Michelangelo: I have nightmares about birthday parties…
I’ll happily admit this again and again, “TMNT” was one of my most anticipated movies of 2007. Because whether I say it or not, the Ninja Turtles were just a big part of my youth. And they’re a franchise I consistently trail back to and enjoy. I loved the original movie, loved the animated series and hell, I even dug the 2003 animated series. Remember that period when they were a rock band? I digress. This franchise is not without its hitches, as every franchise is, but “TMNT” was a step in the right direction. Computer animation, great cast, and bringing the turtles back to the dark without abandoning their major audience. I’m assuming you know the story of the turtles by now, so I’ll segue into the review.
Visually, “TMNT” is spectacular. For a film that’s basically intended to cash in on the one gigantic cash cow, I was surprised how above par the animation is. From the massive battle sequences, to the atmosphere of the city, right down to the character design, the animators seem to spare no expense. And they compose their film as an animated movie and not as CGI. This is a cartoon, and there are no bones about it. The turtles have drifted apart after the death of the Shredder, and Leonardo has become a recluse in the jungles of South America, training and living as a vigilante. Found by April who is now a tomb raider/adventurer, he’s called back to re-unite with his estranged brothers and take on a new evil. The new twist on the lore is that the turtles have basically become products of the society they hide from.
Donatello is now a tech help operator, Michelangelo is now a party entertainer, and Raphael is a reclusive warrior. The only one who remains rooted in his training is Leonardo, as we’d expect. The voice performances for this revival are as good as I hoped. Sarah Michelle Buffy is pretty solid as April, while Chris Evans plays upon his slacker hothead routine yet again taking on the one and only Casey Jones. But I came for the turtles, and I wanted to see if this cast could fill the shells of the former. And they performed extremely well. But the wonderful casting choice remains in Mako. He’s excellent as Master Splinter, and inhabits much of the spirituality/philosophical conscience that bind the turtles together, even at a time when they are most separated.
“TMNT” feels like a preamble to something bigger, and when you delve deeper and deeper into the story, you can’t help but feel the franchise may just be kicking off again. Here’s hoping a certain tin encased warrior returns. “TMNT” was a lot of fun, and I’m glad it met most of my expectations. Aside from head scratching narration from Laurence Fishburne who likely saw the dollar signs from this gig and signed on, there’s no apparent rhyme or reason for his narration. Which makes the first few minutes questionable at best. But what’s missing from “TMNT” really keeps it from being a stellar action flick. There’s no Shredder. Superman needs Lex Luthor, Sherlock Holmes needs Moriarty, and the turtles simply need Shredder. He balances them. In his place we have one of the most convoluted plots I’ve seen in a while involving a millionaire seeking to open a portal and end a curse.
Through this he hires four living statues that act as warriors… oh hell, it’s a long story, most of which I didn’t give a crap about. It’s just a stupid plot overall, and was much too complex for a kid film. Most questionable though was why the turtles split. What was the reason for it in the end? Did Shredder’s death leave them with a crisis of conscience? Did Leonardo just get bored? There’s just no explanation here. We just have to buy that they drifted apart for no good reason. Thus, we’re never told how Shredder died, either. Beyond that, there’s not much of a purpose for April O’Neil here. For a character that was once the straight man/normal persona in the group, she’s now sadly reduced to a plot device. She’s a tomb raider/adventurer why? She has an extensive knowledge of mythology how? She just happens to be in the same jungle Leo is hiding out in?
How did she learn to fight? When did she learn to fight if she was out working? April is really nothing but a plot device who doesn’t contribute much, unfortunately. And that’s sad to see. There’s also Ziyi Zhang whose performance is utterly stifled, with her bland presence making her character a true low point. She also serves minimal purpose beyond the “surprise” revelation in the climax. And you just know she’s not coming back for the second film. Hey, it’s not without it’s flaws but I’ll be happy to admit that I enjoyed “TMNT” in all of its glory. Even if everyone else didn’t. I know I’m in the minority, what else is new? Great animation, good voice work, and an entertaining story make it a revival worth watching again and again, and it was exciting watching the heroes in a half shell kick ass again. Bring on the sequel.