Studio: Warner Bros. Japan
Director: Junpei Mizusaki
Writer: Kazuki Nakashima, Leo Chu, Eric S. Garcia
Producer: Kamikaze Douga, Leo Chu, Eric S. Garcia
Stars: Roger Craig Smith, Fred Tatasciore, Tony Hale, Grey Griffin, Tara Strong, Tom Kenny, Eric Bauza, Yuri Lowenthal, Will Friedle, Adam Croasdell, Matt Yang King
A time machine transports Batman and his allies to feudal Japan, where Batman’s rogues gallery attempts to conquer the country.
It’s sad to see heat hurled at “Batman Ninja” over its unconventional take on the Caped Crusader’s mythology. Oh, without a doubt, the head-on collision of Eastern and Western pop culture composes a disorienting kaleidoscope of eclectic action and eccentric spectacle. Yet this is precisely the kind of creative craziness an 80-year-old idea deserves, flavoring the animated film with imaginative freshness even through a throwback theme.
Gorilla Grodd built a time machine. Catwoman gummed up its gears. Along with his closet allies and closer archenemies, Batman now finds himself inexplicably trapped in Japan about 600 years in the past, anxious to find his way back to the future.
You’ll have a hard time finding plot holes in “Batman Ninja” because admittedly, there isn’t enough plot to poke into. Kazuki Nakashima’s story doesn’t really care to fill out its fiction more than necessary, serving instead as a bare minimum basis to build a battlefield, figuratively and literally, for heroes and villains to frenetically fight upon.
Although Batman just arrived in Japan, Gotham City’s other transplants have already been there for two years. That’s enough time for Joker, Penguin, Poison Ivy, Deathstroke, and Two-Face to have assumed lordship over feudal states warring for control of the country from massive mobile fortresses. Other than the obvious exterior motivation of getting the movie moving, it doesn’t make a lick of sense why Batman suddenly dropped in after everyone else conveniently set the table. Neither is there a sensible reason why Alfred opted to continue a career of servitude while maintaining the Batmobile that transported with him, as though he knew Batman would need it two years down the line.
Other issues with “Batman Ninja’s” writing have to do with dialogue. Whether Nakashima’s source screenplay or Leo Chu and Eric S. Garcia’s English translation should bear greater blame, cringe-worthy chatter is capable of sending viewers into corners to cower with clenched teeth.
Having Joker cackle, “I’m your biggest fan” while hurling razor-edged folding fans is pretty bad. Having Catwoman introduce a confrontation with Harley Quinn by announcing, “it’s time for some girl on girl action” is much worse. Ugh, yikes, and shame on the upturned thumbs that approved abysmal lines like these.
The consequence of dippy dialogue and plotting concerned solely with connecting action dots is that Batman becomes the ‘World’s Dumbest Detective.’ Not only does Bats brood regretfully over dimwitted decisions like allying with Grodd or relying too much on gadgetry, but he is repeatedly duped by obvious treachery. When Red Hood quickly figures out Joker and Harley’s sinister secret only for Batman to be easily fooled, you know your characterizations are confused.
So how can a movie that misconstrues Batman so badly while saddling him with sad speeches and a Spartan storyline still earn high marks for entertainment? Because after 50-ish minutes of mostly standard stuff, the brakes are finally disabled to storm into a climax loaded with intense insanity that has to be seen to be believed. We’re talking samurai swordsmen, ninjas, armored monkeys, magic bats, and giant robots merging into an even bigger robot. “Batman Ninja” is just one kaiju shy of throwing every familiar swatch of Japanese fantasy fiction into a pot before beautifully blowing it up.
The natural first instinct is to of course chuckle into an eye roll at Bruce Wayne shaving a bat symbol into his monk-cut bald spot while going incognito as a Christian missionary. But the further the film takes its bizarre blend of DC icons and Japanese culture, the more its strange sensibility grows on you.
Credit artist Takashi Okazaki with injecting inspired life into fantastically re-imagined character designs. From Joker looking like Final Fantasy VI’s Kefka to Bane as a sumo wrestler, the visual interpretations of classic characters are wonderfully wild sights to behold. “Batman Ninja” features a fine-tuned flow that brilliantly puts the look of un-inked comic book pencils into motion. An interlude involving Joker and Harley as rural farmers doesn’t fully fit, but some additional watercolor work and excellent calligraphy enhance anime-inspired action with eye-catching style.
The animated feature front has lower stakes than the live-action DC Universe, so when something bold like this comes along, it should be embraced for having the guts to take a rare creative risk. Maybe it’s a messy mixture of concepts and cartoonery, but watching “Batman Ninja” swirl itself together is incredibly fun once it hits peak stride. A decidedly different sort of Batman adventure, I can’t imagine why anyone would wish he or she hadn’t taken the trip into the movie’s vibrantly visualized world.
NOTE: There is a mid-credits scene.
Review Score: 75