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Batman Ninja (2018)

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/8/2018

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/7/2018

Superhero movies rule at the cinema these days, but I'm sure that there are those who are tired of this genre. (I know this, as one of these people lives in my house.) And, in some ways, this view is understandable, as there is very little diversity in these movies. While the characters and their powers may seem to differ on the surface, when you scrutinize the films, you see that there is little diversity. Even something as subversive as Deadpool reveals itself to be just another superhero origin story. (But, granted, a weird and funny one.) Still, one needn't worry. You see, superhero fans in Japan clearly have some unique ideas, as exhibited in Batman Ninja.

Batman Ninja opens with a flurry of activity, as Batman (voiced by Koichi Yamadera) swings into action at Arkham Asylum. Something is going down in the prison involving Gorilla Grodd (voiced by Takehito Koyasu) and Catwoman (voiced by Ai Kakuma). But, before Batman can act on this, there is a burst of bright light and the Caped Crusader finds himself standing in an ancient village. After being attacked by a group of masked soldiers, Batman runs into Catwoman. She explains that Grodd activated a time machine which transported Batman and some of the villains incarcerated in Arkham back to feudal Japan, but, for some reason, Batman arrived two years later. The Joker (voiced by Wataru Takagi) has become the most powerful warlord in the region and the time machine is located in his castle. Batman quickly finds a group of allies -- some familiar, some not -- and begins to formulate a plan to defeat The Joker and get home.

Batman Ninja follows in the tradition of stories like Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, which take familiar characters and place them in a different time or place. But, where as Gotham by Gaslight was more of a "what if?" story which presented us with a Bruce Wayne of the past, Batman Ninja forces the Batman of the present to deal with a world in which his 21st Century technology won't work. So, the basic premise isn't necessarily original, but the movie more than makes up for it with its pace and its scope. As noted above, the film comes out swinging and it's only mere moments before Batman is whisked to the past. Once there, the story brings in a cavalcade of well-known characters (both heroes and villains) from the Batman universe. Most of these are merely cameos, but it shows how the project came close to throwing in the kitchen sink.

There's also a lot happening with the film's aesthetics. The overall look doesn't scream anime, but there are certainly some moments when the character's movements and the backgrounds have an anime look. The character design is certainly intriguing. They've taken a fairly traditional approach to Batman here, but The Joker has a very unique look, as he's especially gaunt and has a notably wild-eyed look. There is a scene in the second act where the animation style changes completely and takes on a very minimalist look. This transition is somewhat jarring, but, again, it shows how Director Junpei Mizusaki and his team were going for broke. My favorite touch was the textured sky, which looked as if it had been drawn on wallpaper.

If only the movie could have stuck to its initial vision and not gone completely off the rails. The first half of the movie introduces some odd ideas, but it's still pretty straightforward -- Batman and a cadre of villains have traveled back in time and Batman must find a way home. And the technology of the period is presented in a presumably accurate manner for the first two acts. However, the third act goes completely nuts and introduces ideas out of Voltron which seem completely out of place here. When you've gone over-the-top in a movie which already over-the-top, something has gone wrong. The goodwill established by the frenetic opening and the nice plot twist presented in the first hour isn't completely wrecked, but many viewers will feel short-changed by how the movie went from a clever take on the DC characters to movie which is either lampooning or paying homage to anime tropes.

Batman Ninja doesn't bother to explain how the characters traveled through both time and space on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 15 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look fantastic, as they are quite bold, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The frantic action does create some slight blurring of the image at times, but otherwise, the depth and detail look good. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.2 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The action sequences deliver detailed surround sound effects which offer some individual sounds at times. The stereo effects deliver solid sounds coming from off-screen. The subwoofer joins in with well-placed explosion effects.

The Batman Ninja contains a few extras. "East/West Batman" (18 minutes) offers comments from the DC Entertainment team and the Japanese filmmakers, as they discuss the direction of this project and the exciting challenge of combining Batman which Japanese archetypes. "Batman: Made in Japan" (14 minutes) examines the look of the film, from the character design to the stylistic choices, and digs into the anime influences at work here. "New York Comic Con Presents Batman Ninja" (49 minutes) presents a Q&A session, moderated by my man Gary Miereanu, which features the key players in the film's creation.

Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long