TMNT: 4 & ½ Stars (out of 5)
What was your introduction to the turtles? Was it the, best forgetten, live-action films? Or was it the late 80’s cartoon with their jokes, and commercial and toy tie-ins? Or the recent Fox cartoon relaunch? Or was it the slew of arcade and Nintendo games? Or were you, like me, introduced to the foursome through the original pages of a black and white comic book Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Muntant Ninja Turtles?
I ask because whatever your vision of the turtles is will color how you view the film. Fans of the games, the cartooons, and even the other films, may indeed be disappointed as the characters, for the most part, are stipped bare to more closely resemble the original creations. It may surprise many, who keep refering to the “new look” of the film, which is anything but new. It’s not a perfect film, but for a comic adaption to a series that had lost all credibility it’s as close to perfect as you can fit into a PG film. The turtles have finally come home.
The film opens with an extended plot set-up from an unseen narator (Laurence Fishburne), reminiscent of Peter Jackson‘s intro to Fellowship of the Ring (where he outlined the entire plot of The Hobbit), as our narrator tells us of a mighty warrior who thousands of years ago opened a portal to another dimension unleashing 13 monsters unto the world, turning his own armies to stone, and granting himself immortality. It’s a good twenty minutes of plot condensed into about seven minutes, so be prepared to pay attention.
Time has passed since the turtles defeated the Shredder, and the story begins with the group directionless and in semi- retirement. Leonardo (James Arnold Taylor) has been sent to Central America to become a better leader. Michelangelo (Mikey Kelley) works as a birthday clown, Donatello (Mitchell Whitfield) spends his days as IT support, and Raphael (Nolan North) hunts the night as the vigilante Nightwatcher with his sometimes sidekick Casey Jones (Chris Evans).
When the stars align as they did thousands of years ago the great warrior, now billionare Max Winters (Patrick Stewart) gathers his forces together and enlists the help of the Foot Clan to track down the monsters. April (Sarah Michelle Gellar) attempts to lure Leo back to his family and the turtles struggle to become the team they once were. Can they put aside their differences and defeat Winters and the Foot or will the portal be opened again?
The look of the film, simply put, is perfect. Unlike the goofiness of the cartoon or the bulky animatronic puppet suits of the early films, these turtles are quick, highly trained and quite deadly. Despite the film’s PG rating the turtles kill more people in the film than in most of the scenes from 300. This is accomplished with the kills being bloodless and in quick battle sequences. These four don’t knock out the bad guys, they leave behind them steaming bodies of countless Foot Clan. Yes, I would have preferred them to go all out with the bloody battles, but what is done here is quite clever and allows the creators to sneak a staggering body count (and some memorable kills both on and off-screen) past the MPAA. Nice job guys.
The wide stretching battle scenes are quite good and create the opportunity to showcase the turtle’s unique fighting style. Only in a couple of spots did some of the effects seem to slightly blur as if the sweeping shots had trouble keeping up with all the different CGI aspects, though this could have been merely a projection problem.
The look of the monsters is an eclectic mix of humorous to grotesque. Winters’ stone warriors themselves come off very menacing and the look of the Foot Clan is right on.
If the look was amazing, in terms of character and story the film suceeds beyond my expectations. Fans of the cartoon may find the more serious tone of the flick a little too brooding, but to me it was pretty darn cool. And the creators give you the nugget of allowing Michelangelo, and in two scenes Donatello, to still provide the more comical turtle version from the TV show. The friction between Raphael and Leonardo is well explored in the film as are the themes of friendship, family, and brotherhood.
And the plot, though slightly ridiculous at times, is pure comic book writing that fits the characters to a tee.
Performance wise there is some great casting including Patrick Stewart in the role of the turtles main nemesis, and Ziyi Zhang as the new leader of the Foot Clan. And of course I must mention the late great Mako who performs the role of Splinter in the film. A terrific choice for the honored father and master for the turtles, even if the animators make the rat look too cute and clean.
Simply put, TMNT is the best comic book film since Sin City (read the review), and that’s high praise from a guy who listed Miller’s masterpiece as #5 on my best films of 2005. In terms of recreating a wold and doing justice to the original character concept, while still acknowledging the more comical versions, the film is a complete success. Is the opening too plot heavy? Yeah. Is April a little too kick ass with a sword? You bet (but she has been training with these guys for some time). Despite little annoyances like these the film is a remarkable success that works on many levels, kicks some serious ass, and will entertain the pants off you.
TMNT is rated PG for animated action violence, some scary cartoon images and mild language, with a running time of 90 minutes.