Two of the greatest comic book franchises of all time collide in Jake Castorena’s outstanding animated adaptation
In recent years, crossover events have become commonplace in our cinematic experiences. From the Marvel and DC Comics superhero team-ups to the formation of the Godzilla MonsterVerse, the shared universe model is a regular fixture in contemporary cinema. However, the concept is far from a newfound idea. In the 1930’s the icons of the Universal horror genre consistently shared the screen together and heightened our escapism to new levels with their monstrous adventures.
Therefore, with Batman celebrating his 80th anniversary this year, Warner Bros. is pulling out all the stops to commemorate this landmark event in style. New adaptations of some of the characters most iconic adventures have been revised and translated in novels and numerous new animated movies have been put into production. And standing proudly ahead of the pack is the highly anticipated intercompany crossover event Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles | Warner Bros. Animation
The notion of an encounter between The Dark Knight and the heroes in a half-shell has been a fan dream for decades. Compared to the eight-decade legacy of Batman, the TMNT are relative newcomers but both entities have established themselves as true pillars of pop culture. The recent six-issue intercompany crossover comic book miniseries written by James Tynion IV and drawn by Freddie Williams II finally made this dream a reality and served to whet fan appetites for what would go on to be regarded as one of the greatest franchise crossovers of all time.
In view of the miniseries’ overwhelming success, Warner Bros. Animation and Nickelodeon swiftly announced plans to collaborate on an all-new animated feature which will soon be making its highly anticipated debut on Blu-Ray, DVD and 4K Ultra HD.
Tasked with bringing this unique crossover event to the screen is director Jake Castorena. As a lifelong fan of both franchises, Castorena brings a deep seeded love for both properties to the project and it shows on screen from the opening moments. The film does well to harness the aesthetics and ambience of Batman: The Animated Series and sets the tone for what ultimately goes on to become one of the single greatest comic book crossovers of all time.
Beginning with the traditional dark and foreboding panorama of the Gotham City skyline, the movie quickly establishes the Foot Clan as a genuine, lethal fighting force and distances itself from the bumbling foot soldiers of other incarnations. The Foot has been systematically raiding weapons research and development laboratories across Gotham and has stolen millions of dollars in cutting edge technology in the process. Lex Corp, Powers Industries and S.T.A.R Labs have all been targeted leaving Wayne Enterprises as the only entity yet to feel the presence of the silent bandits.
Rumours of a new player in Gotham have attracted the attention of The Penguin who swiftly formulates a plan to liberate the Wayne Enterprises equipment in the dead of night with a view of marketing it to the highest bidder. However, unbeknownst to him, the Foot have already infiltrated the building and while he postures to his minions atop the adjacent building, the silent ninjas attempt to pilfer the technology for their notorious master.
However, neither party is prepared for the retribution lurking in the shadows. The Foot ninja unwittingly falls prey to an elaborate trap laid for them by none other than Gotham’s Caped Crusader, Batman. Whilst the dark knight duels with the thirty strong ninja force, the Penguin and his minions are attacked by four, large green silhouettes which strike from the shadows with lethal precision. With lightning-like reflexes, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles make short work of Penguin’s goons before he unleashes a furious response from his multifunctional umbrella.
Batman swiftly overcomes the foot legion and begins to interrogate one of their numbers when The Shredder intervenes. What follows is a confrontation for the ages between two disciplined combatants which delivers tension and furious combat and showcases both characters in all their glory. With their styles equally matched, Batman and Shredder engage in a prolonged contest which results in both landing a series of brutal blows before Shredder retreats to shadows abandoning his quarry.
Meanwhile, the exchange between the Penguin and the TMNT results in Michelangelo employing his time-honoured and often hilarious repertoire which serves as the perfect counterpoint to the furiously intense action. In the aftermath of his escape, the Penguin’s gun umbrella becomes the focus of Mikey’s comical infatuation, a curiosity rivalled only by his fascination for the countless blimps that patrol the Gotham skyline. Raphael and Leonardo once again clash over their next move but their exchange is curtailed when Michelangelo stumbles upon the Batmobile. The Dark Knight is quick to arrive, and Raphael’s confrontational attitude leads to an altercation in which Batman employs his seasoned abilities to comprehensively defeat the brothers who are forced to make a swift retreat into the shadows.
The Foot Clan is revealed to be working with Ra’s al Ghul and his infamous League of Assassins. In exchange for the secrets of the Lazarus Pit, Shredder and his legion of ninja agree to join Ra’s quest to overthrow Gotham and pledges to aid in the building of a machine that will bring about its destruction. Hence the weapons research and development raids. Despite Batman’s intervention making the alliance between them tenuous at best, the combined army of ninja head to Arkham Asylum to obtain the last piece of the puzzle and enlist the help of some of Gotham’s most notorious villains including Mr Freeze, Bane, Two-Face, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn and the Joker.
Meanwhile, Batman and Batgirl begin to unravel the mysterious origins of what they believe to be mutated “metahumans” and start to fashion a retro-mutagen whilst Donatello and his brothers begin to research Batman and his reported locations. Donatello’s technical prowess pays off and he quickly uncovers the location of the Batcave. Once inside, they have a brief scuffle with Robin before Batman and Batgirl return to diffuse the tension and together, the unified crime fighters begin to piece together Ra’s and Shredder’s evil plans.
What follows is a fun and action-packed adventure with team Batman and the TMNT uniting to thwart the coalition of supervillains before they can destroy Gotham and its millions of innocent people.
To elaborate on the story any further would be a massive disservice. The movie deserves to be experienced in all its glory. The plot is packed full of traditional Batman iconography which immediately feels familiar, while the animation feels clean and contemporary and harnesses the customary aesthetics of the comics. With crossovers such as these, the danger lies in the prioritising of one franchise over the other in order to perpetuate the story. Thankfully this is not the case in Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The movie is a glorious greeting of the franchises and showcases both parties perfectly. Batman demonstrates his incredible prowess as a detective whilst maintaining his dark and broody persona, and the Turtles are given the room to bring their light-hearted antics to proceedings whilst upholding their unshakable commitment to each other.
What makes this movie such a triumph is the clear-cut understanding of both properties by a truly talented and visionary director. Jake Castorena delivers a true representation of both entities and his devotion to the source material cannot be understated. He pays both parties the ultimate compliment by portraying each individual character as we have come to expect. Batman feels like Batman, Shredder feels like Shredder, and The Turtles are represented as the true heroes in the half shell we know them to be. This is evidenced further by how the movie doesn’t take itself too seriously. In fact, there are several tongue-in-cheek moments that will tickle hardcore fans of all ages. The perfect example of this is demonstrated by Alfred serving his master a hot beverage, in of all things…a Superman mug!
In truth, I was blown away by just how funny the movie is. The interplay between the characters is a joy to behold and the exchanges between Michelangelo and Alfred are pure gold. The same connections can be said for both Donatello and Batgirl and Raphael and Robin. They all share similar traits and at heart are kindred spirits and throughout the adventure, they all begin to learn something about themselves through their exchanges. Even the Dark Knight himself is not immune to this character arc. His interplay with both Leonardo and Raphael allows him to grow on a deep and personal level and the result is a far more grounded version of Batman than we have seen for quite some time.
And yet, despite all the light-hearted fun and frolics, the comedic aspects walk hand in hand with its brutal action, and believe me when I say, Batman vs. TMNT is far more deliciously violent than I had ever envisaged it to be. Each and every move is as intense and visceral as they come, and you genuinely feel the effect of every impact as they land on their unfortunate victim. Blood is spilt, bones are broken, and our heroes are tested to the extreme which serves as the perfect counterpoint to the light-hearted antics oozing from Michelangelo.
Overall, Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is nothing short of an absolute triumph. Far too often these movies fail to live up to their billing but here we have the exception to the rule. Marly Halpern-Graser deserves recognition for a noteworthy and entertaining screenplay which is as enthralling as it is fun. Throughout its 84-minute running time, the story harnesses the essence of both properties and presents them in a way that is both fun, fresh and thoroughly entertaining. The iconography from both franchises is allowed to shine and is encapsulated perfectly in the traditional “suiting up” montage where both Batman and the TMNT are revealed to be slipping into their battle garb and selecting their weaponry. In true Turtles fashion, Michelangelo uses one of the holsters on his belt, traditionally used to house his nunchucks to hold a slice of pizza! It is this simple and often hilarious clowning that tempers the unrelenting graphic action.
Visually, the animation style packs a real punch and is as glossy and colourful as you would expect from a TMNT adventure, but this is balanced out perfectly by the dark and gloomy landscape of Gotham City. It turns out to be the perfect playground for the Turtles who thrive within the shadows and strike with lethal precision and their attacks are complimented perfectly by a pulse-pounding score by Kevin Riepl. Being familiar with the composers work on the Aliens: Colonial Marines video game I had high hopes for his score, and I was not disappointed. His soundtrack helps in establishing the atmosphere for the movie and his booming Batman theme is eerily reminiscent of Hans Zimmer’s work on The Dark Knight Trilogy.
As for the voice cast and every member performs admirably. Troy Baker deserves special recognition for reprising the role of Batman, but his performance as The Joker is where his true talent lies. In Batman vs TMNT, Baker channels his inner Mark Hamill and produces a voice performance so hauntingly reminiscent that it had me believing it really was the Star Wars legend who, in my opinion, has cemented himself as the quintessential voice of Gotham’s clown prince of crime. Baker also makes history with this performance by becoming the first actor ever to voice both Batman and The Joker in the same movie.
In Batman vs. TMNT, what Jake Castorena has done with stunning brilliance is to enhance the character arc of every larger than life personality involved in this thrilling movie. Seldom can a director bring a fresh perspective on such an adored character like Batman, but through his interactions with the TMNT, we get to explore a side of the Dark Knight rarely seen. This only serves to makes the film surpassed all expectations and that is a very rare occurrence.
To deprive yourself of this pleasure would be a crime. This movie really has been worth the wait. Grab yourself a copy, strap yourself in and prepare for a rollercoaster ride of non-stop action and hilarity alongside Batman and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!
Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is available to download NOW and will be released on DVD, Blu-Ray and Steelbook Blu-Ray on June 3rd. Pre-order your copy HERE.
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to the great team at Warner Bros. UK for the advanced review copy.
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