optic camo, and a high frequency blade, Gray Fox is a real badass among badasses during the Shadow Moses incident. His major flaw is his twisted, duct-taped mind, but he still sliced off Ocelot’s hand, which basically set the stage for several subsequent ‘MGS’ titles.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
The only things more awesome than living, breathing ninjas are, of course, zombie ninjas. That was the hook that convinced me to crack open my wallet for ‘Raw Force‘, and undead chop-socky action is just part of what’s cemented the legend of this 1982 genre mashup from the Philippines.
In this corner is a boatful of martial artists taking in the sights of the Far East. In the other is an island of cannibalistic monks who fork over mountains of jade to slave traders in exchange for young, nubile women. Inevitably, the slavers go lady-shopping on the martial artists’ chartered boat (captained by Cameron Mitchell, naturally), prompting a rescue mission on the sinister shores of Warrior Island. While the monks nibble on womenfolk, their island is protected by ninja warriors they’ve resurrected from the dead.
Too many exploitation flicks offer maybe 8-10 minutes of gonzo action and depravity mired in an hour-plus of filler, but ‘Raw Force’ is unhinged pretty much from its first frame to the last. The movie never goes more than a couple of minutes without some kind of battle or laughably shameless nudity (frequently both at once). Plus, its pacing can’t possibly have a chance to drag when kung-fu ghouls, flesh-eating monks, almost-Hitler, piranha, and a bazooka are in the mix. ‘Raw Force’ has thankfully found its way to Blu-ray courtesy of Vinegar Syndrome.
When I was a kid, I worshipped at the altar of ‘G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero‘. The TV cartoon was great and all, if a little goofy, but the Marvel comic written by Larry Hama was my bible. Despite ostensibly being a military title, the heart of the comic very quickly proved to be the relationship between the mysterious mute ninja named Snake Eyes on the Joe team and his Cobra counterpart, Storm Shadow.
Snake Eyes broke out as a superstar with the famed Issue #21, ‘Silent Interlude’, published in March of 1984. In the completely dialogue-free story, the black-clad commando scaled a mountain, raided an enemy castle, and clashed with a clan of evil ninjas (led by Storm Shadow, introduced that issue) in order to rescue his kidnapped teammate, Scarlett. The issue was incredibly successful and influential, and the “silent” gimmick has been imitated countless times since.
After more than two years of only vague hints about it, Snake Eyes’ backstory and his deep connection to Storm Shadow were finally revealed in the two-parter of Issues #26 and 27. This became the basis for a very complicated ninja mythology that grew in importance over the course of the series’ run. In its later years before its first cancelation in 1994, the ninja stuff took over the whole book, to the point that Snake Eyes’ name was displayed on each issue cover in a much larger text font that dwarfed the ‘G.I. Joe’ title. Frankly, it got to be pretty ridiculous and the comic had a big downturn in quality. Nevertheless, Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow were terrific characters, and the storytelling in the early issues was great stuff that obsessed my younger self.
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