4K Review: Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
A lot of the direct-to-video DC animated movies suffer, big-time, from live-action envy. It’s obvious to see that everyone involved would like to be making a big theatrical film on location, but they did it in animation to save money. The filmmakers may claim otherwise, but rarely do these movies take advantage of the form to do things that can only be done (or done well) in animation. Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a happy exception, and it’s the most fun a DC direct-to-video film has had in ages.
It’s not just that Ninja Turtles are significantly easier to do as cartoon characters than in live action; it’s also that they bring a welcome sense of irreverent humor to the generally downbeat animated Gotham. Director Jake Castorena pays frequent tribute to the old Mirage comics, often showcasing the fights in high-contrast silhouettes. The movie is in color, but the linework in those scenes is reminiscent of black and white issues like TMNT and Sin City. There’s a flashback to Japan, done in the style of traditional Japanese artwork, and complete with a geisha-styled statue of liberty as a sight gag.
Batman and the Turtles get sucked into conflict when Shredder travels to Gotham to meet up with Ra’s al Ghul (whose name gets in-jokingly pronounced both “Raysh” and “Roz,” depending who says it). The two want to make a deal: the secret of the ooze for the formula of the Lazarus pit. When those Turtle boys try to intercept the Foot Clan, they are of course mistaken for foes by both Batman and the Penguin. Even as they fight the guy dressed as a bat, and the crime boss with umbrella-gadgets, these reptilian teens take time out to appreciate all of the cool gadgetry. And it is cool. The TMNT serve as the viewers proxy in that a heroic world. That’s the role Robin used to play in the comics.
Batman’s costume also follows comic/cartoon logic. When he’s putting it on, it looks like pure blue/gray spandex. But when he’s fighting in it, his wrists deflect weapons blows. And Shredder can cut through Bat-cables and Batarangs with his blades, yet Batman breaks said blades by punching them. In real life, this might be silly. In Turtle cartoon logic, we accept it.
Troy Baker is, as usual, a solid Batman, with just enough of a deadpan sense of humor to keep him human, but not too much of one so that we ever laugh at him. His Joker — yes, he plays both in the same film — is more of a Mark Hamill impersonation, but it’s probably hard not to be. While Eric Bauza (Leo) and Darren Criss (Raph) have voiced other TMNT characters before, comedians Kyle Mooney and Baron Vaughn fill in as Mikey and Don, respectively. And they nail it. Mooney usually plays uptight and insecure on SNL, but he unleashes at full volume as Michelangelo and captures the character. Vaughn’s Donatello is closest to the recent movie version, and his platonic bonding with Batgirl over science-nerd stuff is a highlight.
Like in any good mash-up comic, the main goal here is to lay the groundwork for at least two battles between the heroes, and then one where they team up against the arch-villains. In this instance, the movie has extended a sequence in Arkham Asylum where every major Bat-foe gets ooze-mutated into a relevant animal-person. Bane is a jaguar, Harley a hyena, etc. It’s one way to inspire a whole new potential line of toys, but it’s also a way to signal the viewer not to take things too seriously.
That said, this is a surprisingly violent film. Ra’s and Shredder lop off limbs and stab people to death in a blatant bid to up the rating to PG-13. It’s cool to see that there are actual consequences and stakes to the battle, but the target audience isn’t necessarily served by it. Parents shouldn’t generally have to worry that a Ninja Turtles cartoon will have that level of violence. The deaths could have been done less bloodily. But for teens or older viewers, the shock value is briefly stimulating.
While the TMNT comics have been that violent in the past, Nickelodeon’s incarnation generally isn’t. And adults need to know the difference. Plus it feels a tad incongruous for everyone to celebrate after civilians have been stone-cold murdered.
Stay tuned through the end credits for a sequel tease that may pay off at some point. But watch the credits anyway, as they’re full of classic comics cover tributes that rejigger famous Batman and TMNT moments into crossovers.
Extras include two featurettes on the making of the movie, and a sneak peek at the animated adaptation of Batman: Hush. Given that the cartoon can’t possibly duplicate the standout Jim Lee art that made the book a must-own, it still looks to be a fun “gang’s all here” Batman animated adventure.