Batman Ninja (2018)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 2/4/19
Director: Junpei Mizusaki
Cast: Roger Craig Smith, Tony Hale, Fred Tatasciore, Tara Strong, Grey Griffin

"Now, witness the awesome power of the monkeys!"

Gorilla Grodd's latest experiments with time travel end up sending Batman, Robin, Red Robin, Red Hood, Nightwing, Alfred, Catwoman, Joker, Harley Quinn, Two-Face, Penguin, Poison Ivy, Deathstroke, and himself back in time to feudal Japan. The bad guys set themselves up as daimyo lords of various regions and battle each other for supremacy with giant robots. Okay... Batman's attempts to stop the Joker fail, and he ends up becoming the leader of a bat ninja clan that worships him as a god. Okay... Grodd's ultimate plan is to combine all of his enemy's robots into one gigantic Voltron-like robot so that he and his monkey army can destroy humankind and rule the world! Wow. The climax features a giant Batman warrior comprised of millions of bats and monkeys duking it out with Grodd's super robot, while Batman and Joker have a rooftop sword fight.

The film is completely bonkers, even by anime standards. The character designs by Takashi Okazaki are brilliantly insane and have a strong video game aesthetic. The animation is astonishing and unlike anything I've ever seen. It looks like a traditional Japanese watercolor painting come to life. I'd be tempted to write off the whole thing as nonsense if it didn't look so amazing. The production and presentation are uniquely Japanese, and while it embraces all of the classic anime tropes, it exaggerates them to the point of absurdity. The extremity of the film ultimately strands the audience and leaves them flailing, but at least it looks pretty. The non-stop craziness is bound to upset a lot of fans, so it needs to be watched on its own terms. The fight scenes are wonderful, and once you get a grip on the whole giant robot thing, you're left wondering how Joker became such an accomplished swordsman. I ended up watching the English dubbed version, and apart from Tara Strong's Harley Quinn, the vocal performances are disappointing and don't match the animation style. "Batman Ninja" is a difficult film to recommend and won't appeal to everyone's taste, but as a piece of art, it's definitely worth taking a look at.