Between monkey combiners, jumbo mechas and out of character portrayals, your enjoyment of Batman Ninja greatly depends on your openness to a different take on The Dark Knight. For better or worse, this is unlike any other version of Batman we’ve seen from Warner Bros. Animation yet.
This take wasn’t for me, but there’s a lot to admire about this effort if for no other reason than shaking up the Batman animated movie formula and trying something different.
Batman is basically already a ninja with regards to his fighting style and reliance on edged weapons. That left the Batman Ninja creative team two directions. Make that connection more obvious and just make a bada$$ Batman ninja movie. The other direction throws in various elements of anime, slap a primer of ninja accessories and up the crazy on Batman’s universe.
Choosing the latter wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the film is overstuffed at the expense of much in the way of a cohesive plot. Batman Ninja doesn’t suffer from a lack of good ideas, but rather too many good ideas vying for the spotlight.
Gorilla Grodd (Fred Tatasciore) decides to ditch Central City and sets up a time machine atop Arkham Asylum. Grodd is definitely more of a Flash villain and seems out of place tangling with Batman.
Grodd’s plans don’t go as expected and Batman (Roger Craig Smith), his allies and villains are all transported to feudal Japan. Somehow, Batman was time displaced and arrived much later than his allies and villains who have made themselves comfortable in this time period. The Joker (Tony Hale) has established his rule over the land alongside Harley Quinn (Tara Strong) with other villains as rival gangs vying for the top spot.
After a humbling encounter with Joker, Batman learns to rethink his strategy and come up with some different techniques with his ninja allies.
The character designs and animation were incredible. Director Junpei Mizusaki staged the action well and has a very creative vision for incorporating some anime staples. Mizusaki doesn’t stick with one mode of storytelling and this leads to some visually striking scenes.
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Screenwriter Kazuki Nakashima clearly has an affinity for the source material, but really needed to go the less is more route. While Nightwing, Red Hood, Red Robin, Robin, Alfred and Catwoman are all important allies to Batman, the film didn’t need all of them. At times Nakashima had some amazingly clever ideas that warranted further development, but he’d already moved on to the next three. The pacing is all over the place with this one.
I probably would have liked the film more if the character portrayals were more consistent. Red Hood (Yuri Lowenthal) was spot on perfect, but others like Robin (Lowenthal) felt changed to more easily accommodate anime stock characters. Robin has none of his trademark surliness and is instead happy go lucky and palling around with a pet monkey.
The voice acting was largely fine thanks to WB Animation regulars Grey Griffin, Strong, Lowenthal and Tatasciore. Hale gave an energetic performance as The Joker, but it never quite sounded right.
Batman Ninja was an appreciated fresh take on Batman, but ultimately too many little problems doom this to the only watch if you’re fully committed to the concept.
Rating: 5.5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Animation