Warner Brothers. DC Films. Are you trying to make me resent you? I was READY to move the hell on from the epic disaster that was Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I was PREPARED to shunt Suicide Squad to the back of my mind. But noooooooo, you just HAD to remind me of your pathetic existence with this unbelievably bad animation of the one character you have had consistent financial success with. On the eve of Avengers: Infinity War no less. Let’s get right into this dumpster fire and let’s see how you can take two awesome concepts, like Batman and Ninjas, and combine them into a complete and utter turd.
So Batman (Roger Craig Smith) is doing the usual fighting of bad guys in the usual arena of Arkham Asylum before he and Catwoman (Grey Griffin) get transported by Gorilla Grodd (Fred Tatasciore) back in time to Feudal Japan…don’t worry I didn’t miss a sentence in my synopsis, that’s literally how this friggin’ movie begins. So after everyone gets their bearings straight, Batman finds out from Catwoman that for the past two years in Japan, five of Gotham’s criminals have become feudal lords and have engaged in a brutal, chaotic conflict that has left the country in ruins. On top of this food chain is the Joker (Arrested Development‘s Tony Hale) and Harley Quinn (Tara Strong) decked out in full Japanese garb and having full control of a castle that turns into a giant robot and…no, I am seriously not missing a beat here, this is how these very strange plot details are thrown at you.
So Batman teams up with Nightwing, Robin, Red Robin and Red Hood who just all happened to have been in the neighborhood when the time machine sent them to Feudal Japan. Also, he forges an alliance with a secret ninja clan that has long awaited a prophecy of a bat ninja from across the sea of time to restore order to the country and…for God’s sake, put your fucking hand down, no they don’t explain how any of this crap comes to pass. Anyways, the Bat Clan all gang up on the Joker’s melee with Two Face, Poison Ivy, Penguin, Gorilla Grodd and Deathstroke who each all command their own unique castle that turn into giant mecha that also can combine to form one giant, super mecha.
Now some fans would charitably call this film a mere “reimagination” of Batman, no different than the last well received DC animation, Gotham by Gaslight. And I agree that is the case with Batman Ninja, but it differs from the steampunk interpretation by being total nonsense. There is no actual plot besides whatever was scribbled on storyboards as quickly as the animators could come up with something, so story elements are dropped and introduced with the care and precision of a drunk doctor at a party carefully explaining that morning’s surgery he botched up and consistently forgetting important steps he should have taken. The introduction of Batman’s various allies in this is awkwardly handled as the film introduces them hanging out in Japan as clumsily as possible, and the dialogue (if you could believe it) somehow makes the plot even worse. At least in the English version, Batman and company have some of the most flat motivational dialogue I’ve ever heard of. It’s like someone making a parody out of a twee anime like Naruto but taking it seriously with all the talk of “indomitable spirit.” I’ve heard the Japanese version of this film has slightly better dialogue, but quite frankly I don’t give a shit since the story goes completely bonkers seven ways from Sunday with the aforementioned giant robot brawl.
Query: what the hell is the point of Batman using giant mechanized suits in a movie all about him being a “ninja?” Oh it’s because it’s vaguely Japanese-related. How silly of me to expect Batman, a character that nearly every single possible interpretation of him includes the fact that he was highly trained by friggin’ ninjas, to do friggin’ ninja-shit. But no, let’s deck Batman and his crew with gaudy, over-designed samurai armor that looks like a Tetsuya Normura abomination than anything remotely practical or iconic. Now keep in mind, I’ve done a lot of ragging on the concept of this film because it’s just not very interesting. I’ve seen Japanese reinterpretations of iconic Western franchises before, and this film plays like a repeat of what I’ve seen before; and yes, you’d be amazed how often giant mecha show up in reimaginings like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or The Count of Monte Friggin’ Cristo. Now maybe all of this craziness would have been fine if the dialogue or character reinterpretations would be something to ponder over, but this studio manages to bungle that as well.
Unlike Infinity War, this film doesn’t have a prequel or comic for you to get who these characters are supposed to be except via cultural osmosis. While that’s fine for people like Batman, Catwoman, Joker, etc.; most people are going to be completely lost that Batman has FOUR sidekicks in Nightwing, Robin, Red Robin and Red Hood. While I haven’t read a Batman comic in years, I’m at least familiar why we have two Robins wandering around and why Red Hood dual wields guns of all things, but most film audiences aren’t going to know that.
And with no cinematic background to fall back on, audiences are simply going to have to infer what’s happening through the film itself, which does an extremely poor job at communicating even simple story concepts like how the hell Alfred also wound up in Feudal Japan despite being nowhere near the time warp. And the English voice acting is just flat out bad across the board with the exception of Tara Strong returning as Harley Quinn for the upteenth time and most audiences like myself have gotten used to her. But Tony Hale as the Joker might be the the absolute worst interpretation of the character I’ve ever seen. Yes, he’s worse than Jared Leto. He’s that bad.
Well how about the animation style? At least in the trailers, it certainly looked unique compared to every other animated film out there. The trouble is that with the overly designed backgrounds meshing with overly designed characters creates a visual cluster fuck the likes of which I haven’t seen since sitting through a Transformers joint. Furthermore, the animation shown isn’t consistent at all throughout the whole piece. For a random scene in which we first encounter Red Hood (about an hour into the film mind you), the movie switches to this flowery hand drawn style that made everything feel more dreamlike but it didn’t match with what we were seeing on screen in terms of tone. Additionally, for a few minutes, the film turns into a JRPG cutscene out of nowhere in which characters are supposed to be talking, but you merely see a cardboard cutout of their design not moving their lips. Perhaps that was supposed to yet another callback to Japan, but it just felt tacked on and even more aggravating to watch.
You quickly realize that some enterprising Japanese animation studio got their hands on the Batman license and turned in this absolute fever dream for DC Animation to put their stamp of endorsement over as their parent company will not have anything relevant to show off superheroes until December when Aquaman finally comes out. But Batman Ninja is an absolute black-eye for the esteemed animation company, more so than that baffling The Killing Joke adaptation from two years back. I really can’t find anything of value to watch in this dreck so this is pure…
SOME OL’ BULLSHIT
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