The Scoop: 2007 PG, directed by Kevin Munroe and starring Chris Evans, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Patrick Stewart.
Tagline: Raising Shell In 2007
Summary Capsule: Our four amphibians with the ninja skills return to fight monsters, argue with each other, and bounce around rooftops in New York quite a lot.
Shalen’s Rating: Three out of four shuriken sticking out of where a real turtle’s spine is located.
Shalen’s Review: I was very interested when I first heard this movie was being made. Would it be like the first movie I knew and loved, or the third one I scorned and mocked? Would there be rap? Would there be wisecracks, or would it all be grim and graphic-novel-ish?
The answers are no; no; yes, but only in the end credits; and sort of. This is, thank goodness, nothing like the extremely cheesy cartoon, though it does seem to acknowledge both cartoon and movie canon regarding at least one or two points (Shredder’s existence and death especially). Here we find the turtles post-everything, with Leonardo off playing Ghost of the Jungle in South America, Donnie doing tech support, Michelangelo doing birthday parties as “Cowabunga Carl” (apparently a poke at the suits worn in the movies) and Raphael doing the lone vigilante thing in silver body armor.1 Splinter spends most of his time alone in his dojo room, concerned but seemingly ineffectual.
April overturns all this by finding Leonardo while she is out looking for three stone statues. A man name Winters wants them because around 3000 years ago, he opened a portal to another dimension, became immortal, and accidentally turned his three generals to stone. The portal will reopen when seven stars align,2 and he has to dump thirteen McGuffins back into it in order to break the “curse” placed on himself and the others.
Most of the film’s plot conflicts are internal, with the heavy conversations broken up by periodic fights related to the main events. Casey Jones worries about whether he can fulfill girlfriend April’s needs now that they’re trying to act like “grownups.”3 Leo worries that he’s a failure as a team leader and has not lived up to his father’s expectations. Raphael is frustrated by inaction and wants to strike out on his own. Winters has that whole curse thing. And so on. It’s not overly heavy-handed, as the filmmakers mostly know when it’s time for the drama to be over and the action to commence.
And we’re definitely not shorted on the action. In retrospect, I’m quite impressed by how much the actors did do in suits in the original movie, but even that was severely limited. Here we’ve got all kinds of crazy acrobatics, sword fights, car chases, etc., etc. It would’ve been nice if things had been a little less blurry a little more often, but the movie does go out of its way to keep that kinetic energy going.4
The visuals are stunning inside and outside of the fights. Mostly outside, actually. The fights are often too frenetic and rapid to really tell much of what’s going on. The filmmakers are aware of how nice their CGI is and give us lots of closeups on its best elements, down to the individual facial muscles on the turtles. Sadly, like most CGI the lesser characters have considerably less attention paid to their faces and movement — just look at Casey’s face next to Raphael’s — but that’s more or less inevitable.
It did seem ironic that the four turtles actually have more human proportions than any of the human characters. The men are triangular and the women are, well, lollipops with breasts stuck on them. I didn’t really care for this stylistic decision, but I can see why they did it (see trivia below).
There were some lovely, subtle things done with the sound design that I didn’t notice until Sib1 pointed them out: raindrops on an upturned face, a train rumbling overhead. The soundtrack is so lifelike you can barely notice it. That’s pretty rare in an offering like this, and I think it will hold up very well on dvd viewing. I’m not quite so into a lot of the script and dialogue choices, but this is after all aimed at younger viewers (judging by the crowd in the theater I was in). That’s mostly not allowed to interrupt the parts we came to see.
This is a movie you need to see if you are into the Turtles of old, CGI, action movies, or all of the above. Just the animation and modeling alone was worth my five bucks to the matinee. And come on – who doesn’t love being a turtle?
1. Halo fans might wonder if perhaps he beat up the Master Chief and took his helmet.
2. As we all know, astrological star alignment is caused by the actual movement of stars, not by changes in the earth’s position on its axis over time or something silly like that. We’re shown an animation in case we forgot.
3. Apparently April’s career in full-time news reporting was just a girlish fling.
4. This is rated PG, so don’t expect to see a single drop of the red stuff. After all, it’s not like 90% of the cast is carrying bladed weapons or anything.
Al’s Rating: So cool that they don’t need to explain the abbreviation!
Al’s Review: I enjoyed TMNT. A lot. It’s not going to be everyone’s bag of chips, but, for those like me, it is undeniably fun. So what, exactly, does being “like me” entail? Well, there’s something that I do. I’m not proud of it, and it’s slightly embarrassing to admit, but here goes: when no one is looking and I’m sure I’m all alone, I twirl broomsticks. Also snow shovels, rakes, and any tool that is vaguely quarterstaff-ish. I don’t do it well and I’m sure it doesn’t look cool in the slightest, but I, a grown man with a full time job and a college degree, twirl broomsticks. If I’m supposed to be sweeping out the garage or clearing off the driveway, you can bet that I will, at some point, begin spinning it from hand to hand pretending momentarily that I am a ninja master and I actually know what I’m doing. This is why I’m going to see this movie again and this is why I fully expect I’ll own it on DVD.
Now, compulsive broom rotation is not a unique requirement for maximum enjoyment of TMNT. In fact, if you possess a qualification like this, I’m sure you already know what it is and I need say no more on the subject. Maybe you’re an English teacher, but “cowabunga” has still secured a spot in your day-to-day vocabulary. Maybe you’re an art history major who can speak intelligently and at length on the works of Raphael Sanzio, but will always, just fleetingly, think of the turtle with the red bandana first. Maybe you’re a ruthless vigilante in a hockey mask with a baseball bat (you should really stop that, you know). Maybe for you it’s something entirely different. To those of you smiling and nodding: I know you will enjoy this movie.
Before I go any further down this path, I would like to qualify the preceding statements by saying that I am not a Ninja Turtle nut. I watched the cartoon show, collected the action figures, and reveled in the first movie and it’s sequel. But it was all forgotten by age 14 or so, the way childhood tv shows usually are. I saw approximately half an episode of “The Next Mutation” in the late nineties before rolling my eyes and changing the channel. I didn’t see the third Ninja Turtles movie until I was nearly in college, and that was mostly out of morbid curiosity. I have never seen the new Turtles cartoon, upon which this film seems to be at least partially based (so trusted sources tell me). I am far from a Turtles fanboy who lives and dies by Eastman and Laird interviews and has downloaded trailers onto his video iPod in case he needs a quick fix during the workday. But I do twirl broomsticks, meaning I, and all those to whom my first two paragraphs apply, “get” the Ninja Turtles and understand why they’re cool. We get it in the same way my dad will still stop and watch Fess Parker’s Davy Crockett TV show. There’s no specific element that attracts him, but it’s more than simple nostalgia, too. He just “gets” it and, even 50 years later, will watch it whenever it comes on from start to finish.
And Heaven help you if you don’t get it, because if you enter this film holding onto logic, you will drown in it like you’re swimming with cement pennyloafers. Let me try and explain exactly what you syllogistic types are up against: TMNT centers around Max Winters. Max is currently a New York billionaire, but wasn’t always. 3000 years ago, he was a warrior prince who, with his trusted siblings/partners/generals/whatever was trying to conquer/save the world by creating/destroying a portal that would unleash an army of monsters upon the earth. I never did quite figure out exactly what he was doing, it was a loud theater. In any event, he failed. His siblings/partners/generals/whatever were turned into stone and thirteen monsters were released from the other dimension to roam the earth. He, inexplicably, is cursed with eternal life for his failure. Now, in present day New York, the stars or planets or somesuch have aligned correctly again, so he reanimates his petrified buddies and adopts a “Gotta Catch ‘Em All!” mentality towards those pesky extradimensional critters that are still wandering Manhattan.
That actually came together more concisely than I expected, but, trust me, it mostly comes across as gibberish onscreen.
Meanwhile, our titular Turtles have drifted apart since the defeat of the Shredder (in the last movie, I guess). Leonardo has been sent off into Central America to be alone and practice his leadership; Donatello’s taken up a phone job doing IT tech support; Michelangelo is hosting kids’ birthday parties for extra money; and Raphael sleeps all day but spends his nights trying to recapture some of his former glory as a masked crimefighter. Soon enough, though, they are shaken from their funk and are fighting their way across the Big Apple from one rampaging beast to the next, all while dealing with the inexplicable re-emergence of the Foot clan, now headed by some skinny chick in a goofy mask, and dealing with their own sibling rivalries, which threaten to boil over and destroy them from within.
Oddities, inconsistencies, and distractions crop up continuously in TMNT and threaten to turn it into an unwatchable mess. The plot is almost painfully disjointed and screams of so many rewrites that the dramatic structure must look like the ECG of a heart seizure patient. I spent most of our lead villain’s screen time not paying attention to what was being said, but simply marveling at Patrick Stewart’s ability to maintain such impeccable articulation while spouting mouthfuls of asinine nonsense. April O’Neill has also ceased to be a damsel in distress and is, bafflingly, now able to hold her own in close combat against multiple trained Foot ninjas, who, by the way, only seems to appear in order to clumsily set up a sequel.
But for those of use lucky enough to twirl broomsticks in our spare time, we won’t see all the rough this film offers, just the diamond buried within. The Turtles look excellent rendered in CGI and move with all the fluidity and agility you’d expect of ninja maters, something neither cheap-o eighties’ animation nor stuntmen in rubber suits ever managed to pull off. The big screen treatment also allows for epic fight scenes in a way that the live-action films couldn’t produce in size and the television shows couldn’t produce in scope. In fact, TMNT abounds in little things done right to help ease you past everything else that’s not quite on par. There’s a wall of artifacts from prior adventures that I’d love to pause and take another look at and multiple callbacks to the old movies that keep a smile on your face during the scenes when not a whole lot is going on. They even updated the Ninja Rap for the closing credits!
So that’s my shpeel, but on the whole, I don’t think there’s a whole lot I can say that will influence people whether they should check out TMNT or not. In your heart of hearts, you already know whether it’s something you are going to see. But in case you’re still not sure, here’s the acid test: About halfway through this movie, Leonardo and Raphael finally throw down. If that doesn’t do it for you, please save your money. To everyone else? I’m going again on five-dollar Tuesday. Meet me there and bring your broomstick.
Justin’s Rating: “They’re heroes in a half-shell, and they’re green” — that’s the BEST you song writers could come up with in the 80’s?
Justin’s Review: Their origins are notorious and well-known. Back in 1984, a man named Kevin Eastman was a minor hit man for the Turtlini family in New Jersey, silencing federal witnesses with what he liked to call “The Noogie of Death” (which, when you strip away its fearsome moniker, was really only a corkscrew to the brain). He found his methods far outstripped, however, when he witnessed the Don throwing a squealer into a tank of voracious snapping turtles. As the man’s screams grew progressively weaker, Eastman grew fascinated with the fluid, lethal movements of these reptiles.
Soon after, he quit the organized crime thing to do what he always wanted: open a pizzeria in Madison, Wisconson. It was there that esteemed surfboard champion Peter Laird walked through the doors one day to exclaim, “Cowabunga, dude!” and promptly pass out from shark-related injuries after surfing on Lake Monona. Once revived with a slice of anchovy delight, Laird and Eastman became the bestest of friends and moved in together, while maintaining the three foot “I’m not gay” buffer zone between them at all times.
It was during this time that Eastman’s almost crippling fascination with the lethality of turtles was melded with Laird’s surfer dialect, and the idea for the most unusual crime-fighting team of comic book history was born:
Two years after self-publishing their first twenty issues, Marvel issued a “cease and desist” order, which Eastman countered with a “corpse and decay” proposal. Eventually, the counterfeit X-Mens was canned, and the duo completely sold out their souls and dignity to create a comic which featured four ninja turtles and their filthy rat-leader.
Of course, you know all this. Why must I fill this space with knowledge that even a fetal infant knows as he’s journeying down the fallopian tubes singing “Walking On Sunshine”?
And even though this fourth screen incarnation of the Turtlehood of the Traveling Pizza was totally made to cover the creators’ gambling debts, TMNT is not half bad. Sure, it lacks 95% of the humor of Corey Feldman and other martial artists stuffed into hilariously bulky turtle suits, but the kinetic action and spiffy production values have an appeal of their own. These are not your Saturday morning cartoon Turtles, who never ever use their weapons to inflict harm (on living creatures; lifeless machines and innocent computer controls were always the first to go) — these are soulless killing machines of the likes only seen in your darkest nightmares.
By the by, I absolutely refuse to walk into another animated movie without a full cast list in front of me. I spent over an hour writhing in torment trying to figure out who voiced the delectable April O’Neil, until something clicked and I remembered Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s odd speech patterns. I want that hour back, preferably stocked with happier memories of pelting the kid two rows in front of me with unpopped popcorn kernels to hear his incessant babbling change into indignant shrieks of pain. MAN!
- Raytracing showoff moments, particularly Winters’s wineglass and the round window at the diner. Yes, Shalen is a big 3d modeling geek. Why do you ask?
- Most of those monsters have really short legs.
- Winters’s helmet with the “ears.” I really expected him to be a bunny person the first time I saw it.
- The stars depicted as aligning every 3000 years appear to be the constellation Cassiopeia.
- The two women in this movie are terrifying. Really. Their spines are physically impossible.
- It actually makes sense that Leo is out for longer from the trank dart than Raphael, since he’s physically less massive.
- Splinter’s souvenir room contains Shredder’s mask and the original broken ooze canister.
- The scepter from the third Turtles movie is on the very bottom shelf in the trophy room. (Thanks Jerram)
- What IS it with those smoke pellets, anyway?
- The Turtles using their weapons as actual weapons? Sweet!
- April’s dropped the reporter gig and taken up being Lara Croft?
- So, Leonardo has been sent away alone to hone leadership skills? That’s a little contradictory.
- All thirteen monsters just happen to converge on Manhattan at the same time right when the stars or whatever are in perfect alignment for Max’s plan? That’s rather helpful.
- Splinter sounds like he’s been hitting the sake a little too hard lately!
- That’s an excessively obvious setup for the sequel.
- Oscar-nominated actor Mako was announced as the voice of Splinter at San Diego Comic Con the day before he died. Fortunately, he had finished the majority of his acting.
- Quote from IMDB’s FAQ, in answer to the question of why the animation is more cartoony and less like the Final Fantasy films: Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within cost a phenomenal ammount of money to make, and was considered a colossal failure that resulted in the director being fired and the company being bought out. Conversely, Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children was aimed at a very focused, but very broad audience, where resources could be dedicated and still have the film be successful. This is not the approach the directors of TMNT wanted to take. They wanted to stay true to the original story, while still appealing to a wide enough audience in order to make money. In doing so, they felt that a more stylized rendering would help the films success.
Michelangelo [getting beaten up]: Ow! Ow! Black and blue clashes with green, dude!
Raphael: The criminal element in this city is guilty of a lot of things, but being lazy ain’t one of them.
Splinter: If anybody needs me, I’ll be watching my stories. Cody is going to break up with Donna, I just know it.
Donatello: And, that would be the swirling vortex to another world…
Michelangelo: Cool. I want one.
Michelangelo: Did anyone get the license plate of that thing that hit us last night? It looked like your mom, dude!
Donatello: Yeah, that would make her your mom too, doofus.
Donatello: Within hours we’ll lose the city. And within weeks… The world.
General Aquila: Destroy them!
Winters (to April): I’ve had my eye on you for some time.
Casey Jones: I knew it!
Casey Jones: You know I have a wooden bat, right?
Raphael (removing armored helmet): How’d you know it was me?
Casey Jones: …You look like a big metal turtle.
Leonardo: Attack as one!
If you enjoyed this movie, try:
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie
- The Powerpuff Girls
- How To Train Your Dragon