Remember all that nonsense years ago when the word ninja struck fear into the hearts of the law enforcement community and little kiddies’ parents? When the thought of their child running amok, pretending to be a green shellback, waving around homemade nunchucks made out of toilet roll and string was almost too much to bear? I never did that by the way. Well the times are a changin’ ya’ll. Kids still piss about and get stuck down drains and what not, but people are generally a little less bothered now to pin it on cartoons these days. So everyone’s favourite fighting amphibians are back in all their gratuitous weapon swinging glory, ready to kick evil in the face and reassure us that the concept of ninja turtles is still as ridiculous as ever. Cowabunga!
The Shredder is no more, he’s been offed by the turtles and the city is safe from the evil Foot Clan it seems. Disparaged by his lack of leadership abilities Leonardo (James Arnold Taylor) obeys master Splinter (Mako Iwamatsu) and travels the world in order to improve his skills. Since he’s been gone the turtles have been working hard to bring in some money: Donatello (Mitchell Whitfield) has taken a job in IT support, while Michelangelo (Mikey Kelley) runs his own children’s birthday party business, under the guise of “Cowabunga Carl”. But the turtles are concerned about Raphael (Nolan North), who sleeps all day and disappears at night. Little do they know that while they’ve been stuck indoors doing menial tasks he’s been continuing the fight against evil as a masked vigilante known to the media as The Night Watcher. Elsewhere April O’Neil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Casey Jones (Chris Evans) have moved in together and are enjoying their relationship, though they deeply miss the absence of Leonardo and the once carefree nature of the turtles.
Meanwhile an industry mogul called Max Winters (Patrick Stewart) has employed the services of the Foot Clan, led by Karai (Zhang Ziyi), who are presently unhappy with their gun for hire status in the aftermath of their leader’s death. Winters wants them to track down and capture thirteen beasts that were unleashed upon the world by Winter’s own doing, centuries ago when he was a general. His hope is to bring back fallen comrades and break a terrible curse placed upon him. And so April sets out to find Leonardo and reunite the four brothers so that they may save the world from total domination.
Forgetting the sequels (which isn’t hard to do) TMNT takes place roughly a year since the events of the 1989 live action feature. It’s a brave move as it shows a willingness to walk away from established villains and sets-ups that had been so prevalent in the cartoons and comics before and since, and yet at its heart it retains everything that makes the Turtles franchise just that little bit special. Core to the movie is a very simple and often touching tale of brotherhood that chronicles how the turtle’s family unit has broken down over the course of a year and is now struggling to move on and accept that life can’t be lived by clinging on to the past; in addition so too does Casey and April find themselves trying to live new lives in a relatively young relationship: April has quit her job as a reporter and is now a tomb raider of sorts, while Casey is a little lost without all that action going on. Juxtaposing this is the story of Max Winters, who is all too willing to shed the memories of old and end his tormented existence.
Kevin Munroe admirably directs this great comeback for the turtles; he handles multiple story strands and new characters quite well, given that the run time is very slight. However, because of the strong links to the first movie much of his focus is still kept on Leonardo and Raphael, who fans will know have already had their relationship arc opened up previously, but have never been quite so deeply explored. While this is a welcome part of the tale and balances out the humour and action it means that unfortunately Donatello and Michelangelo get sidelined after the opening ten minutes, with Don coming off far worse than Mikey, who of course gets all the comic lines. April also gets less time on screen and in this incarnation is quite hard to swallow as being an ace ninja toward the final act, while Casey is a little more dumbed down than usual and lacks that slightly crazed vibe. Nevertheless the four turtles and their friends come together when it’s most necessary and drive home the message that Munroe so eagerly wishes to get across.
While there’s an obvious void left by the passing of Shredder TMNT’s new additions are interesting. Max Winters initially comes across as a standard arch nemesis; a powerful business mogul who wishes to rule the world, but the narrative offers a few neat little twists and doesn’t totally go for cliché, while the appearance of the Foot Clan, led by a mysterious woman named Karai reassures fans that there never truly is an end for some evil. Although she’s quite ambiguous and we never know where she comes from there is a great feeling that a sequel will tidy up some loose ends and above all bring back familiar faces, as it so obviously hints at toward the end. Fingers crossed we actually get one then. The extra plot point of the thirteen monsters is swiftly handled as Munroe can’t possibly deal with each one over extended periods of time, making the film a little more convoluted than it needs to be. Did there really have to be thirteen monsters? Couldn’t there have been two or three and still allowed the same story to play out? I guess it just needed that little bit of extra padding.
Although the original live action film featured a stunning display of animatronics and still remains one of the most ambitious comic book adaptations to date, TMNT shows that perhaps the world of Leonardo and company is better suited to computer animation. Simply put it’s an amazing looking film; the animation is gloriously smooth and the New York cityscapes offer astonishing amounts of often photo-realistic detail. It’s interesting to note that the other thing that this feature has in common with the original is its Hong Kong production values. This time Imagi Animation Studios lend their talents to bringing alive this universe, and they do more than enough to see to it that any plot contrivances are quickly forgotten about. TMNT is every bit as adrenaline driven as we’d expect it to be and there are some stunning sequences littered throughout, as if watching the turtles leap from roof to roof wasn’t exciting enough; it’s great at last to see them being allowed the kind of freedom that other movies could never afford them. One of the standouts involves Leo and Raph going knuckle to knuckle on a rooftop, while rain heavily pours down. The tension is brilliantly executed and the weather effects are some of the most jaw-dropping I’ve ever seen in a CG production. Several other fight sequences are exciting, from their first meeting with one of the monsters, to a final run as they storm Winter’s building in an impressively staged, single cut take. Initially I was concerned about how well the turtles and humans would translate on screen, but those fears were quickly put to rest. They work so well, with the turtles especially having some wonderful skin details, and just by hearing the children’s response from the audience was enough to know that Kevin Munroe and his team at Imagi had nailed it. When Splinter first appeared a kid next to me let out an exclaimed awe, which was quite heartening. And likewise when Michelangelo did his cheeky grin it was as if they’ve never been away. And here I was thinking that this would only appeal to the nostalgic fans amongst us, forgetting that the franchise has been enjoying a recent animated resurgence on TV. TMNT retains its dark roots, while throwing in the much enjoyed humour and tongue in cheek style that it’s always been known for employing and it’s great to see it shine so well in its new clothing.
Also impressive is the voice work on display. The turtles sound as familiar as ever, while the A-list support is surprisingly good. I say surprisingly because it’s all too easy to think of Patrick Stewart and Gellar when listening to them speak, but they inhabit their roles well. Zhang Ziyi is effective as Karai; her English is a little broken, naturally, but at least there’s an air of authenticity and she also escapes unharmed. Mako however, who sadly passed away shortly after production finished, is initially daunting. Although he imbues Splinter with some fine, heartfelt qualities his voice can be quite jarring at times, especially when Splinter breaks from his familiar character and gets a little pissed off, which occasionally goes against the nature of his wise, calm and collected personality. The rest of the sound department is solid, though a fully orchestral score might have suited the mood a bit better; the rock songs that make their way into the feature are instantly forgettable and obviously pander to the MTV crowd, with the exception of “Black Betty”, which makes a rather unusual appearance.
In a time where computer animated zoo animals are all the rage TMNT proves that nothing beats four elite ninjas who happen to be turtles. This provides a welcome comeback for our heroes; a stunning looking adventure, packing plenty of fun, action and humour for kids and adults alike. I don’t think I’ve seen an audience come quite so alive in recent times visiting the cinema. This is a solid family friendly film that’s far too much fun for us to wallow in some of the more routine aspects of the storyline. Be warned though parents: keep an eye on your kids once the film has finished, ’cause if they’re anything like the ones at my showing they’ll be kicking and punching their way all the way home.
Last updated: 07/05/2018 09:11:32