Heroes in a Half Shell

09-Apr-07 3:44 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 6 comments.

I've seen my first movie of 2007 — and that film is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

The star of the film is definitely the titular heroes. Though the plot makes Michaelangelo and Donatello extraneous, this bummer is balanced by Raphael, always my favorite reptile, taking the spotlight alongside Leonardo in a battle that is more emotional than physical. The evil Shredder is dead, and without an opposing force to galvanize the turtles, they've drifted apart. When Leonardo returns after a year's pilgramage, he finds a cooler reception than he expected. Old friends April O'Neil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Casey Jones must help the turtles unite against the machinations of Max Winters (Patrick Stewart). There are some great action sequences, but not as great as the character development — who'd expect that from giant turtles? — and some effective mirroring between the turtle's internal strife and that of the villains — something that Star Trek: Nemesis tried, and failed, to do well.

The directorial team approached this film in a way that lends it both strength and weakness. In the former area, TMNT cuts right to the chase. I've not read any TMNT comic books in the last 15 years; I've not seen the new cartoon or played the video games; I never even got around to seeing the third live-action film. But having grown up with the original cartoon and seeing the first two films, I felt like this latest animated installment was a direct sequel to that older franchise. The film does not dawdle with prelude: there's no flashbacks, setting up, or other time-wasting plot devices. If you don't know how the ninja turtles came to be, or why they listen to a wise old rat, by the end of the movie, you still won't know. Anything that's important can be gleaned.

The downside to this approach is that there is little that makes this film uniquely TMNT. It's a fun martial arts/sci-fi/action film, but I felt like their were too many elements that could've been transplanted into other setting (like Disney's Gargoyles). Not even the classic TMNT theme song is present.

I previously expressed my concern for the animation style, and I agree the humans were a bit too inhuman. But the dark style fit the turtles perfectly. Not once during the film did I think to myself, "This is a CGI cartoon." Its computer-generated nature didn't occur to me, though I think that is reflective more of the prevalance of the medium than of the improved quality (which is admittedly impressive).

Overall, a better film than I was expecting — and with a convenient hook for a sequel. For now, check out the online featurette (may contain spoilers).

6 Responses to “Heroes in a Half Shell”

  1. peterw adds:

    One man's meat, etc, etc!

    I saw TMNT when it first came out, and I came away feeling surprisingly disappointed. (And given I usually don't mind even downright bad movies, that in itself is surprising.) I'm not sure what I was expecting or hoping for, but the latest incarnation wasn't it!

    I'm old enough never to have watched the original cartoons or read the comic books. But I did see at least the first two live action movies, and I enjoyed them. They were lightweight and corny, but hey, were talking teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles here — what else could they be?

    I guess I found the current movie too dark, and trying to take itself too seriously. (A common complaint when translating comics to movies!) There was less of the snappy patter, and plain and simple "fun", from the earlier movies.

  2. Justdave adds:

    I saw this the other day, and being old enough to have seen the original cartoons when they first came out, I must say this fits right in with the original cartoons, at least much better than the previous movies did anyway. It was set up such that the story could be a sequel to the live action movies.

    The idea of April having quit from her reporter job and being an adventurer for hire (and a damn good one at that) was a kick-ass idea I think (not to mention that she can kick ass herself).

    So I came out of this movie having enjoyed it. Perhaps it was because I wasn't expecting much after the previous turtle movies. Probably also because it was more like the old cartoons than the previous movies were.

  3. hiphopguy23 adds:

    Sarah Michelle Gellar as April O'Neil?!? Hiphopguy23 can't think of a worse fit. Hiphopguy23 remembers April needing to be saved, not kicking ass and slaying vampires.

  4. GeneD adds:

    As I noted on my own blog, I liked the computer-animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Yes, the plot was a bit thin and the humans looked a bit odd, but I liked the characterizations and the balance of a darker setting and more serious emotions with some slapstick humor.

    Starting in media res was a good choice, although a 30-second recap of the mutants' origins wouldn't have been bad. I also liked that April had moved on from being a damsel in distress, if not quiet empowered to Buffy levels… The martial arts choreography was slick, and I hope a sequel develops the turtles further, and I look forward to Imagi's take on another childhood sentai favorite of mine, Gatchaman/G-Force/Battle of the Planets.

    Ken, it's funny that you mention Disney's Gargoyles, which was an early 1990s attempt to match the quality writing and darker style of the animated Batman and may even have been influenced by the Turtles' earlier run… Once you've seen vigilantes leaping from rain-soaked rooftop to rooftop in response to some city-threatening supernatural conspiracy, I guess you've seen them all…

  5. Ken Gagne adds:

    Some sort of live-action/CGI hybrid TMNT seems to be in the works, reports MTV.

  6. Gene D. adds:

    As someone who's been a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles since the early black-and-white Eastman and Laird comic books, the 1980s Palladium RPG, and various animated and live-action incarnations, I'm looking forward to another TMNT movie.