Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT) Review
With Turtlemania’s heyday back in the 90s and Transformers: The Movie looming, the world wasn’t exactly crying out for TMNT. A grasping attempt at resurrecting a money-spinning franchise, the film is saved only by mightily impressive CGI effects, computer wizardry that favours spectacle over clarity of narrative. The transition from the previous installments’ 2-D animation and clumsily suited actors showcases several stunning sequences that finally allow the Turtles to show their full ninja prowess.
Surprisingly, the film all but concedes their status as amphibian anachronisms. These mutant ninjas are not teenagers but slacker twenty-somethings. Donatello (voiced by Mitchell Whitfield) is half-heartedly working as a technical support operative, Michelangelo (Mikey Kelley) wears a giant turtle costume for kids’ parties and Leonardo (James Arnold Taylor) has disappeared to discover himself and his leadership potential in a South American rainforest. Only Raphael (Nolan North) continues the fight against crime, nightly prowling New York as an armour-clad vigilante. The four’s sensei, Splinter (Mako), never properly explains why three of his charges are being allowed to squander their potential while Leonardo completes his Bushido style quest, but the brothers are expressly forbidden to fight until they can cooperate as a team.
Meanwhile, April O’Neil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) has abandoned news reporting for archaeology, and when not literally stumbling across Leonardo and urging him to come home, she and boyfriend Casey (Chris Evans) retrieve lost artefacts for wealthy collectors, such as the mysterious industrialist Max Winters (Patrick Stewart).
Even the densest adolescent will immediately appreciate that Winters is a 3000-year-old warrior alluded to in a myth related by April. But distinctions of good and evil quickly become blurred between the immortal warrior, his stone statue lieutenants, 13 monsters he accidentally released three millennia ago and the Turtles’ former adversaries, the Foot Clan, led by Karai (Ziyi Zhang). Several alliances shift as the Turtles resolve their differences and enter the fray.
TMNT is essentially a series of set-pieces strung out with the clichéd personality clash between hot-headed Raphael and strait-laced Leonardo. It’s reminiscent of Cyclops and Wolverine in the X-Men, but without the attendant love triangle or humour. It does provide one memorable duel between the two brothers though, the incredible image of a foreboding, suitably Gothamesque skyline refracting rain off their shiny, muscular hides in full skirmish. By contrast, Donatello and Michelangelo are barely glimpsed until the final battle. The latter’s nunchucks are scarcely witnessed, although he is gifted a tremendous, one-take skateboarding sequence through the sewers.
The animation is superb, with every hair on Splinter’s fur discernable as it twitches. The turtles themselves are rendered with a far greater eye for individual characteristics than simply their weapons and headbands. The presence of Stewart and Laurence Fishburne’s narration adds a gravitas that the plot simply doesn’t deserve, but kids will love it for its sheer sense of fun and kinetic energy.
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