Synopsis – Batman, Batgirl and Robin forge an alliance with The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to fight against the Turtles’ sworn enemy, The Shredder, who has teamed up with Ra’s Al Ghul and The League Of Assassins.
My Take – I usually don’t review DC animated films, even though they are mostly fantastic, but for this one I had to make an exception, especially for the six year old me. I grew up on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series, and since then have been loosely following up on their 35 year long history, in the form of their comic book runs, animated series incarnations, and live action adaptions, and yet, despite their hit and miss element involved, I remain a fan till date.
I guess I can say the same about Batman, who starred in the brilliant 90s animated series, has been mostly killing it in the live action format, and has arguably become the most popular superhero in recent history. But a decade ago, who could have thought this two beloved properties, with wildly disparate backgrounds and standings in pop culture history, could exist in a singular frame, outside a child’s imagination?
Well, that’s exactly what comic book writer James Tynion IV and comic book writer/artist Freddie Williams II did by bringing them together in a six-issue inter-company crossover comic book miniseries from DC and IDW. And nearly four years later, director Jake Castorena and writer Marly Halpern-Graser, bring the adaption into the DC’s animated film canon, in the form of an 84 minute feature, which is just as much fun as you’d expect from the surprisingly logical mashup of these animal-inspired icons.
Honoring the legacy of both franchises, the film gives viewers the best interpretations of the characters as possible while making them able to fit together in a cohesive way. Just about every possible moment or potential character interaction that fans could want is given to the audience – and in a logical, fun way that flows almost seamlessly.
Sure, there are some missed opportunities and jokes that didn’t land, but as a whole, it is a non-stop thrill ride with a whole bunch of fan service and wish fulfillment moments that never feel like they distract from the relatively simple story.
But in a surprising twist it also works as a pretty great primer on both the TMNT and Batman, doing a skillful job at weaving the origins and lore of both into the structure of the narrative without it ever feeling like unnecessary exposition. This is film which will please new and old fans alike.
Set in Gotham City, the story follows Batman (voiced by Troy Baker), who along with Batgirl (voiced by Rachel Bloom) and Robin (voiced by Ben Giroux) has been investigating a mysterious clan of ninjas who have been committing a series of high tech thefts around the city. When a trap set by him at Wayne Tech, brings him face to face with Shredder (voiced by Andrew Kishino), the masterfully skilled blade-wearing and metal-helmeted leader of the ancient ninja clan known as the Foot, who isn’t fazed by Batman’s theatrics or technology, Batman is left bewildered.
However, unknown to Batman, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Leonardo (voiced by Eric Bauza), Donatello (voiced by Baron Vaughn), Michelangelo (voiced by Kyle Mooney) and Raphael (voiced by Darren Criss), have come down all the way from New York, chasing Shredder, in the hope of finding out about his mysterious Gotham based partner, and to take down whatever he is building.
When the heroes in the half shell and the dark knight cross each, neither side trusts the other, but when they find out that Ra’s al Ghul (voiced by Cas Anvar) is Shredder’s partner, they’re forced to work together in an awkward alliance, where they are pushed to their limits, which includes taking down Batman’s rogues gallery of villains in Arkham Asylum.
As one would expect, the film has no dull moments as it fires on all cylinders, right from the first minute. The plot by screenwriter Marly Halpern-Graser incorporates the characters well-known nuances into an interesting story line. With the biggest broad change made for the animated film is that Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles exist in the same universe. This was a smart choice to streamline the story to keep things simple and get right into the action. And with both franchises having an appeal that extends well past the comic books this decision helps welcome in fans who are only familiar with the cartoons and films for Batman and TMNT.
I watched the TMNT 90s cartoon as a kid and got more into Batman when I was older. Honestly, I was worried the two worlds wouldn’t mix, but this film blended the two very nicely. I have to say I was pretty impressed. It didn’t tone down the violence too much to be kid friendly, but the addition of the turtles lightened the tone in many places. The writing also managed to mix subtle jokes, off-the-wall zaniness and serious drama, allowing the action to never feel stale or sluggish.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of sly in-jokes and surprising Easter eggs for even the most hardcore of fans. Like you get to see Barbara Gordon and Donatello geek out over science together, Michelangelo gets lectured by Alfred over his behavior, the hothead Raphael take on the arrogant Damian Wayne, the Battle Wagon squares up against the Batmobile, along with a whole lot more you never even knew you wanted.
And let’s not get started on the excellent black and white credits which are reminiscent of the style of the original TMNT books to the Superman mug that Batman drinks from all the way through to a Knightfall joke and the classic Bat cave which features some pretty cool nods for Bat-fans.
It’s also impossible to watch this flick and not be blown away by the character designs which manage to be iconic, cartoonish, and really, really cool. This film is a whole bunch of radical fun that showcases just how talented DC‘s animation department is, and why they’ve long been seen as one of the best around. If you love TMNT and the Bat-family then this will likely become a firm favorite, and even if not, you’ll almost certainly find something to enjoy in this rip-roaring romp.
One of the most entertaining and unique things about this animated adventure is that the Turtles act as avatars for audiences and comic fans as the turtles offer up a near constant commentary about just how “bonkers” Gotham actually is. Whether it’s Mikey’s constant awe and wonder at the variety of villains, or the constant presence of blimps in the sky, there’s a self-awareness about the juxtaposition of the worlds that feel smart, funny, and fresh. The film also finds creative ways to work in Batman’s familiar sidekicks as well as rogues like Penguin without their inclusions feeling like they were shoehorned purely as a carousel of cameos.
Benefits become great moments like Bane getting shell shocked, so to speak, when he tries doing to Donatello what he once did to Batman. Given that it’s about characters renowned for their martial arts prowess, the film definitely delivers in the action department.
The fight choreography–particularly in the first act–is outstanding and feels completely different from anything else in the DC Animated Universe.
Of course, it isn’t perfect and there are a couple of drawbacks to the whole thing. Despite the generously lengthy running time, the middle third of the film is taken up with a sub-plot that’s nothing but filler. Yes, it’s an incredibly fun sub-plot that allows cameo appearances from many of the usual Batman villains. It’s glorious, entertaining filler but still filler, nonetheless.
Another problem I found was I the slightly unbalanced tone, especially when it came to the villains. Sure, the scheme at the core of the film is pure comic book absurdity which melds the two source comics perfectly, but when we see Ra’s al Ghul and Shredder decapitating and killing multiple people it becomes a little less clear who this adaptation is for.
However, the voice performances are impressive. Troy Baker’s double-duty job of playing both Batman the Joker is astonishing, as Eric Bauza, Darren Criss, Baron Vaughn and Kyle Mooney bring a perfect amalgamation of the TMNT. Rachel Bloom, Cas Anvar and Andrew Kishino also bring a savvy playfulness to their voice. Tara Strong, Brian George, Ben Giroux, Jim Meskimen, Tom Kenny, John DiMaggio, Carlos Alazraqui and Keith Ferguson also provide great support. On the whole, ‘Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ is a massively entertaining film that works well as a fun and action-packed unexpected mingling of comic book universes.
Directed – Jake Castorena
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 84 minutes