Following in the noble tradition of “Sharknado,” “Snakes on a Plane” and “Sex and the City 2,” this elaborately executed nonsense is the kind of project where you just know that the title came first. “Batman Ninja” (or “Ninja Batman” as it’s being called here) answers the question nobody had thought to ask: What East-meets-West mash-up would make even less sense than “Afro Samurai”?
The result is a cross-cultural hybrid every bit as unlikely as Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs,” though rather less memorable. Produced by a Japanese team for overseas paymasters, “Batman Ninja” certainly looks the part, but there’s something strangely dutiful about its execution, like its creators were reluctant to stray from the most generic storytelling conventions.
During a mission at Arkham Asylum, Batman (voiced in the Japanese dub by Koichi Yamadera) is transported back to 16th century Japan, along with much of the regular cast of heroes and villains from the comics. Actually, it turns out he has arrived a couple of years behind his pals. The Sengoku (Warring States) period, already one of the most chaotic in Japanese history, is now being played out by rival clans led by the Joker (Wataru Takagi), Two-Face and other villains who get so little screen time it’s a wonder they bothered to show up.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||85 mins.|
Each of the baddies is in possession of a glowing widget, and only by collecting them all can Batman get everyone back to present-day Gotham City and avoid doing irreparable damage to the course of history. This prompts a succession of attacks, counter-attacks and betrayals, where the Japanese setting is mostly a backdrop for the characters to do what they always do, just with cosplay. The hulking villain Bane gets turned into a sumo wrestler, Alfred the butler adopts a chonmage hairstyle, and Batman briefly goes incognito as a Jesuit missionary.
Character designer Takashi Okazaki was also responsible for “Afro Samurai,” and he takes a similar approach here, giving the DC Comics cast a thorough anime makeover. The difference is most pronounced with the female characters; I’m not sure Catwoman has ever looked this cute.
There are no cameos by well-known historical figures. Apart from a bat-worshipping ninja clan who pop up at opportune moments but contribute little to the plot, the locals are mostly happy to stay at home and leave the time-travelers to have their fun.
The scene in which Batman finds himself suddenly whisked from Gotham to the middle of a dusty feudal town is one of the film’s best, but such culture-shock moments are rare. We don’t get to see him fumbling with chopsticks or copping an earful for tramping mud all over the tatami mats.
As the Caped Crusader ditches his modern gizmos and embraces the old ways, his adversaries go in the opposite direction, introducing steam power and machine guns to Japan a few centuries early and upgrading their castles in a manner that would do the creators of Gundam proud. The climax involves armies of monkeys and bats doing things that I’m not going to pretend made any kind of sense.
It’s all very silly, and likely to appeal most to viewers under the age of 12. Yet for all its visual flourishes, “Batman Ninja” feels like a missed opportunity. Like so many crossover specials, it’s rather less than the sum of its parts.