There’s a scene in Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles where the Batmobile and the Party Wagon are driving down the road, side by side. The Turtles’ ride is struggling to keep up, only for Donatello to flip a switch which causes a new windshield, a spoiler, and booster jets to appear. Now their “junker” can truly keep up with the Caped Crusader’s ride.
If a scene like that doesn’t excite you, then… well, I’m not sure what to tell you. When you see “Batman” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” in the same title, there are certain things that you would expect to see. The latest animated movie from Warner Bros. gets a lot of things right and very few things wrong in bringing Batman and the Turtles together for the first time on screen. From beginning to end it’s an immensely enjoyable blast, the best kind of “Saturday morning cartoon” that fans of all (or at least, most) ages can enjoy.
Fairly loosely (but more faithful than I expected) based on the Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles miniseries from James Tynion IV and Freddie Williams II, Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sees the Dark Knight and the Ninja Turtles joining forces to take on their respective enemies. While the Shredder and his Foot Clan are the main instigators, there’s a heavy presence from Batman’s rogues gallery, making the movie a pretty exciting romp for that reason alone. If you only wanted to see Batman fight the Shredder and the Turtles run into the likes of Bane and Mr. Freeze, then you’ll be perfectly satisfied.
Thankfully, the story is more involving than just being a simple arbitrary team-up: like the comic series, Shredder and Ra’s al Ghul join forces to seed Gotham with a special mutagen, with plans to transform Gotham’s citizens into a mutant army. While the story isn’t threadbare, it’s still pretty straightforward, and even though the fate of Gotham is in the balance, it’s not like there are astronomical stakes here. Yes, we know that, after their initial scuffle, Batman and the Turtles will join forces, and yes, we know they will save the day.
Like the saying goes, though, it’s not the destination, but the journey that matters.
Two things in particular surprised me about this movie, striking me in different ways. First, it is genuinely funny. There were several times where I had to stop myself from laughing at the shenanigans in the film, especially when the Turtles find their way into the Batcave. Some of the best gags from the comic make their way over to the movie (my personal favorite being Mikey’s wipe-board presentation on why Batman may and may not be a cool dude), and there are tons of little throwaway lines that have a great payoff. Have you ever wondered why Gotham has so many blimps flying around? Rest assured, the Turtles do too, and they find out their purpose in one of the movie’s best jokes.
Batman also has some fun in the movie, as he’s presented as terse and gruff, but not without a sense of humor. It’s refreshing to see a Batman who isn’t a jerk and lets the sillier personalities of the Turtles win him over. Sure, he’s not cracking wise alongside them, but he doesn’t treat them like they’re idiots for being goofballs either. In fact, he shows each of his allies great respect in different ways, from Batgirl to Robin to each of the four Turtles. Like I said, it’s nice to see Batman value and cherish the presence of others in his war on crime, and even more to see him relate to them on a personal level.
What else struck me about the movie is how intense and violent it could get. There isn’t much blood and gore, but there’s quite a bit of killing and some really visceral fight scenes. I was kind of surprised that the movie received a PG-13 rating, but after watching it I can see why. The first fight between Batman and Shredder alone almost earns it, with blows landing in a way that you can almost feel it. It’s a wonderfully animated and choreographed scene, as are the other action scenes in the movie, and even without bones breaking and snapping they’re pretty intense.
My main complaint about the movie is that it does drag a bit in the middle. I won’t spoil it, but one of the main plot twists from the comic series is implemented about halfway through the film, and while it’s fun at first, the subsequent scenes go on just a bit too long. It’s a shame, too, because it’s just the kind of lunacy I typically adore. I just feel that this section could have been truncated a bit for pacing purposes.
Despite a bit of a lag, though, the rest of the movie flies by. It’s animated wonderfully from beginning to end, with smooth animation and some excellent character models. If you know me, you know I love the blue and gray Batman suit with the yellow chest oval, so yeah, this Batman look is great. Batgirl’s Burnside suit is also a personal favorite, so I like that they used that (with a quick scene that shows why the snaps used to attach her cape are a good idea), and you can’t go wrong with Damian’s suit.
The Turtles are surprisingly solid too, with their own unique looks and designs. Some of the box art makes their heads look a little weird, and while it’s certainly a different design choice, it’s not too bad. In fact, in action, I like the fact that Donatello’s head is taller and narrower than, say, Raphael’s, whose face is rounder and a bit more compact. Along with the slightly different shades of green used for their skin tones, the varied face and body types give each of the Turtles a unique look beyond their different colored bandanas.
A good story and great animation will only take you so far, though. You still need strong vocal performances, and for the most part, that’s precisely what we get.
Troy Baker stars as both Batman and the Joker, with much being made about him being the first actor to voice both characters in the same film. He has a history voicing the Dark Knight and the Clown Prince of Crime in other projects, and he proves great at both. His Batman is maybe a little stronger than his Joker, with a tone and delivery that’s so close to Kevin Conroy that you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s actually him. Amazingly, though, it doesn’t sound like a cheap imitation, as Baker’s performance is quite strong. He sounds like Conroy, yes, but he doesn’t perform exactly like him. He has his own mannerisms and inflections that make his performance unique.
His Joker, on the other hand, is pretty unique. There are hints of Hamill, particularly in his laugh and the way his voice “scratches” at times, but besides that it’s pretty original. He doesn’t have as much to do as the Joker, so his Batman stands out more. Still, he carries the film well as both, and I wouldn’t be mad hearing him voice either character again.
Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello are voiced by Eric Bauza, Darren Criss, Kyle Mooney, and Baron Vaughn, respectively. Their performances range from “solid” to “strong,” with Criss and Mooney being the highlights. Mooney– who is known for his time on Saturday Night Live— has the right amount of earnestness and manic energy you’d want in a good Mikey, whereas Criss really surprised me with his gruff and tough delivery. Bauza and Vaughn are perfectly fine in their roles, which, admittedly, aren’t exactly the flashiest of the Turtles.
Rachel Bloom is pretty great as Batgirl, with a performance that’s smart and a bit sassy without being overbearing. I really liked her chemistry with Baker and Vaughn in particular. Cas Anvar’s Ra’s al Ghul and Andrew Kishino’s Shredder play off of each other really well too, though I’d appreciate Kishino’s soft-spoken menace more if he and Anvar didn’t have a similar timbre to their voices. They never sound “samey” to the point that you can’t tell who is who, but they do sound an awful lot alike.
A group of strong voiceover vets round out the cast, with recognizable names like John DiMaggio, Tom Kenny, and Carlos Alazraqui lending their talents. The two performances I wasn’t a huge fan of were Ben Giroux as Robin and Tara Strong’s Harley. Giroux is an adult male, so having him voice the 12ish-year-old Damian was an odd choice, and Strong’s Harley has just worn thin with me. She also voices Poison Ivy, and in that role she’s great, but her Harley is just too high-pitched and shrill for my liking.
Still, it’s a strong cast, and despite a few minor quibbles here and there, it’s a strong movie overall. It’s right up there with Scooby-Doo & Batman: The Brave and the Bold and Batman Ninja for my favorite recent animated offerings, and I wouldn’t be upset if this kicked off a series of crossovers with the characters. Heck, the opening and closing credits are practically worth the price of admission alone, with the latter especially paying tribute to both Batman and the Turtles and their rich histories in comics. Now go grab yourself a slice of pizza and your skateboard and party on, dudes.
Overall: This movie has it all: great characters, a strong plot, excellent vocal performances, and a wonderful balance of action and humor. That it’s Batman and the Ninja Turtles is enough to sell it on its own, but it’s a genuinely good movie through and through. There are fights that are some of the best action scenes I’ve seen in an animated film in years, and I found myself laughing out loud multiple times throughout. Hopefully we’ll see more on-screen adventures with the Dark Knight and the Heroes in a Half-Shell, because this movie is just so great.
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