I never grew up with exposure to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies, shows, or comics. I have been told this is wrong. And I like being right. I thought to myself, “What better time to see what the fuss is all about with these Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than during the release of their new movie?” Within 48 hours I devoured several boxes of pizza and watched all 5 feature length movies featuring the heroes with a half shell. The results were… mixed. Even though I’ve never gotten to know these characters, I always thought of it as such a fun concept. A family of turtles that were turned into teenage ninjas? If a talking Raccoon and Tree can make me cry, then dammit, so can these little bastards. The only worry on my mind was the possibly of nostalgia blanketing mediocrity to an entire generation of moviegoers. It sounds harsh, but we also live in a world where people will try and convince you that the Police Academy is serviceable comedy. But I digress, so let’s get on with it.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Balancing the tone of a movie is no easy feat. I always pick on the The Amazing Spider-Man series for many reasons, but lack of tonal consistency is usually at the forefront of my problems. A scene involving Peter running from the police as Spider-Man turns into an excruciatingly awkward slapstick scene with him yelling out “Hey, I’m swinging here! I’m swinging here!” There are ways to make a dark overture work within the confines of an admittedly silly premise. In that regard, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was more successful than a Spider-Man movie from 2012. From quippy one-liners, to fighting with actual ninja weapons in a movie primarily aimed at children, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is surprising, and harmless, fun.
It’s not a great movie – not even a very good one – but I can see why people are drawn to this franchise now. The relationship between the brothers, specifically Leonardo and Raphael, is admittedly pretty weak. There’s some lip service early on about how Raphael needs to channel his anger, but it’s all telling and no showing. When Raph storms off in the movie, it comes out of nowhere. What is established in a satisfactory manner was the relationship between the turtles, April, and Casey Jones. Hell, I was invested enough to the point where I felt bad for April having her living space burnt to the ground. The action in the first half of the movie is schlocky, but it’s fun schlock. Everything post fire-fight in April’s building is handled pretty well for men who have to fight in rubber suits. None of these elements would work if there’s no thematic through line. Family is the idea that ties this whole movie together. The idea of acceptance and togetherness has always poked at my soft-spot so it’s quite possible I’ve been this movie’s target audience all along. It should go without saying that after this I was eager to see the next installment.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)
Remember all the positive things I said about the first movie? Picture that, only mediocre. Ugh. This one was such a drag. There’s still plenty of action. Only now with guitars and cold cuts instead of katanas and the variety of weapons the turtles usually use. It’s my understanding that the first film was deemed too violent for kids (Oh, we’ll get back to that). The movie reaches an overt simplicity in the fights that just feels too safe. It’s not even fun schlock by this point. It’s giving a kid gum and telling them it’s chocolate (Please don’t swallow gum). In movie terms, it’s the difference between a fight scene in a Percy Jackson movie and a Harry Potter movie. We know characters can (and do) meet grizzly deaths at the end of a wand in the Harry Potter Franchise. There are no stakes in Percy Jackson.
It’s not all bad in a dull sense. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II has one of the all-time great bad movie moments. Vanilla Ice is on stage and sings the so bad, it’s good “Go Ninja, Go Ninja Go!” If you could make posters out of videos, I would buy this for several American dollars. Everything else is pretty forgettable unless you’re a diehard turtles fan. Also, Shredder is defeated by the power of music and then dies by bringing a dock down on himself. I… I don’t know.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 (1993)
I don’t know if I can induct part of a marathon review into the Garbage Pile. If I could, it would be for this pile of crap. I’m not sure what was going on with the minds behind this franchise. Shredder wasn’t a good villain by any stretch of the imagination, but he had a good villain presence (Even if he looked like cheap cosplay). You don’t need a strong villain for a movie to be good. The contrast between the antagonist and protagonist helps maintain a sense of tension throughout the film’s runtime. There are many more problems with this movie (editing, camerawork, fight choreography, costumers are all equally terrible) but this was the most tangible detail for me.
With this third Ninja Turtles movie and the second season of Heroes, I’ve come to the decision that time-traveling to feudal Japan is a death sentence for franchises. So if you’re thinking about doing a similar plot, don’t.
It’s not quite as good as the first movie. It’s not nearly as childish as the second movie. It’s a happy middle ground that finds some strengths that even surpass the original. TMNT is an animated sequel/side-story that works as a continuation of the original trilogy or as a standalone story (as long as you know TMNT lore). Don’t watch this one for the story. Watch it for the animation. But even that’s a double-edged sword. The animation for the humans are kind of bland. It looks like something airing on Nickelodeon a decade ago. However, designs for the monsters and turtles themselves are what I’d been wanting from the series from the start. Unfortunately, minus the voice acting (As a fan of Avatar: The Last Airbender, the movie struck a chord with me when I heard Mako voicing Splinter) and some really great art design with art deco New York, the proceedings are generic and yawn worthy.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
I’ve reviewed two Michael Bay movies for Audiences Everywhere. They are both Transformers sequels and are entries in the Garbage Pile. You can imagine where my headspace was before I started watching this movie. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that it isn’t terrible, Megan Fox actually acts this time, and the turtles are fun to watch (Noel Fisher voicing Mikey is pitch perfect casting). It’s not 100% Michael Bay not giving a shit like every Transformers sequel. It’s just a hired gun attempting to do a Michael Bay Transformers sequel job. The good news is that the villains look and feel much better this time. William Fichter just needs to be in everything. Poor guy doesn’t get his credit, being forced to say lines like, “I won’t be rich. I’ll be stupid rich.” Shredder is just a placeholder for Megatron. “What’s more threatening than a giant can opener? A giant can opener that also doubles as a Swiss-army knife!” – the writers of this movie probably. I imagine the writers also thought it would be a good idea to copy and paste the story of The Amazing Spider-Man but with TMNT characters? Yeah, that’s great. A half-assed attempt to copy a half-assed director with a piss-poor script from a mediocre superhero movie. It wouldn’t be so bad if we got more turtles in the picture. I’m not talking about these monstrosities. These guys should be called Teenage Mutant Ninja Shreks because these ugly bastards just crawled out of a swamp near the kingdom of Far, Far Away. It’s not the “destruction of childhoods” or anything of the sort. You just deserve a better movie with these characters.
With the majority of these movies being not good, you’d think I would forsake these characters and return to the comfort of my Marvel Cinematic Universe. Well, you’d also be wrong. Because I was wrong. Two out of five passing grades and I just can’t get enough of these damn turtles. I find myself liking these characters more with each passing movie. Even the worst of the bunch had me disappointed, mostly because I wanted to find some enjoyable aspect of this adventure with these lovable idiots (Spoiler alert: There isn’t). And yet even the best live action movies didn’t entirely make the cut with some awkward suits and CGI concoctions. The turtles seem to fit best with a completely animated setting. So that’s where I’ll be heading next in my journey with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Greener pastures… greener, pizza covered pastures…