Movie Review: TMNT Is A Fun Pop Culture Flashback, But Not Much More

I remember buying my first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comic book as a young kid. This was before the old television show, the art was in black and white, and it wasn't necessarily for children. I've grown up with this franchise through it's many incarnations: the first cartoon series, the first movie and it's subsequent sequels, the toys, the TMNT rock band (yes, they traveled the country in Turtle outfits) and of course the new cartoon series (I somehow missed the live-action television show).

TMNT is yet a new revisiting of the Turtle series. If you've never encountered the franchise before, you may be stuck wondering, "what's going on." The prologue doesn't explain much of anything, but is long enough to make you wonder how bad the film is going to be. But fear not, after the first initial ten minutes, the movie picks up into an action and story packed storyline which will entertain fans of the series.

Years have past since the turtles defeated their old arch nemesis Shredder. The team has grown apart as a family. Leonardo (James Arnold Taylor) is living in another country, training to become a better leader, when he runs into April O'Neil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) who is there on business. Donatello (Mitchell Whitfield) has become a I.T. specialist, Michelangelo (Mikey Kelley) dresses up like a turtle for kids birthday parties, Raphael (Nolan North) sleeps all day and is a vigilante named the Night-watcher at night, and Splinter has been reduced to an old man who looks forward to watching his "stories" on primetime TV. April's visit causes Leo to return to the sewers, and just in time. Tech-industrialist Maximillian J. Winters (Patrick Stewart) is raising up an army of ancient monsters, and only one super-ninja fighting team can stop them.

This is where my problem with the movie begins. I've always been a guy who believes that the only thing super in a superhero movie/comic should be the hero. I've felt that the Superman-Lex Luther fued works so well because of that dynamic. I somehow can buy into mutated turtles who fight like ninjas in New York City, but when you add 13 monsters and an army of rock men, I start to head for the door. This is always why I think fans have clamored for the Turtles/Shredder feud, it's far more reality based than Krang, or any of the other characters in the turtle universe. That aside, the story is ridiculous but also intricate. We not only get a huge new adversary, but we have a family, that has fallen apart, having to reunite for the good of the world. Leonardo and Raphael's brotherly feud is ripped directly from the comics. But this also pushes Donatello into the background for more of the film. Fans of the series will covet the interaction between the four brothers and their master Splinter. This is classic stuff that was done right.

When did April quit being a reporter and become an art distributor? When did Casey Jones quit being an asshole and become the human incarnation of Michelangelo? When did a young Asian women take over as leader of the foot clan? And where is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle theme song? How could they forget to include that? I was also expecting a contemporary version of Vanilla Ice's Ninja Rap ("Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go"), but to no avail.

TMNT's score (note: not soundtrack, SCORE) is incredible for an animated film. Pirates of the Caribbean composer Klaus Badelt did an incredible job.

At times the animation has a video game cut-scene feel, but when it moves into close-ups, the detail is quite amazing. It's a strange mixture of anime and 3D cartoon animation, which might hold you off guard.

TMNT is a nice pop culture flashback. Kids and adults alike will enjoy reuniting with their favorite characters of yesteryear. Those who never saw the series probably won't get it, and may even hate it. It would have been interesting to see a more adult orientated version. John Woo was once attached to a CG Rated-R Turtles film. But alas, the studio believes an adult cartoon is not profitable. And I might regretfully agree. As much as I enjoyed TMNT, I wish it were something more. And who knows, if it's a success, we may even get that. Whatever the case, the result will surely be better than Turles in Time or the Ninja rap. Right?

/Film Rating: 6 out of 10