Batman Ninja, 2018.
Directed by Junpei Mizusaki
Featuring the voice talents of Roger Craig Smith, Yuri Lowenthal, Adam Croasdell, Will Friedle, Grey Griffin, Tony Hale, Tara Strong, Eric Bauza, Tom Kenny, and Fred Tatasciore.
Batman, along with a number of his allies and adversaries, finds himself transplanted from modern Gotham City to feudal Japan.
For a film that plants the Dark Knight bang smack in the middle of a warring feudal Japan, Batman Ninja sure is dull. Ripe for overwrought imagery – of which it stuffs every frame with bright, bombastic animation – it’s all ultimately wasted on a plodding circle jerk of a plot akin to half-baked fan fiction. In fact, Japan feels little more than a lame tool to borrow Nihonga painting styles and some rather brazen attempts at making previously known characters Japanese only in jingoistic look. (Note: the version I saw was the English dub).
It takes little time for the Dark Knight and his compatriots to find themselves in Japan. Following a botched raid on Gorilla Grodd, who decides it sensible to build a time machine in the middle of Arkham, Grodd transposes the gang and a merry bunch of criminals to Japan. Arriving at conveniently different times, Batman finds himself the last, landing at a time of civil unrest caused by a feudal split. The Joker, Penguin, Gorilla Grodd and Deathstroke each run part of Japan with the hope to bring together the missing parts of Grodd’s time machine and rule once and for all.
It’s all rather loaded. Of course Batman is somehow a supposed prophet destined to lead a mythic group of ninja alongside Robin, Red Hood and Red Robin and it’s only he who can bring peace to Japan.
But no one is exactly beckoning to Batman Ninja for its plot. For the first hour or so, it’s unforgivingly tedious, until a final third so manically inconsistent in its mythos and boldly strange it becomes rather enjoyable. Cities become walking monolith, Jaeger’s dizzy on petrol fumes, battling one another whilst a giant structure of monkeys decked out as Batman covered by bats joins the fight. It’s meat headed stupidity, but for that brief moment, its rollicking silliness manages to carry over.
The voice cast – largely unremarkable – is rescued by Tony Hale’s ramped-up-to-11 Joker. It’s as if Hale watched every possible Joker and took notice only of his high-pitched laugh. Tara Strong’s Harley Quinn is as grating as grating gets whilst Roger Craig Smith’s Batman is dully droll.
But it’s not made for me. The DC animated universe, in all it’s ramshackle charm has an audience that will lap this up and rightly so. There’s a boldness to it so evident in the animation – a detour with the Joker is genuinely beautiful – but this boldness runs out the moment the script demands any sort of risk.
Something more stand alone, set in Feudal Japan without the tedium of time travel would have paved way for something far more interesting. But in it’s current state, the English dub of Batman Ninja is little more than a fan fiction circle jerk. Maybe the original Japanese version is better.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★