Movie Review: TMNT
The emotional trauma endured by audiences unfortunate enough to have paid admission to 1993's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III sent a ripple through the fearsome foursome's once-bubbly fanbase that would be felt for years to come. Fourteen years, to be exact, would pass before another full-length Ninja Turtles movie would grace the big screen, ushering in the next era for the band of subterranean "heroes in a half-shell." The boys in green were introduced to a brand new generation of potential Turtle-ites with TMNT, busting into theaters on March 23, 2007, nearly two decades after the release of the first live-action film. Implementing Hollywood's rapidly-growing CGI trend and boasting a budget larger than the previous three movies combined, the ultimate question would soon present itself -- would this latest installment of the beloved series glisten like a freshly-waxed shell, or would it be shredded and splintered by Turtle fanatics the world over?
Following the original films chronologically but largely ignoring the events of Part 3 (except for a glimpse of the time-traveling scepter in the movie's closing minutes), TMNT picks up some time after Shredder's accidental suicide at the end of The Secret Of the Ooze. With their greatest nemesis dead and buried, the Turtles find themselves settled into their home in the abandoned subway station leading less-than-exciting lifestyles. Leonardo (voiced by James Arnold Taylor) is absent, sent on a spiritual journey deep within the Central American jungle by Splinter (Mako in his last film role) in order to sharpen his leadership skills. While Donatello (Mitchell Whitfield) spends hours on the phone assisting customers as an I.T. specialist and Michelangelo (Mikey Kelley) pays the bills as a childrens birthday party entertainer named Cowabunga Carl, Raphael takes to the streets as the Nightwatcher, an armored trooper single-handedly defending the streets of New York City from common hoodlum scum. But when Leo returns, he and the vigilant Ralph stand at odds, the central conflict of the film that quickly overshadows the secondary, less-engaging plot-line.
The decision to break away from the traditional men-in-rubber-suits formula in favor of an entirely CGI-rendered movie was initiated because the producers thought it would be easier for audiences to suspend disbelief when it came to TMNT's fast-paced action set pieces. This could've been the perfect opportunity to finally flesh out the likes of Krang, Bebop and Rocksteady and Baxter Stockman in a Ninja Turtles film, but instead we're given a particularly uninteresting villain in the form of Max Winters (Patrick "Captain Jean-Luc Picard" Stewart), a slippery CEO of a financial empire securing a fleet of Stone Generals to help him rule the planet. Winters is actually the 3,000-year-old warlord Yaotl, and he hires the remaining soldiers of the fallen Foot Clan to capture 13 monsters roaming the city in order to open a portal to another dimension that... you know what? The details aren't really of much importance, as the mythical beasts (a Yeti, a Cyclops, the Jersey Devil, etc.) don't add much to the story aside from the occasional high-pitched screech. As I previously mentioned, the real struggle lies between feuding brothers Leonardo and Raphael.
Leo and Ralph's sibling rivalry remains the highlight of TMNT, along with the fantastic computer effects orchestrated by the Hong Kong-based Imagi Animation Studios. Director / writer Kevin Munroe pleases life-long fans by accentuating the darker feel of the comics and basing the character models off the original source material -- water beautifully glistens off of the amphibians' skin as they battle in the rain, and franchise staples April O'Neil (Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Casey Jones (Captain America himself, Chris Evans) are recognizable in their roles as supporting cast members. Shredder's adopted daughter Karai (Zhang Ziyi) even makes an appearance as the leader of her father's reorganizing henchmen but isn't fully developed, possibly being saved for a sequel that likely won't ever see the light of day. That's too bad, as TMNT proposes several elements that plant the seeds for a promising Part 2. The rather anticlimactic ending leaves much to be desired, but after the movie's brisk 87 minutes roll to its conclusion, most advocates of the tenacious teenaged tussling team will feel that their time was well-spent.
The Verdict: TMNT isn't a great film by any means, but it absolutely makes up for the catastrophe that was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III. The filmmakers paid homage to the previous live-action adventures, hearkening back to the generally-cherished 90s series with such lines as Casey's "Two minutes for high-sticking!" and Ralph's "Man, I love being a turtle!" Though a surprise box-office success that raked in $95 million worldwide, a direct sequel to TMNT has been discarded in favor of the Michael Bay-produced reboot slated for next year and starring Megan Fox as April. With this announcement having ruffled the feathers of fans everywhere, it seems as though the Turtles' best days may indeed be behind them. At least we have our memories, right?
Rating: Out Of