After fourteen years off the big screen, the heroes in a half-shell return in a visually breathtaking return...
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) started out as a black-and-white comic in 1984. It was originally an attempt to parody the superhero genre, featuring pizza-eating humanoid turtles gifted in the art of ninja, all named after Renaissance artists and living together in the sewers of New York City. It's not your usual superhero fanfare. What made the creators of the Turtles, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, rich beyond their wildest dreams wasn't the comics, but rather the premiere of the 1987 TV cartoon series and associated toy line that were optioned just a short time after the release of the comics. From there, the Turtle phenomenon expanded to video games and three live-action movies in the 1990s. Interest in the Turtles faded for a while, then a new TV cartoon series appeared in 2003. Now, we have the fourth Turtle film that is the first one to be in CGI. As a fan of the TMNT as a kid, I went to see this movie for the child in me.
The original comic featured the Turtles who all wear red bandannas, but for the cartoon series and beyond, the Turtles were given a unique bandanna color to tell them apart. Leonardo wears a blue bandanna, fights with kitana blades, and is the leader of the quartet. Michelangelo, a silly party-loving turtle, wears orange and dons nunchuku (a.k.a. nunchucks). Donatello, with the purple bandanna and bo staff, is the genius who knows science and machines. Raphael wears red and fights with a pair of sai, but is the hotheaded one. All four have a mutant rat, Master Splinter, to guide them as a father figure. They also have two human friends who are trusted to keep the mutants' presence a secret: April O'Neil and the hockey-club-wielding vigilante Casey Jones.
Now I go into this 2007 film. I will say that the characters are portrayed just like above, and while there's not too much character depth, there is certainly more characterization than the previous TMNT films. What I really liked is how the film breaks away from the traditional brotherhood seen many times before in the Turtles cartoon episodes and movies. Here, the family has drifted apart. Leo has gone to Central America for further training as a leader, on Splinter's suggestion. Mikey is earning money as a performer at kids' birthday parties, ironically wearing a turtle costume. Don is working at home doing 24/7 tech support on the phone. Raph, however, has not been satisfied with having nothing to do, so he moonlights as the Nightwatcher, prowling the streets to battle crooks before the cops do.
Let's not forget that these are a group of heroes, so they must have a villain to fight. From the start, we see that the villain is Max Winters, a wealthy industrialist who is seeking particular statues and ancient monsters related to a 3000-year-old curse. This character is entirely new, because the main villain for years had been the Shredder, a ninja leading a clan of ninjas known as the Foot Clan. The film now features a secondary villain named Karai, the new Foot Clan leader. One complaint I do have is that she doesn't get enough screen time, but then again, there's always the possibility of a sequel.
Overall, the story and characters are decent enough. What really gets high marks is the animation, not the fact that the CGI is great since CGI is practically standard nowadays, but the fact that CGI is a much better medium for the TMNT than live action. If you recall the first three films, the Turtles were actors in heavy foam costumes. There was only so much they could do on the screen. With animation, the possibilities are virtually endless. The action and fight scenes definitely benefit from this.
This Ninja Turtle film was pretty fun to watch and I did have a good time. It is no doubt better than the first three films because it is dark and gritty, as originally conceived by Eastman and Laird. There is some humor, but the jokes mostly fell flat. That is still OK. The animation, plot, and characters all make the film work. I especially like the premise of a family drifted apart and slowly coming together again. A scene with Leo and Raph on a rooftop shows this, and it is one of my favorite scenes in the film. With that, I'm impressed enough. The TMNT have never looked better on screen, and if the series continues, I look forward to the next movie.
For more information about TMNT, visit the Internet Movie Database.
In addition, check out my reviews for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III.