Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Batman Ninja

“50 Shades Freed” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

On rare occasions, I like a movie because it is incredibly imaginative and visually stunning, even though the plot makes little to no sense. It is on these occasions that I remind myself to abide by a quote from legendary movie director Stanley Kubrick: “Real is good. Interesting is better.” There is no way, shape, or form that “Batman Ninja” is real, makes sense, or is in the least bit plausible. But my oh my, is it interesting.

The premise that underlies this incredibly creative Japanese animated movie is actually fairly straightforward. After a fight at Arkham Asylum with Gorilla Grodd (voice of Fred Tatasciore) in which the big ape’s time displacement machine activates, Batman (voice of Roger Craig Smith) and his allies Catwoman (voice of Grey DeLisle), Nightwing (voice of Adam Croasdell), Red Robin (voice of Will Friedle), Robin (voice of Yuri Lowenthal), and Red Hood (Lowenthal again) all find themselves transported to feudal Japan. Of course, they are not alone. The Joker (voice of Tony Hale) is also there, along with minions Harley Quinn (voice of Tara Strong), Two-Face (voice of Eric Bauza), Penguin (voice of Tom Kenny), Deathstroke (Tatasciore again), and Poison Ivy (Strong again). Each of them has become a daimyo (warlord in control of a certain area of land) and holds a part of the time displacement machine. Batman and his allies must defeat Joker and his allies in order to get back to present day Gotham City.

“Batman Ninja” is like a work of Japanese art come to life. The angles, the shading—it all comes from a Japanese perspective and is so refreshingly different and very welcome, particularly after the drab “Gotham by Gaslight” and the idiotic “Batman and Harley Quinn.” There is plenty of action and fighting, but it never gets too gruesome or graphic, so it also avoids going into the bloody territory tread into by “Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay.”

What struck me most during the day scenes was the sky. It’s especially intricate. My eyes couldn’t help but be drawn to every swirly line in the detail of it. A lot of time and care was given to that background, and many others, and it shows.

A stylistic change happens for a few scenes about a half way into “Batman Ninja.” The animation changes from finely crafted art to crudely drawn and painted watercolors. It’s certainly a way to mix things up, and was interesting to look at for a little bit, but I’m glad that after the scenes are over, the animation switches back to the more traditional style. I don’t think I could watch a whole movie that looked like the watercolors. But in a movie that’s so self-indulgently imaginative, I get why director Junpei Mizusaki chose to throw it in. After all, in a movie in which an intellectual Gorilla sends Batman back in time to fight Japanese feudal lord Joker, why not?

As bonkers as the movie is up to the final showdown, Mizusaki pulls out all stops for the finale. While still visually impressive, all sense of rationality goes out the window. It’s the type of thing that would make a normal movie go off the rails. But since this is no normal movie, and wasn’t ever really on the rails to begin with, I can give it a pass. Plus fans of either “Voltron” or “Power Rangers” will I am sure pick up the vibe the movie puts out, and like the rest of the movie, it is fun to watch—even if you’re saying to yourself, “Am I really seeing this?” Rest assured that yes, you are. And during this time, try to remember the wise words of one of cinema’s greatest directors: “Real is good. Interesting is better.” Rent it.

Also New This Week

50 Shades Freed

Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) continues her torture and bondage with lover and now husband Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) in “50 Shades Freed.” Mercifully, since this is the last movie in the trilogy, the torture of watching these movies is over for us.

The plot is ridiculously thin: Their new found love and happiness is threatened by Anastasia’s ex-boss and Grey’s rival from out of nowhere Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson). I get why this external threat is included. There is only so much that can be done with two grown adults who have one of the most shallow and childish relationships in movie history, and who argue like stubborn teenagers. Something else is needed. But what’s there is so ham-handed, sloppy, and under developed that I barely cared.

Not like I’m supposed to, it seems. The real reason for watching these sub soft-core pornos is to see two good-looking people getting it on. This is about all the movie has going for it, because as if it wasn’t bad enough that Steele and Grey’s relationship has all the depth of a kiddie pool, the two actors have very little chemistry and their interactions, particularly in dialogue scenes, are forced and mechanical. I could be kind and say this was intentional, since soft core pornos tend to have bad acting, and perhaps director James Foley was purposely going for the stilted and awkward porno acting style. But I am not that kind. The acting is just bad. Period.

Acting aside, the other job of the two leads is to look good naked. Interestingly, in a movie aimed at women, the best eye candy is for the men. Dakota Johnson is very fit and shows it off constantly throughout the movie. Any man begrudgingly watching this movie on date night will at least have something to look at.

Women are less lucky. My guess is that Jamie Dornan worked out for the beginning of production, then stopped once filming started. I say this because there are scenes in which he has pretty good muscle definition and conditioning (simply put, how “tight” he looks overall). This can best be seen in a shower scene and in a scene toward the end (movies are typically shot out of sequence and it is not uncommon for the end to be shot first). In other scenes throughout the movie his muscles, particularly in the chest, appear to have atrophied, and the conditioning certainly is not there.

Finally, there is the main reason to watch these movies: the kinky sex. Things don’t really heat up until about 45 minutes into the movie, and even then it’s sub-par—more luke warm rather than steaming hot. It’s as if—to use an analogy keeping with the theme being discussed—the series blew its load with the first two movies and had nowhere to go with this one. All of the adventurous stuff that can be shown in an R-rated movie was already shown, and “50 Shades Freed” does little more than tread water until it gets to the end. But it does end—and we are the ones who are truly, finally, free. There is an unrated version of the movie being released, but I have serious doubts that the added footage will improve the movie much, if at all. Skip it.

More New Releases: “The House that Dripped Blood,” memorable anthology movie from 1971 that tells four tales of the horrific endings of four different occupants of an evil house, starring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and Denholm Elliott.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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