Long before the MCU turned superheroes into a sweet, succulent cash cow everyone is lining up to milk (good luck trying to get the image of a group of faceless corporate execs on their hands and knees sucking on the engorged teets of a 10 ton cow wearing Mickey Mouse ears and a Spider-Man shirt out of your head) and even before Singer and Raimi finally cracked the code everyone had tried and failed to figure out, the comic book genre was broken into two categories: DC and everything else.
And the everything else was weird and/or terrible.
For damn near three decades, the only good superhero films being produced were from Warner Bros or, more specifically, DC. Now that’s not to say we had an ocean of films to swim in. It’s about a five year gap between great DC films and, with the exception of some gems like The Rocketeer and Blade, literally nothing else is worth watching from the period.
It was a dark time and it’s easy to criticize now but geek culture today isn’t like it was in the nineties. Comic books were still very much looked down upon and although studios wanted to capitalize on a trend, nobody really knew how to do it. There wasn’t a wealth of material to crib from. Everyone was just throwing shit at a wall to see what stuck.
Which makes DC all the more frustrating. They not only cornered the market but even created the demand but decided to supply nothing but Batman films. If DC was a pimp, they’d have the largest stable of hoes in the business but the only thing they want working the streets are loose women in bat cowls and utility belts.
Twenty years ago, this would be understandable but this is still a problem they’re dealing with today. They have no idea what the fuck they’re doing, which is even more baffling considering they’ve had an animation department pumping out quality shit since 1993.
There’s a division of your studio, who’s sole purpose is to adapt various comics into film and it doesn’t occur to you to trade notes? Or to even ask for help? That’s a huge miscalculation considering how fucking rad as shit Batman Ninja is.
“Didn’t you just bemoan the overabundance of Batman films DC produces but now you’re saying they should’ve made this film live action and doesn’t this include Batman? Isn’t that hypocrisy? Are you bitchy flip flopper?”
I hear your thinking, but if you’d shut your damn pie flaps for five seconds and listen, you’d find out that Batman Ninja is entertaining in spite of Batman.
The scenario is so crazy and the story is so bananas, the film would work with any character in replace of Bats. It just happens to star Batman.
Created by director Junpei Mizusaki and screenwriter Kazuki Nakashima and featuring the insane character designs Afro Samurai creator Takashi Okazaki is known for, Batman Ninja is 90 minutes of anime insanity.
Axe Cop was a web comic started in 2010 by two brothers. The one who drew it was 29 and the one who wrote it was 5. The elder brother would collect the crazy ramblings of his younger sibling after a day of make believe. Batman Ninja is exactly like that except the older brother is director Stephen Chow and the younger brother is obsessed with Batman and robots.
In present-day Gotham, Gorilla Grodd has built a time machine and is (for unclear plot reasons), using the criminals of Gotham’s underworld as guinea pigs to test it. Batman, Catwoman, and the extended Bat-Family (Red Robin, Red Hood, Robin, Nightwing, and even Alfred for some reason) arrive to stop him. The machine either breaks or works (again, I’m not quite sure) and now everyone is transported to feudal Japan. The set up is so inconsequential, it happens in two minutes. By minute three, Batman is already getting attacked by samurai that look like the Joker.
This film moves like a crook running from the police. The set up, the macguffin, the cast of characters, the universe it takes place in and the ultimate goal are all presented within maybe seven minutes. There’s the opening scene and a quick monologue and we’re off to the races. The pacing is so break neck, it’s almost whiplash inducing. There is no time for character development, motivation, or even logic. Batman is in Japan and he has to defeat the Joker to go home. That’s basically it but it’s far crazier than that.
If the director or writer had an idea, whether it makes logical sense or not, it made it into the movie. Bane as a sumo wrestler? Why not. Every villain owning a giant battle mech even though the film takes place in feudal Japan, centuries before Benjamin Franklin* invented electricity? Who cares. Robin befriending a monkey for no goddamn reason? To quote Star Magic Jackson Jr, “It’s not only in the movie, but it’s definitely in the movie.”
You’ll drive yourself insane trying to make sense of the logic. It’s in the realm of ‘If you can think it, you can show it and if you show it, people will buy it.’ The film is literally and figuratively bat shit insane.
Besides the gorgeous animation and the crazy as fuck story, the other highlight is the voice work. The cast is the same collection of Batman mainstays you’ve heard a million times and while they’re all obviously fantastic, it’s the Joker who’s the star of the show. Tony Hale is the only new addition to the cast of regulars and I’m going to be honest, it took damn near the entire film before I warmed up to his performance. Every actor who takes on that role is automatically going to be compared to Mark Hamill and while he’s no where near as good, he makes some really interesting choices, especially in the “farmer” section.
On the surface, it’s one note manic but he’s doing everything in his power to mask his voice to create an entirely new take and the effort eventually won me over.
Batman Ninja is a ridiculously fun and an utterly ridiculous roller coaster of a movie, that may not always make sense but is consistently entertaining. DC (even though they produced it) should take notes.