Awesome Being Green: A Review of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movies
Happy St. Patrick’s
Day week, everyone! I had a couple of different ideas for what I wanted to write about this week, but when I decided to look at the holiday as the most ‘green’ of them all, the choice was simple. Today, it would be all about those four popular guys in green: the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
If you’re any kind of a fan, you probably have a favourite turtle (Raphael!). You can hum (or at least recognize) the theme song (“Heroes in a half shell, turtle power!”). You can even figure out which turtle wears which colour bandana and carries what weapon (even if it requires process of elimination). The creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird seemed to be onto something big when they created them back in 1984. They reached high popularity in the 80’s and 90’s, have survived multiple incarnations in plenty of different forms, and are even the subject of a movie coming out within the next few years (at the time of this writing, Megan Fox has been cast as April O’Neil – react however you see fit).
I thought there was no better time than now to take a trip down memory lane to the four main films to feature the turtles: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, and TMNT. I’ll be looking at the basic story, the bad and the good, of each of the films in order. I’m a fan of all the movies for different reasons, and for that reason, I can find myself both complimentary and critical. After all, no one expects more of a movie than a fan.
The story: This is where the story all started. Following April O’Neill, we’re introduced to the four famous brothers and their rat mentor, as well as the masked fighter Casey Jones. The turtles are in their final stages of learning when a threat known as The Shredder rises up to use the youth of the city to unleash a crime wave. The turtle boys are ready and primed for action. But are the boys really ready for the fight? Is everybody really who they seem?
The Bad: I always prefer to start with the bad. Fortunately, there isn’t all that much in the first film. Sure, it’s dated and gritty, but it’s a film of the times. The boys are all there and look great. As a fan of Raphael, I’m thrilled that a good part of the story singles him out. The bad? I don’t get to learn as much about the rest of the boys. Donatello especially doesn’t get a lot of attention. The references that the film makes are also slightly dated. Although references to Harrison Ford and Wayne Gretzky are always appreciated, not too many fans nowadays will remember the show Moonlighting or the birth of the phrase “Kodak moment”.
The Good: There’s a number of things I like about this film that never leave me bored. The first is the introduction of the origin story. I liked the way that April acts as a substitute audience when it comes to the turtles, and that she doesn’t know any more about them than we do at the start. Judith Hoag also does a great job of portraying April. She’s gritty and no-nonsense, and she adapts to every new situation without complaint. I also have a fond appreciation of Casey Jones, who is well featured in the film.
To take a moment to talk about the titular boys themselves, I love almost everything about them. I thoroughly appreciate how each has a voice that almost matches their personality: Raph is the real ‘New Yorker’ with the cut of an accent in his voice, Mikey has the already-funny voice, Leo has the pleasant voice, and Donny is, well, Corey Feldman (seriously though, it is Corey Feldman). And while I like the look of the suits the best in this film, you can see how it limits their movements.
The verdict: If you haven’t seen a Ninja Turtles movie before, or you caught TMNT and no other one, you have to check this one out. This is where it all started. If you remind yourself that it’s a product of the late 80’s and early 90’s, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have a great time. Also, look for Sam Rockwell as one of Shredder’s followers and his advice that the cops check out “Lairdman Island” (named for Laird and Eastman, the creators).
The story: The Shredder returns at a crucial time for our heroes. The boys have just discovered that the ooze that caused them to mutate is still out there. Worse yet, Shredder has gotten his hands on a full canister, and he’s about to grow a few monsters of his own.
The Bad: There’s a lot of little things here and there that detract from the film. Keno is a great character, but he doesn’t have the same impact or serve the same role that Danny does in the first film. He’s prominent in the first half of the film, and then practically disappears for the second half (and really only to complicate things and create more conflict). Speaking of which, Super Shredder at the end of the film? Not very intimidating. We also change Aprils from the last film to this one, and I’m not sure it’s an improvement. This April seems to be a bit too rigid rather than have a strong character, and it grows old fast.
The Good: There are a lot of positives to this film. The choreography is faster and a lot more fluid, probably due to the slight change in costuming. These would be my favourite suits, minus the lighter colour. In terms of story, it’s great to see Donny having a more prominent role. With the story moving into more scientific circles, there is no better navigator than Donatello, genius turtle extraordinaire. The boys all get some great lines too. And, of course, who can forget the awesome fight/dance scene in the dockside club, with musical accompaniment courtesy of Vanilla Ice? (If you don’t know who that is, don’t worry. You’ll still appreciate the scene, I promise).
The Verdict: The film does a great job of building up the existing origin story and the alternate repercussions that could have resulted. If you liked the first film, you’ll enjoy this one too. Consider it the expansion pack to the original game.
The Story: When they accidentally activate an ancient artifact (tongue twister!), the boys are sent back to Feudal Japan where a war is already on the rise. Now they have to choose a side and try to find a way home. But when it comes time to go, will they want to?
The Bad: The most negative thing I have to say about this film is that it is incredibly over-complicated. It feels to me like the writers had so many different ideas and options and tried their best to include all of them. April (still fussy!) finds a Casey Jones lookalike in the past, but nothing really comes of it, past or present. It’s suggested that Mikey gets his first human girl crush, but we don’t stay with him long enough to really examine it. And so it goes. The film also has a penchant from flipping from the sublime to the ridiculous. In one scene, Ralph is bonding with a young boy about anger. In the next, an Englishman is painting a flower on his personal desk in the middle of a beach while his men are practising with artillery. Seriously. I could not make this stuff up. And don’t even start me on the new costume design. Teeth and a beak. That’s all I’m saying.
The Good: The question of what’s good can only be answered by what the film brings to the universe as a whole. For starters, Casey Jones is in it! We don’t get to see him in all his glory, but there is a fabulous bit of writing at the beginning where he first arrives and is given his mission. I also enjoyed the suggestion that the turtles can develop feelings of attraction towards female humans. It was touched on briefly in the first film by Raph, but it’s much stronger with Mikey. I also liked the challenge that the brothers face at the end. Mikey and Raph like being there. They’re respected and appreciated. Why would they want to leave? I liked that the writers played with that idea. Unfortunately, so did someone else, and the idea of them splitting up was used in the next film (and not in a good way).
The Verdict: Honestly, you’re not missing much. If you want to watch it for the typical Ninja Turtle humour, then sure. But if you’re looking for entertainment, you could just watch the first or second one again.
The Story: The famous Ninja Turtle family is in ruins. Leonardo has disappeared, Mikey and Donatello are trying to work, and Raph is spending his nights hunting criminals with Casey Jones. Can the boys band together in time to stop an ancient curse full of dangerous monster from tearing the world apart?
The Bad: Oh dear, where do I start? Let me start by saying this – this film is not bad as a first foray into the world of the Ninja Turtles. For fans of the films or the series, this is a definite step backwards. It’s not the fact that there is no Shredder, or that the leader of the Foot clan is a woman, or even that I can’t take Splinter’s wisdom seriously when he talks with his elderly helium voice. It’s really just the story. I can forgive making Casey and April look younger than I know them to be, or the legend behind the plot. It’s the story as a whole. The boys would never have separated like that. None of them would ever have gotten a job (although I did always wonder where the money to buy pizza came from). The underlying theme of the previous three films was always about concealement, about them having to hide. It’s discussed here, but more as a gag than anything. The whole film, in a word, is chaos.
The Good: There are a lot of little things that I like. The first is that Donny has a job as a phone-in computer technician. I can’t think of anything better suited that allows him to use his talent and not blow his cover. The other great thing about this film is the fight between Raphael and Leo. There has always been this struggle between the two of them. It’s definitely present in each of the above films at one time or another. For them to actually fight it out was a stroke of genius. But to have a clear winner? I wasn’t sure whether to be overjoyed or disheartened. I didn’t really want to know which one was actually better. I just wanted them to confront it. Still, the whole fight scene is really worth a second watch, with great animation and choreography.
The Verdict: Like I said, if you’re already a fan, you’re really not missing anything. And it’ll take you weeks to get the voice of Splinter out of your mind. It’s searing, really.
Which film is your favourite? Agree? Disagree?
Follow me on Twitter @TheRealAtellix