I was finally prompted to catch up with Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles this week, following my TMNT 35th Anniversary article. It’s a cross-company meeting of iconic characters that was recently – and successfully – explored in the comics, with a third part of a trilogy now in the midst of being published, neatly coinciding with Batman’s 80th anniversary as well as the 35th anniversary of the Turtles. This feature length movie, however, is our first animated crossover between the Dark Knight and the four mutated amphibian heroes that we know and love.
The story is pretty straightforward, no-frills stuff: Shredder is working with Ra’s Al Ghul to give him the power to destroy Gotham via the TMNT-universe’s mutagen; in return, Ra’s has promised Shredder the use of his immortality-granting Lazarus Pits. That’s essentially all there is to it, with added wrinkles coming into play in the standard way that these crossovers usually do: with our heroes meeting for the first time and fighting before realising they’re on the same side, then teaming up to defeat the bad guys.
What was surprising to me is that great attention has been paid to the visuals; I wasn’t expecting for the film to be so well constructed from a visual standpoint, in all honesty. There’s some absolutely fantastic shots here; silhouettes of the Turtles with their masks as flashes of colour, for example – which is taken to the nth degree in the brilliant, black and white opening credits with a hand drawn look and a single colour element in each shot. It’s great.
Each of the Turtles has been given a distinct look; though they mostly work, I wasn’t keen on Donnie’s more humanoid head – in comparison to the more rounded heads his brothers have. Raphael’s facial scar and corresponding rip on his red mask is a nice touch, however.
Something that doesn’t quite work is the subplot involving Batman’s rogues, where they end up mutating into animals. It’s a cool concept – though some of the choices of animal they mutate in are painfully dumb – Mr Freeze becomes…a polar bear? Even worse: Scarecrow…a crow? It ultimately adds very little of consequence to the story anyway and really feels like it’s a wasted opportunity. There’s a scene with mutant, anonymous Foot ninjas which does way more to make relevant use of their mutated forms than is done with the Arkham-dwelling villains from Gotham.
The film’s sprawling cast is likely to baffle viewers who aren’t familiar with each franchise, too – there’s a lot of characters and elements thrown into the mix that aren’t fully explained (the choice to use Damian Wayne’s Robin, for example, may cause casual fans some confusion), but in all honesty I suspect that the Venn diagram of Batman fans and TMNT fans is pretty much a circle at this point.
There’s a few moments of bloody violence, though nothing too problematic – my issue with it is that, given the somewhat light-hearted and humorous tone we have for most of the running time, these moments are a little jarring.
Ultimately though, we get some great fight scenes between characters who you’d perhaps be forgiven for thinking would never meet in animated form. And that’s what we wanted, really – isn’t it? Batman and the Turtles, kicking the asses of the Foot, Shredder and the Dark Knight’s peerless rogue’s gallery too.
I must also mention the soundtrack, which veers between pulsing synth-led tracks and crunchy guitar riffs. It’s really good; and I haven’t even mentioned the dialogue – most of the major characters get some brilliant one liners at various stages in the film.
Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is fast-paced, fun and filled with neat references to both universes, despite the few niggles I have with it overall. Having spoken about how cleverly done the opening credits are, it’d be an oversight if I didn’t mention the great work done for the end credits, where we see classic DC comic book covers and classic TMNT covers given the crossover treatment. It’s a clever and affectionate way to bring the film to a close, which demonstrates the clear passion for – and knowledge of – both franchises that the filmmakers have.
Stick around for the post-credits scene too. It’s an excellent, albeit brief, scene that sets up a potential sequel; let’s hope the few issues I’ve highlighted are ironed out if we do get a Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II – I certainly wouldn’t complain if we were to see the two giant franchises come together for another animated adventure.
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