If you would have told me that Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Series could be infused with an animated Batman Film, I would have wondered aloud “When”, “Why”, and “How”? I find it fascinating when creators are willing to try new things with well-known properties. If they’re able to create a refreshing and intriguing story, that allows the viewer to witness something they aren’t even aware themselves they need.
I normally don’t watch anything anime, so forgive me if I may miss a reference or two. I just simply analyze what is happening on-screen and compare it to other films or shows I’ve watched, when it may be something else entirely. After all, that is the beauty of breaking from the norm and allowing yourself to be immersed in something new.
My First Thought
The moment I saw the premise of Batman Ninja and its trailer, I must admit, I was hooked. I felt as though I was watching a Tarantino opening, with a music track from The Matrix. Suddenly, I was anticipating something I couldn’t explain, nor was something I knew I wanted. Batman Ninja is by far the most ambitious of any Batman film Warner Bros. has ever released. The choreography, the animation, and the dialogue are just a few things that make this film so unique.
If you were unable to see the trailer, check it out:
Now Allow Me To Explain
***SPOILERS FROM HERE***
The opening sequence nicely sets up the entire premise of the story by opening in Arkham Asylum, home of all of Batman’s rogue’s. Leading the pack is Gorilla Grodd, activating his new Ultimate Weapon and is ultimately the true Villain and Hero of this story. Batman, in his attempt to stop the activation from occurring, is slightly late to the party but manages to be present during the entire situation. This causes the transportation of the criminals to Feudal Japan.
Seeing Samurai with a mask of the Joker was odd enough. So when Batman sees they’re about to attack him, he does what he does best and subdues them. He wants to interrogate them to figure out what is actually happening. What’s funny here is that once he attempts to make his escape, in broad daylight mind you, he realizes that some of his gadgets aren’t necessarily useful. In this time period, the industrial revolution hasn’t yet occurred.
Batman has been teleported and he’s not in his time period. As simple as that is, it’s basically what this film is about: Being the person you’re meant to be, no matter when or where you are. The film opens with Batman confused and trying to figure out what is happening in this strange world.
I think it’s impressive that we’re introduced to the Joker almost immediately. Hearing Tony Hale’s voice and laugh are probably as good, if not a little better, than what Ledger did in 2008. Now before I’m struck down with Blasphemy’s and Heresy’s, I would like to say something. I feel like his voice is a combination of what Batman The Animated Series Joker was and what Ledger did. It’s incredible that he hasn’t voiced the Joker before and maybe that’s why it was so enticing. His laugh was something I feel like I hear every time I would read the Jokers laugh in the comics.
Add Tara Strong as Harley and it’s a perfect match. Attempting to throw Batman off, he engages with humorous banter while attempting to kill him at the same time. I love the call back to Joker’s Acid Flower lapel he attempts to spray him with which reminded me of the 89′ Joker. This is when the first action piece takes place and wow, it’s incredible. In the woods and dodging Sword-like Katana blades thrown by Joker, it’s reminiscent of a Mortal Kombat battle. Batman then becomes surrounded by more Joker Samurai when he equips his grappling gun. He manages to use an Arkham style technique and swing them into each other, similar to how Batman flung Superman into pillars in Batman v Superman.
Hiding in his natural bat-like state, Batman then comes into contact with Catwoman. She explains to him that she has been there for two whole years. Confused, Batman then hypothesizes that since he was delayed by a few seconds, that time difference turned into two years in time travel. A very nice way to set up the why and how these criminals are where they are. Among the criminals, we also learn that Nightwing, Red Robin, and Robin were all in the same area as well but have not been seen since Batman has arrived. We then are introduced to what the criminals are in charge of and what their attempting.
I love how the villains are introduced. I felt like I was playing Mega Man for some reason, possibly due to the style in which they were introduced. We learn that this period in Japan was a time with waring states attempting to unify Japan into one, creating a singular Shogun (their version of a commander-in-chief). The Penguin and his state, borders the state Poison Ivy has taken over. So we’re introduced to them both having their own issues however, I felt it was a nice nod to 97’s Batman and Robin criminal choice since Penguin likes it cold.
Deathstroke has taken over the other state that is bordering Two-Face’s state. We then see that the Feudal Lord closest to unifying Japan is the Joker and Harley Quinn. If I may, I find this interpretation of their relationship, Joker and Harley, to be one of the best displays on-screen. They truly are a team of sorts, without the need to make Harley feel like she’s the crazy lover or joke of their relationship. Never does she get beat nor does she have moments from Joker where he demoralizes her, and all the while treats her like an equal. I’m not saying that their relationship is healthy by any means, but seeing them actually work as a team and both actually seem dependent on each other was actually pretty nice.
Catwoman does what she does best: Attempt to team up with Batman. What I find fascinating is the humor that is in this film is earned and feels very accurate to how humor with Batman is. We are introduced to how Bruce can walk about in public by dressing as a Missionary, and of course, with his Batman sigil for his head-piece. Then, we see a familiar presence walk out with what looks to be butler clothes and a cup of tea. Unbeknownst to Bruce, he excepts this cup as if he’s back in the present, and is shocked to find out Alfred is actually there.
After learning that Alfred was in the Batmobile that night, we find out the Joker Samurai have found where Bruce is and they attempt to blow up his Batcave. Failing, of course, Batman then heads to stop the Joker in his Arkham Castle he has built for himself.
What A Batmobile Chase
Doing the usual Batmobile scene is a must in any Batman film, however this time, some interesting things happen. Joker activates his Arkham Castle and it comes alive, transforming as a unique structure with arms. As Batman exclaims, “This is madness!”, Joker gives one of the best laughs and things Joker would say: “How about a pitcher! Not a belly itcher. How ’bout a batter? Not a broken ladder. Swwwwwwiiinnnggg Batter!” Followed by massive ninja throwing stars. If that sounds insane, wait until you see the action.
After Batman utilizes his Batmobile to transform to the Batwing, similar to how the ’95 one changed to the Bat Boat (possible name), it gets caught by Joker. This causes him to then change it to the Bat-Cycle. Finally accessing the Joker tower, Batman is told he has to now choose. Does he to go after Joker or save a mother and child? He sees that they are on the ground about to be flattened by one of the hands on the Arkham Castle. Batman, making the logical choice, decides to rush down and save the mother and child. On his way down, he is caught mid-air by a Sumo version of Bane and I just about lost it.
Seeing Bane characterized as one of Japans most honored warriors was amazing. Knowing they showed his raw strength was a very nice touch to incorporate their heritage as well. After taking Bane out, Sumo Wrestling style, he continues on with the reason he jumped down; to help the mother and child. That’s when we’re first introduced to the Tarantino like name introduction of Inglorious Basterds with an ‘Armored Batman’ that he is given to by his Bat-Cycle. Yeah, it’s that kind of film and its only been 20 minutes.
Thinking Batman is bested, Joker wants to keep going. Batman, down and out of toys, is then joined by what appear to be Ninja Batmen following with a nice nod to 2005’s Batman Begins. We see Bat’s fly around Batman to hide him and allow him to escape. They whisk him away and he lives to fight another day.
This is where we are introduced to Nightwing, Red Robin and Aeon, the leader of the Bat Clan. They inform Batman of their prophecy that a Man will come dressed as a Bat when the country is in Chaos. Funny. The Joker is an agent of Chaos. So it’s only fitting that Batman shows up at this time.
We next learn that Gorilla Grodd wants to arrange a meeting with Batman. With another Tarantino shot, we see a bamboo water pipe in almost the exact same manner as it’s featured in Kill Bill before The Bride ends O-Ren Ishii. We even hear a flute being played like Bill telling his story to the Bride. This gives me the indication that Tarantino used a lot of Japanese inspirations for his film that might have gone unnoticed. Anyways, we learn that Grodd initially wanted to send the villains away so he would be able to be free to rule Gotham, which is our first indicator Grodd shouldn’t be trusted.
After an exchange, however, Batman agrees to side with Grodd to draw out the Joker on the water. When the Joker and Batman meet for this time, the fight on Joker’s boat is incredible. The fighting and interactions of Batman and his allies are beautifully choreographed and displayed here. One of my favorite shots is when Catwoman dodges Harleys Club and flies directly over her head, along with the camera movement. During the battle, we hear Joker comment that he’s surprised Grodd sided with Batman, at which Grodd says “Anything to gain the advantage.”, our second indication that Grodd may not be entirely too keen on working together.
After Joker is subdued, things take a turn as Grodd attempts to take over the Bat Clan with his mind control. Failing, he then jumps ship to reveal that Two-Face has joined the fray and is actively shooting down all the ships. Batman, worried about Joker and Harley, tells everyone to leave. That’s when he notices both are gone and have climbed the top of the ship to ignite their bomb they had prepared.
At this time, we learn Catwoman has also joined Two-Face and his ship with one of Grodds battery’s that can activate his Ultimate Weapon called the ‘Quake Engine’. In return, she asks that he sends her home and she’ll team with him. He agrees. Back with Joker and Harley, they tell Batman that they’re willing to blow themselves up to take out Batman. With the explosion, things go black.
One of the coolest looking montages of each villain building their own castles is shown and we find out that Bruce has been out for two days. Grodd plans to face each Lord with their new Castles and battle to the death. Batman then spends time wondering why, after his blindness and uncertainty, would the Bat Clan still want to join him. That’s when he realizes that his mind, body, and spirit is all he needs to be the Batman they need him to be. Then begins a Seven Samurai montage where we learn all the ways the Bat Clan can help defeat Grodd and the other villain’s fortresses.
To understand what happens next, you almost have to use imagination and think back to when you were a kid using watercolors. I know for me, it was a very difficult application to create images with water paint. So I find it intriguing that the film uses these types of images to show you a different way of moments happening. It’s confusing. After spending the whole film with amazing animation, we are now introduced to curves and colors bleeding into each other. This shows us that we should be viewing this scene with a different eye.
We hear Red Hood has found what match a description of Joker and Harley Quinn as farmers. When he visits them, he does his best to get answers out. After the man, whom he thinks is Joker, explain that he doesn’t know who that is, Batman shows up. He tells Red Hood the crazy in Jokers eyes would always be there and this man did not have it, was all he needed. He realizes that maybe Joker truly didn’t know who he was.
What’s interesting is that you actually feel for this Farmer and his wife. You can see that they actually believe what they’re saying. Batman and Red Hood leave, but not before we hear Harley is ecstatic that they finally have a sprout growing. An interesting line from the Farmer is “When I work the land, I feel like I’m being cleansed. It’s as if everything bad in me is being absorbed and sucked down into the earth.” As the Farmer and his wife celebrate, we see a little hint of red on his hand, at which point he spreads it on his mouth, succumbing to who he really is: The Joker. I felt like it was a nice nod to Flashpoint Joker laughing hysterically while turning into the Joker.
Next, the classic Transformer shows I grew up watching, mixed with the 90’s version of Power Rangers. (Hey I was a 90’s kid, what can I say) Seeing each villain start their own Castles was awesome. Seeing them all battle was even better.
In all of that, we see Batman having a nice cup of tea, preparing his allies for war. This is where the action starts to really pick up. I hope you enjoy the action set pieces as much as I did. What we get though, is amazing scenes and camera work that is phenomenal when comparing the previous Batman Animation films. I really felt transported back to my younger years, but in the best way possible. I really enjoyed understanding what was happening in the first hour of the film. So seeing a lot of the action in the last 30 minutes felt earned.
After we learn about Joker and Harley becoming their usual self again, they rid Arkham Castle of Grodd. In typical Batman fashion, he ends up saving Grodd and Catwoman. Luckily for Grodd, he gives Batman his flute to control his army of monkey’s. This helps Batman battle Joker and his entire Castle of Castles.
Again, the fighting and style of camera angles are incredible. I hope a lot of you can appreciate how amazing these shots truly are. Then realize that when they’re done in real life films, how difficult it must be to actually conceptualize it all.
Batman and Joker then engage in a Samurai fight that is one for the ages. One thing I hope you’ll see is that I did my best to gauge this film on its own merits. I didn’t want to compare it to other films unless they were homages or callbacks. I wanted to judge it based on what the film was hoping to accomplish, which was its own story.
It was a thrilling ride and out of 5, I would give it a 4. It has brilliant fight sequences, engaging dialogue, and beautiful imagery. I would highly recommend you pick this one up. It is capable of engaging a plethora of fans in a lot of different genres.
Batman Ninja 4/5⭐
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