The following review is for the dubbed version of Batman Ninja.
Batman Ninja is the missed opportunity we’ve come to expect from Warner Bros. Batman and Gotham City’s supervillains are thrown back in time to Feudal Japan via Gorilla Grodd’s time machine. The microsecond differences between Batman and the other foes being sent back in time means that some have been in Feudal Japan for two years; The Penguin, The Joker, Harley Quinn, Poison Ivy, and others have seized the power of the federal states. There plan: to combine their states to build a time machine so they can go home.
The Joker is the de facto leader and proving once again that it’s always a Batman vs The Joker fight. The other supervillains acting more like advanced henchmen than a genuine threat to the Dark Knight. This inability to move away from The Joker, to explore other villains in the DC back catalogue is one of the film’s greatest shortcomings. While it is true that Gorilla Grodd created the time machine, much of the film’s narrative and visual attention has been given to The Joker. Again, Grodd is just an advanced, albeit intelligent, henchman.
One glaring issue with the film’s plot is this balancing act between magic and (pseudo)science, an issue that appears to plague both this film and the DCEU. Catwoman has been in this era for two years longer than Batman, so she has firsthand knowledge of the destruction that The Joker and the others have inflicted upon the nation. She tells Batman that The Joker has introduced Industrialisation to the people of Japan. This is an interesting premise and one that the film highlights as a major issue. What would happen to the course of human history if an advanced technology was introduced centuries before?
Well, for Batman Ninja, the answer to that is really simple: giant castle robots would be made. In a short few months, after introducing the Japanese people to Industrialisation, they can now mobilise giant, land-travelling castle robots. Such absurdism is frustrating as the film wants to have its magical, over-the-top silly side of giant castles fighting with the woes of introducing Industrialisation to Feudal Japan. Two jarring ideas competing for attention.
Its main problem is the time-travelling aspect of it. The film attempts to explain this bizarre premise of Batman fighting these supervillains in a Feudal Japanese setting by forcing the time-travelling disaster in the film’s opening act. It’s a shame that they didn’t just run with the premise that this is set in Feudal Japan, as per those early teaser trailers. It’d be absurd, but then we won’t have the anachronisms, the faux-time-travelling paradoxes, and the (laughably) unnecessary explanation of how time travel works.
However, Batman Ninja does look gorgeous. The animation takes inspiration from anime and Batman: The Animated series. This help to create a brightly coloured, and fully realised world. Some of the backgrounds look to be hand painted with the CG animation in the foreground, to create this stylistic tapestry of both the old and the new.
Above all, if you can ignore the patchy storytelling, then you might find some joy in this. For others, this will be marked as a classic example one of the movies that have a premise more interesting than the final product.