Director Lloyd Lee Barnett
Starring Christian Oliver, Les Brandt, Ernie Reyes, Jr., Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
OK, it’s The Warriors, right, only it’s a post-apocalyptic world where everyone is a member of a different ninja clan with its own special magical mutation. When an enemy threatens the territory of the ninja clans, Grandmaster Fumitaka (Tagawa) calls all the ninjas together, including the mysterious Lost Clan (he calls them, word-for-word, “the mysterious Lost Clan”) led by Ryu from Street Fighter (Oliver). When Fumitaka gets murdered, Ryu (OK, his real name is “Cage,” so he’s from Mortal Kombat, not Street Fighter) and his band of misfits have to fight their way past all the other ninja clans and get out of the underground nuclear bunker and home to safety.
What’s wrong with it?
On paper, this is actually a fantastic idea for a B-movie, but there’s just something … off … about Ninja Apocalypse. Partly it’s that the characters are completely boring and interchangeable. Fumitaka’s invitation tells Cage to bring “your strongest, your smartest, your fiercest,” etc., so he brings along The Strong One (borderline racist caricature Sky, played by Isaac Singleton, Jr., a muscular giant who can’t speak), The Smart One (Trillion, who does machines, played by Kaiwi Lyman), The Angry One (Cage’s perpetually pissed-off brother Surge, played by Les Brandt) and, er, The Girl (Mar, played by Tara Macken, who is supposed to be the best at magic, but who seems to be exactly as magical as everyone else and maybe less than Trillion).
Insofar as there’s a character plot, it revolves around Surge’s hostility toward Cage — as the older brother, he feels he was passed over for leadership of the clan. Meanwhile, scheming villain Hiroshi (utility movie martial artist Ernie Reyes, Jr) hates Cage, and we’re supposed to be upset about this, because I guess Hiroshi is a pretty bad guy … but there’s no part of the film that does anything to suggest that Cage is anything other than the tiresome asshole everyone says he is. He never has a moment of compassion, vulnerability, charm, wit or even real heroism. So in the end when Surge forgives Cage and they become friends, it doesn’t feel earned — although, to be honest, his animosity never really felt merited in the first place, mainly because it’s motivated by backstory rather than by anything Cage actually does.
Being set in an underground bunker means that this film has a lot of scenes set in our old friends, Darkened Corridors.
What’s right with it?
If I had to guess, I would say that the reason the acting in this film is so consistently mediocre is that the actors were cast mainly for their martial arts skills. And it shows! The fights are exciting, even if their relationship to the plot is not always in evidence, and for a wonder they’re not all the same. The magical powers of the characters are integrated into the fights in fun if not always logical ways (in the final battle, Hiroshi lights his own sword on fire, because I guess getting your head cut off with a sword that’s on fire kills you more than just getting your head cut off with a regular sword?).
This film is visually creative about 50% of the time. There are some clever bits of staging and scenery. There’s also a lot of dark corridors and pale blue light, though.
How bad is it really?
I am a little torn by this movie, because I think that its fundamental flaw may be inherent to its greatness. One of the main problems of this film is that it isn’t funny at all. There isn’t a good gag from start to finish. In fact, I don’t think there’s a good line in any part of it, except maybe Hiroshi’s wild-eyed villain rant at the end. But on the other hand, part of what makes this film so goofily engaging is its 100% dead-serious commitment to a totally ludicrous premise. I mean, this is a reverse dungeon-crawl remake of The Warriors, themed enemies and all, set in a Fallout Vault, where all the characters are ninja superheroes. Also there are zombies. The second you acknowledge that that’s pretty stupid, low-hanging-fruit syndrome sets in.
I just think you could have done the same thing with some better characters and more drama. And maybe fewer dark hallways. And that doesn’t necessarily mean a bigger budget; look at Six-String%20Samurai (uncut) english audioSix-String Samurai for an example of a post-apocalyptic martial arts movie done on a shoestring that looks visually interesting. (Still no characters, though, but lots of good lines.)
Best bit (if such there is)?
It’s tough, because there are a lot of pretty good bits in this movie! I like that Sky can sense the enemy ninjas coming through vibrations in the floor like in The Lone Ranger, I like the various uses people make of their powers, I like the total commitment to the ridiculous premise. I think my favourite part is probably Mar using her electricity powers to magnetically grab other ninjas’ swords and then stab them with them.
What’s up with…?
- The Lost Clan. What’s Lost about them? Maybe I wasn’t paying attention here, but there’s even a scene where minor bad guy Becker (West Liang) makes a big deal about “why are you guys called the Lost Clan?”.
- The mysterious disappearing Sirens? It’s established very clearly at the start that there are five of each clan at the meeting. The Sirens, who are all identical copies and also cosplaying Kitana from Mortal Kombat or possibly just a Pussycat Doll, turn up at the beginning and there are, yep, five of them. But when our heroes wander into their trap, there are only three heroes left, and three corresponding Sirens. Maybe they knew (how?) that there were only three left so they only had three Sirens on lounging-around-sexily duty, but why not bring in the other two when the battle commences and the three Sirens in the room are fighting for their lives?
- Speaking of which, where’d the disappearing clan go? Each clan gets an intro at the beginning, with a one-line capsule description, and each clan then shows up later to do its thing (kind of; one of the clans has like one dude turn up and then never appears again), except for the coastal clan, who get a promo at the beginning and are then never seen in the rest of the film. (It occurs to me that this movie is only 80 minutes long, so maybe where they are is on the cutting room floor.)
- Everybody believing that Cage killed Fumitaka despite the fact that he was standing right there, in full view of everyone, doing nothing when Fumitaka was killed? OK, the killer disguised himself as Cage, but wouldn’t that lead people to wonder why there were two Cages? They were only standing a few feet apart.
- Magic being a finite resource? I mean, it seems that people have a limited amount of magical energy — there’s even a plot point where Trillion and Sky reprimand Cage and Surge for using theirs up in a pointless fight between themselves — but no one ever actually runs out, and in the final battle both Cage and Surge seem to have enough. I assumed that Cage would run dry but then realise that he could have more by Believing in Himself or Doing What’s Right or something, but nup.
- The fake elevator? The architects of this nuclear bunker built a fake elevator in case anyone tried to escape — it only goes down. But surely it’s people coming in to your bunker you don’t want.
Production values Fights yes, sets no. 13
Dialogue and performances Tagawa! Aaaaaaand that’s it. 17.
Plot and execution Ninja fights! Zombie fights! Stairwell fights! I guess we’re brothers or something! 15.
Randomness One of 2014’s tightest-constructed post-apocalyptic mutant ninja zombie remakes of The Warriors. 18.
Waste of potential I would say that given the premise and resources available, this is well above average. 9.