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Film Review – Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2019)

As the title “Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” suggests, this animated feature has the Caped Crusader meeting the famous foursome of mutant, ninja turtles. The reaction to such a premise will differ on whether or not you’re a big fan of either franchises. If you’re a giant comic-book geek, you might find this concept promising, while many others will find the prospect utterly ridiculous and perhaps even a little embarrassing.

But let’s be fair here: both Batman and the TMNT franchises have embarrassed themselves enough through the years — okay, perhaps TMNT a little more than Batman.

But for all the camp splendor of Batman ’66, Frank Miller’s revolutionary comic-book reinvention and unforgettable live-action interpretations by filmmakers like Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan — not to mention his numerous successful animation appearances — we’ve still seen Batman embarrass himself in Joel Schumacher’s Batman and Robin and in Zack Snyder’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice…and whatever the hell that Justice League movie was supposed to be.

It’s not hard to mention the numerous lame-brained appearances by the Ninja Turtles. Mentioning Michael Bay should be enough, though we should never forget their hilarious stage show: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Coming Out of Their Shells Tour.

So it’s not likely that this animated crossover will be either franchise’s lowest point. This crossover was actually inspired by the critically lauded comic-book crossover by James Tynion IV and Freddie Williams II. I haven’t read this particular comic book yet, but it’s on my reading list. I have read through countless examples of Batman lore and also perused some of IDW’s excellent Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series. Both franchises were also part of my youthful obsessions. At the very least, I hope that this animated effort will bring on some fond childhood memories.

I mean, it couldn’t be worse than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.

The following review will be spoiler free.

Synopsis

Directed By: Jake Castorena

Written By: Marly Halpern-Graser

Starring (voices): Troy Baker, Eric Bauza, Kyle Mooney, Baron Vaughn, Darren Criss. Rachel Bloom, Ben Giroux, Cas Anvar, Andrew Kishino, Brian George, Keith Ferguson, John DiMaggio, Carlos Alazraqui, Jim Meskimen with Tara Strong and Tom Kenny as The Penguin

The crime-fighting foursome, known collectively as The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, are following the fearsome Foot clan from their base in New York to Gotham City.

As these turtles follow the Foot-clan to Gotham city, they are unaware about the Batman (Troy Baker), guarding the citizens of Gotham. When one of Batman’s sidekicks, Batgirl (Rachel Bloom), comes across a group of these ninja Foot soldiers, Batman naturally involves himself.

It turns out that the Foot clan’s leader, Shredder (Andrew Kishino) is teaming up with Ra’s al Ghul (Cas Anvar), the leader of a nefarious ninja death cult known as The League of Assassins.

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When Batman and the Turtles meet, this naturally leads to a big fight. But soon enough, Batman and the Turtles realize they must ban together, if they are to save Gotham City from The Foot clan and the League of Assassins — as well as from a host of Batman’s familiar rogue gallery who become infected by the mutagen known as “the ooze.”

Characterization

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Batgirl (Rachel Bloom) and Batman (Troy Baker) being his moody self. Image via Entertainment Weekly

As a fan, I was certainly not disappointed with the characterization of the Caped Crusader, his rogues’ gallery or the Ninja Turtles. Every character acts as they should. Batman is the resourceful, ass-kicking detective, and even if he’s forced to quip some infamous Turtle phrases for comic relief, it’s still the dark knight as we know him.

The Turtles are exactly as you expect them to be, from the overly serious Leonardo, the erudite Donatello, the brooding Raphael and the extremely goofy Michelangelo. Each one does their comic book counterpart justice. Michelangelo is also genuinely funny instead of annoying — something the other iterations had trouble balancing out.

The voice acting is also excellent. Troy Baker, who voices both Batman and the Joker, is no Kevin Conroy or Mark Hamil, but he does an admirable job. Same goes for the rest of the voice cast.

Both Robin (Ben Giroux) and Batgirl are important allies in the film. Robin especially gets a memorably funny scene when he encounters the Turtles in the bat cave. The last time I saw Batgirl in an animation film was Batman: The Killing Joke, in which she was shockingly mishandled. (Batman: The Killing Joke is arguably one of the most disappointing animated adaptation of the classic Alan Moore’s comic book to date.) But here, she’s deliciously smart-alecky and has a few funny, referential lines.

A lot of Batman’s classic rogues make an appearance, though most are quickly mutated by the ooze so we can have an action scene or two. Only two other classic TMNT characters make an appearance. Shredder naturally gets the most screen time, and even gets to have a fight scene with Batman. The mad scientist Baxter Stockman (Keith Ferguson), also pops up now and then, mostly for comic relief.

We also get plenty of our favorite butler Alfred (Brian George), often showed being annoyed by Michelangelo’s skateboard antics. Unfortunately, we never get to see our favorite anthropomorphic rat/ninja master Splinter — hopefully this will change in the sequel, if we ever get treated to one.

Lovely Nods

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The Joker (Troy Baker) being treated to some ”ooze”. Image via VannDigital

Even though I’ve grown genuinely cynical about fan service and wink-wink moments, Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had quite a few that made me smile. One in particular was in how Tom Kenny incorporated the quacking laughter of The Penguin, reminiscent of what Burgess Meredith did for the character in the Batman 1966 television show. As a fan of the television show, I loved this inclusion. Here’s hoping the upcoming Batman film, which might have Penguin as a villain if rumors are to be believed, will also take some inspiration from Burgess Meredith interpretation.

But my favorite has to the end credits, in which we see numerous revisions of classic comic book covers from both the Batman and TMNT line. We see the classic cover from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, but then with added Ninja Turtles. We see the cover of the first ever gritty TMNT comic, but then with added Batman. As a comic book geek, I absolutely loved this.

Genuinely Funny and Surprisingly Violent

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All together now: ”Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles…” Image via ComingSoon.net

Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has its fair share of hilarity. Much of it stems from Michelangelo’s excitement in witnessing Batman’s coolness or The Penguin’s Weapon of Choice; his penchant for mashing every button in the Batmobile is a definite highlight.

Not all the jokes work, but the ones that do will make it worth your while. One of the funniest moments actually involves the Bane (Carlos Alazraqui) as he tries to recreate his infamous comic book moment with one of the turtles.

Another thing I should mention, and this is not a complaint by any means, is that the film involves a surprising amount of blood and violence. The villains actually slice up their fair share of innocent guards. It’s refreshing to see some blood spurt after someone gets stabbed in an animation film starring these four goofy Turtles. You probably see more blood here than in your average PG-13 action movie.

Again, this is not a complaint, I honestly could not care less if this traumatizes children. I watched much worse when I was a kid and, well, I think I turned out all right…

It’s just good to mention that even with these characters being popular with children, it’s absolutely not childish film.

Final Thoughts

Look, it’s Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; you can’t expect high art here. You get what a fan of either franchise would want: a film that blends both their universes together and properly exploits the comical and exciting possibilities of these characters meeting each other.

It’s a love letter to these characters, and you can definitely sense the respect the filmmakers had for both franchises. It’s certainly not perfect. Some of the action scenes get a little tedious, some of the jokes don’t work as well as others, but it’s a fun ride from beginning to end.

Need I say that this is a million times better than the last two Turtles films or Batman V Superman…or Suicide Squad or Justice League?

Grade: B

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Image via Comic.System


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