I have fond memories as a child of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles As a kid who grew up in the 80s and early 90s, they were ubiquitous – I can still sing every word to the original cartoon’s theme song (and probably too much of the Ninja Rap). I played every video game too many times. I enjoyed the original movies as a kid (at least the first two, I had mostly grown out of it when the third hit), and have fond memories playing with action figures, the Turtle Van, and more.
As I grew older, I read some Turtles comics old and new. I enjoyed the CGI movie from a few years back (that fight in the rain still holds up) and when this new movie was announced, I didn’t really think much of it. Frankly, certain names attached to the movie weren’t exactly associated with the highest quality of film at this point.
So imagine my surprise when about an hour and 45 minutes passed, and I found myself having enjoyed it all quite a bit.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles starts strong with a cool motion comic style opening credits sequence. It shows the turtles’ basic origin, with them growing up, being trained by Master Splinter, all leading to them in their full new forms slicing and smashing a bunch of fruit in what looked like a 3D Fruit Ninja clip. While many have complained about the Turtles’ new look, it worked amazingly well on the big screen. They were able to emote much more, and it made them surprisingly relatable. It helped that the four brothers each had very distinct personalities – all of which were very recognizable to fans of the classic cartoon (and of the newer one, too).
And that’s the thing here – director Jonathan Liebesman and his writing team were definitely also fans of both the original comics and the classic cartoon. There are several references throughout the movie to the old series, from fun slight nods to blatant one-liners pulled right from old teleplays. And yes, to slightly spoil (since they’ve already released the clip), there’s even a Cowabunga or two in there – something they specifically reference before it’s said.
There have been some slight changes to the origin story, with specific experiments being conducted on the Turtles (and Splinter) instead of a freak accident, and more direct, close ties to April O’Neil (Megan Fox) and the Shredder (via his lackey, Eric Sacks, played by William Fichtner). They work well for the film, and play into the underlying theme of the whole thing: family.
Yes, this is the second blockbuster comic book movie in a row (thanks, Guardians of the Galaxy) that’s really all about family and friendship, and how working together saves the day. If the Turtles can’t trust April or get past their own personal hangups, they can’t win. The individual is nothing compared to the whole. It’s all there, and it’s a solid message for the kids. During our screening, there was about half the theater filled with kids who ate up every moment of the movie.
There was a bit too much April – which is to say nothing of Megan Fox’s performance, which was probably one of her best to date. She wasn’t quite as vapid or played up for sexual appeal as she usually is, and it allowed her character to actually shine at some points. It didn’t hurt that she had Will Arnett to play off of as her comedic and press partner, either. Still, the movie almost felt like it was “April O’Neil” and not “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” during a few extended sequences. I can see kids (and adults) getting genuinely bored as the longer exposition plays out, something to watch out for with younger ones especially. The plot is fairly generic, with no twists you won't see coming from a mile away, but keeps things going and has few holes; it's just enough to bring you to the next scene of Turtles kicking butt.
Still, every time the Turtles were on screen, it was nothing but excitement. They were pretty much always occupied with action sequences, major fights, or chase scenes, and managed to play up a lot of laughs along the way. Michelangelo will again be an instant fan-favorite as the comedy relief (who quickly falls in love with April, played to great effect), while Raphael is the brash tough guy, Leonardo the natural leader, and Donatello the brains of the operation with more direct references to that than ever. They were fun to watch, and the fight choreography was brilliant. Even Splinter, who looked a little too CGI, and Shredder, whose armor was a monstrosity of metal, looked awesome when they were in action. The fight sequences all felt very kinetic and filled with consequence – something that is hard to pull off with a lot of CG involved.
Overall, with lots of laughs and heart and some badass ninja fighting, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles provides entertainment without ever taking itself too seriously. The movie isn’t an award winner or really doing too much new, as it borrows its greatest moments and lines from the old cartoon, but if this is the start of a new franchise, fans should be pretty happy. Essentially extending an episode of a cartoon to just under two hours seems to be the name of the game for 80s properties recently, and when it works like this, it’ll change minds of those with low expectations. Worth seeing for old-school fans, kids will love it (with all non-blood violence and no foul language, I’m honestly a bit surprised at the PG-13 rating) and we’ll all be shouting “Turtle Power” again soon.