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BATMAN NINJA

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ANIMATED FEATURE REVIEW

Batman Ninja
Studio: Warner Bros. Animation
Release Date: April 24, 2018 - Digital; May 8, 2018 - Blu-ray, DVD

Synopsis: Batman Ninja takes a journey across the ages as Gorilla Grodd’s time displacement machine transports many of Batman’s worst enemies to feudal Japan – along with the Dark Knight and a few of his allies. The villains take over the forms of the feudal lords that rule the divided land, with the Joker taking the lead among the warring factions. As his traditional high-tech weaponry is exhausted almost immediately, Batman must rely on his intellect and his allies – including Catwoman and the extended Bat-family – to restore order to the land, and return to present-day Gotham City.

The visually stunning Batman Ninja is the creative result of a trio of anime’s finest filmmakers: director Jumpei Mizusaki (Opening animation of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure), writer Kazuki Nakashima (Gurren Lagann), and character designer Takashi Okazaki (Afro Samurai) produced the original movie with Warner Bros. Japan. The script was then reinterpreted and rewritten for English-language distribution by award-winning screenwriters Leo Chu and Eric Garcia (Supah Ninjas, Afro Samurai). Benjamin Melniker and Michael Uslan are Executive Producers.

Roger Craig Smith (Batman: Arkham Origins) and Tony Hale (Veep, Arrested Development) lead an impressive cast as the voices of Batman and the Joker, respectively. Grey Griffin (Scooby-Doo franchise) and Tara Strong (Batman: The Killing Joke) supply the voices of the antagonist & protagonist’s closest allies – Catwoman and Harley Quinn, respectively – while Fred Tatasciore (Family Guy) provides the gruff-yet-sophisticated tones of Gorilla Grodd, a villain who must team with Batman to achieve his own personal agenda. Other voice actors include Bat-family members Yuri Lowenthal (Ben 10: Omniverse) as Robin, Adam Croasdell (Reign) as Nightwing and Alfred, and Will Friedle (Boy Meets World) as Red Robin, and the Rogue’s gallery also features Tom Kenny (SpongeBob SquarePants) as Penguin and Eric Bauza (The Adventures of Puss in Boots) as Two-Face. Doing double duty is Tatasciore as Deathstroke, Strong as Poison Ivy, and Friedle as Red Hood.



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Batman Ninja Feature Review
By James Harvey

If you think you know how Batman Ninja is going to play out, you're in for a surprise. While the animated movie does deliver plenty of what you'd expect in typical Bat-action, it also manages to continuously up the stakes in unexpected ways, until it just goes so enjoyably and completely off the rails. A surprising story coupled with gorgeous animation, Batman Ninja is yet another home run for Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, who has been absolutely on fire with their DC Comics-based animated output this year.

Batman and a host of the Bat-Family supporting characters find themselves flung into the past thanks to Gorilla Grodd's time travel device, ending up in Feudal Japan. Since the device was activated during a meeting between Grodd and a host of Bat-villains in Arkham Asylum, they too all find themselves along for the ride. Batman soon finds out his usual methods of apprehending his rogue's gallery isn't exactly cutting it, so he must embrace his new surroundings if he's going to take down some of his biggest villains and find a way back to present-day Gotham City.

As usual, this review will be light on spoilers. The movie's marketing campaign, which has primarily focused on the film's opening act, save for a few brief glimpses of the epic finale, has kept some of the film's biggest moments a secret. And really, if you want to experience Batman Ninja in the best possible way, it's recommended to go in as fresh as possible.

A major reason why one should go into Batman Ninja blind is because some of the craziest and zaniest (and even flat-out beautiful) moments work best when you don't see them coming. The scale for the film just keeps growing and, as things just get so unbelievably bonkers, surprises just keep popping out where you'd least expect them. That is basically Batman Ninja in a nutshell. Seriously. And the film expects you to just roll with it, too. A few things pop up that are puzzling, but, you know what? Go with it - it's fun! The DC Animated Movie starts out predictably, with Batman forced to adjust and deal with his current predicament of being tossed back to Feudal Japan. But that comes to a head rather early in the film, leaving the movie to go places you just don't expect.

The script for the English-language version of Batman Ninja is solid, though don't go in expecting deep dives in character motivations and complex arcs among the Bat-foes included in the movie. They're in Batman Ninja for a specific reason and not much beyond that. Catwoman, The Joker and Grodd get the most face-time among the rogues gallery, and a little bit of development, but nothing really deep. The same can be said for the Bat-Family. Each, with possibly the exception of Alfred, have a specific part to play and that's all they do. And while that sounds negative, it's not. They all get explosive, insane fight scenes (with Robin himself spearheading arguably the craziest part of the entire movie during the big climax), along with some great bits of dialogue and a couple great moments. The film assumes you know all the characters involved, allowing it to devote more time to the story than trying to get viewers up to speed on who everyone is (though everyone does get a basic introduction, so no one should be lost).

It's worth noting that the scripts for the subtitled and English-language versions of Batman Ninja are very different and, honestly, both are worth checking out. It's pretty interesting that while everything plays out the same visually, the same can't be said for the film's story and dialogue. Batman Ninja's story definitely exceeds expectations in most regards, with the film managing to repeatedly top itself over and over as it goes on, leading to one pretty crazy climax. So, as a result, the dialogue can get super goofy, but it oddly adds to the film's charm. However, the script is just a little slight, especially when it comes to some of the characters, but Batman Ninja's style more than makes up for it. Still, there are some interesting deviations story-wise between both versions. Watch both - it's a fascinating experience. That said, the pace is sometimes a little uneven, with a few quieter moments that stretch on a little longer than they should, but that's a minimal issue at best.

The look of this film is absolutely stunning, and at times legitimately captivating. The animation is smooth, with only the odd moment here or there with noticeable jerky movements or run cycles that don't quite add up. The level of detail in this movie is absolutely staggering, sometimes jaw-droppingly so. Backgrounds are gorgeous and character designs are detailed without being overly complicated or messy. It all looks great. There's one particular segment roughly halfway through the film that features some truly breathtaking art (which the film essentially introduces out of nowhere) mixed with gorgeous coloring ... and it's not at all what you're likely imagining right now. This sequence caught me completely off guard and knocked me right over with how amazing it looked. Batman Ninja doesn't shy away at taking risks, and to devote a part of the movie to something that is so divorced from the rest of it takes major guts. And they pull it off.

The fight scenes are nicely choreographed, deftly balanced between face-paced fisticuffs and widescreen explosive action. Scenes were Batman gets to show off his impressive hand-to-hand skills are tense, sharp and always exciting (Batman’s initial fight with the Joker is also a nice tease of bigger fisticuffs to come). As the film progresses, so do the stakes, which puts just that much more weight on the importance of these action beats, grounding them, no matter how insane everything might seem. It goes without saying that each action sequence impresses, either due to its impressive choreography or scope, or even both. And it never gets old or stale, too. There are some completely insane action beats in Batman Ninja that I swear you’ll never see coming. The directing also helps gives the film a sense of balance and cohesion, admirably bringing together the smaller action beats and moments with the massive set-pieces.

In terms of voice acting, the English-language crew is a remarkable roster of talent. Roger Craig Smith (Batman Unlimited series, Batman: Arkham Origins) is back under the cowl and offers yet another solid turn as The Dark Knight. Tony Hale is absolutely amazing as The Joker, perfectly voicing this wild take on the Clown Prince. Ideally Hale will find his way back to the role in a future project. Other standouts in an honestly all around great crew include Will Friedle getting to stretch as both Red Robin and Red Hood and Tara Strong going all out as Harley Quinn. Grey Griffin also brings a nice sultry voice to the Princess of Plunder, Catwoman. You can't go wrong with a cast as robust as this. The score is also worth making note of, given just how varied it is at times. With luck, WaterTower Music will see fit to release a companion soundtrack for the movie down the road.

Batman Ninja is a marvelous adventure, and another great entry in what's been a fantastic year so far for DC Comics-based animated projects. The story is fun and crazy (albeit imperfect as it may ask too much for some viewers to just accept), the animation is gorgeous, and it's honestly unlike anything else you've seen, Batman-wise. It's fresh, unique and just a total blast. The story definitely might not be to everyone's liking, as it goes places that viewers definitely won't expect, but it's such an entertaining trip. And if you can't get into the story, then just give this a spin for the fantastic animation and imagery. It's a really beautiful product that just also happens to be completely bonkers. Highly Recommended!

[ Continue on to the Batman Ninja Blu-ray review ]

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