Studio: WB Animation/Nickelodeon
Director: Jake Castorena
Writer: Marly Halpern-Graser
Producer: Ben Jones
Stars: Troy Baker, Eric Bauza, Darren Criss, Kyle Mooney, Baron Vaughn, Cas Anvar, Rachel Bloom, John DiMaggio, Ben Giroux, Tom Kenny, Andrew Kishino, Tara Strong
Batman teams up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to stop Shredder and Ra’s al Ghul from mutating the citizens of Gotham.
Batman battling Shredder. Leonardo sword-fighting Ra’s al Ghul. Ooze transforming Arkham Asylum’s infamous inmates into mutant monsters. The Party Wagon and Batmobile side by side in a high-speed faceoff against Foot Clan ninjas and League of Assassins archers. Batgirl, Robin, even Alfred reluctantly catering Michelangelo’s pizza dinner in the Batcave. With frantic fun front and center, “Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” detonates an awesome atom bomb of nonstop nostalgia bringing ear-to-ear smiles to fans of both franchises.
The only way this epic cartoon clash could have added another ring around its impressive mushroom cloud would have been to animate the turtles in their classic 80s/90s syndication style. That’s a nit not worth picking though, as this terrific team-up should be taken any way you can get it.
Based on the DC/IDW comic book miniseries by James Tynion IV and Freddie Williams II, “Batman vs TMNT” opens like crossovers featuring good guys from different IPs typically do. With a misunderstanding.
Proving New York City and Gotham coexist, at least in this universe, the turtles trek from the Big Apple to Batman’s birthplace following a trail of laboratory break-ins. Shredder has teamed up with Ra’s al Ghul on a quid pro quo plot to exchange Lazarus Pit secrets for a supply of mutagen ooze. We know why Shredder wants to dip in the pit. Ra’s needs the ooze as part of a bigger scheme to take over the city. Actually, that’s more summary than necessary. It’s all standard master plan villainy, merely a springboard to bring two worlds together before igniting wicks on the fireworks.
Having never met before, Batman and the turtles are initially unsure of each other’s allegiance. Mistaken identity regarding hero alignments may be cliché for this kind of thing, but it sets up a solid slugfest where we get to see Batman take on the turtles in a street fight. Whether we’re talking Raphael, Joker, Leonardo, or Baxter Stockman, when a matchup can be made between characters from both properties, the movie makes sure to amp up as much karate-kicking chaos as possible.
Once everyone sorts out who’s on who’s side, “Batman vs TMNT” digs deeper into its bag of toys, cleverly weaving countless nods to fans into its fiction. The film 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 shellshocked, so to speak, when he tries doing to Donatello what he once did to Batman.
One-and-done crossovers have a tendency to try too hard to include every noteworthy character, catchphrase, or distinguishing characteristic. “Batman vs TMNT” is no exception. Yet its spirit stays so respectful of both franchises while ensuring everyone gets their due, it’s always enjoyable to simply indulge in the escapist adventure.
If there’s a criticism to be made purely to be a crabapple, it’s that “Batman vs TMNT” overdoses on so much extravagant energy, attention spans can become numb to the spectacle. Ra’s al Ghul creates a distraction for Batman that becomes one for the plot too. Wild sights and wilder fights make up the movie’s midsection, although they arguably constitute a bloated beat as far as the main storyline is concerned.
One other bit of weirdness: the film features two unnecessarily graphic bits that make it hard to recommend as “fun for the whole family.” If a viewer isn’t taller than your waist, be aware that one Foot Clan ninja dies from a bloody throwing star to the face while a sword beheads an innocent security guard. Even though “Batman vs TMNT” builds thrills on a great deal of violence, the majority qualifies as the cartoon fantasy type. These stray anomalies are out of place in this context and it’s odd that the filmmakers included them in the first place.
Otherwise, when the greatest gripes one can conjure are too much action and too much fan service, you’ve got to concede that a movie is doing everything it can to be overwhelmingly entertaining. Troy Baker has never sounded better, channeling one of the best Batman voices this side of Kevin Conroy. Leonardo, Donatello, and Raphael become a bit interchangeable since fan-favorite Michelangelo bears the bulk of turtles-related content. Michelangelo’s schtick can thus be overbearing, but Kyle Mooney’s childlike personality keeps comic relief more amusing than annoying.
Even end credits exhibit extraordinary attention to detail by showcasing a series of classic Batman comics reimagined with the turtles on their covers. “Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” simply embraces the cool craziness of its concept and goes for broke, ending up as the slickest, most wall-to-wall satisfying animated DC feature since “Justice League Dark” (review here).
NOTE: There is a post-credits scene.
Review Score: 90