What are all the common complaints levied at the live-action DC Cinematic universe? Too dark, both cinematographically and tonally, too humourless, too much Marvel business model emulation, I could go on but frankly, that seems enough. Well, what if I told you there was a self-contained DC Animated Movie that was both beautifully and brightly drawn with humour and invention and that it managed to do more in 85 minutes than pretty much the entire live-action canon combined yet not feel overstuffed? You’d think I was being crazy or at the least, hyperbolic, but I’m not, I’m describing an actual film and it’s, coincidentally, the film I’m reviewing at the moment, Batman Ninja.
Batman Ninja, unsurprisingly, concerns both parts of the title thoroughly. The opening narrative gambit is that Gorilla Grodd has built a time machine that has exploded, propelling a large handful of Gotham’s more prolific crimefighters/criminals back in time to Feudal Japan but Batman lands two years after everyone else for some reason and in the meantime, the rogue’s gallery of Joker, Penguin, Two-Face, Poison Ivy and Deathstroke have risen to the position of warlords, a situation that Batman has to deal with while also trying to find his way home, luckily for him, Catwoman, Robin, Alfred, Nightwing, Red Hood and the Batmobile were also cast back in time. Oh, and there’s an entire legion of ninjas dressed in bat-inspired cowls.
What works so well about the film is that it never feels like its short-changing the Batman or the Ninja sides of the piece, creating an incredibly inspired mash-up of classic samurai films, superheroics with an insane animé flair. Often the animated movie side of DC can feel very phoned in, just taking a classic story and throwing some talented actors at it and hoping that’s enough yet here, we not only get an inspired script, some flawless animation (please check out the rooftop fight between Batman and The Joker) and two well-chosen casts including two inspired choices for The Joker in Wataru Kawada & Arrested Development‘s Tony Hale with particular credit to Hale for, certainly within English language portrayals, creating a Joker quite unlike any I’ve ever heard managing to almost create something more flamboyant than Cesar Romero but with definite menace.
Now, there will be a large portion of you who read this who will probably go straight to the English dub purely because it saves having to read the bottom of the screen but I must say, it’s worth experiencing in Japanese as it provides a higher level of consistency between vocals and facial movement. It’s also worth providing a warning that the final act of this does get quite silly in ways I don’t want to spoil but may put some off if they find the histrionics not to their taste. Particularly in the English dub, the first act doesn’t come off as fully smooth as you’d hope as the writers feel a need to almost excessively set up up the full real historical context for the piece and as sad as it is to say, this is ultimately another Batman-Joker film with many of the other characters lacking any real development to their arcs, especially not the other ‘warlords’.
Ultimately, the handful of gripes I have do not in any way hinder the complete project. I expected something fun from Batman Ninja, I didn’t expect it to be as near-definitive as it is. This isn’t one of the deeper explorations of the Batman character but in terms of pure enjoyment, you can’t really get any better especially over the Third Act when it really astonishes by constantly topping itself in terms of on-screen lunacy at every term. If given the opportunity to see this one, don’t bat it away. I’m sorry, I had to finish on a bat pun, I just had to.
Dir: Junpei Mizusaki
Scr: Kazuki Nakashima
English Cast: Roger Craig Smith, Tony Hale, Grey Griffin, Tara Strong, Adam Croasdell, Fred Tatasciore, Yuri Lowenthal, Will Friedle, Eric Bauza, Tom Kenny, Kenta Miyake
Japanese Cast: Kōichi Yamadera, Wataru Takagi, Ai Kakuma, Rie Kugimiya, Hōchū Ōtsuka, Takehito Koyasu, Daisuke Ono, Yuki Kaji, Aira Ishida, Kengo Kawanishi, Junichi Suwabe, Atsuko Tanaka, Toshiyuki Morikawa, Chō, Kenta Miyake
Prd: Tetsuro Satomi, Leo S. Chu, Eric Garcia
Runtime: 85 minutes
Batman Ninja is Available on DVD & Download Now.