Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Reworking And Rebooting TMNT Makes For A Better Franchise Outing!

The Good: Voice acting, Animation, Moments of story
The Bad: Predictable plot progression, Light on character development, Attempts at humor
The Basics: After reuniting, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles must fight an enemy that is bent on world domination after three thousand years.

With the impending cinematic reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles taking a lot of flack for the rumored reworking of the origin story of the Turtles as aliens, I thought it was worth throwing my two cents as a reviewer out. The idea is not an inherently bad one. In fact, the idea of almost entirely reworking the origin story and franchise to make something new, but with familiar elements, might be the only real chance for success that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cinematic franchise has at this point. One need look no further than TMNT to see the crux of this argument. TMNT was a continuation of the character arcs of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles redressed in a CG animated presentation.

The result is less of a rebooting and more of an awkward progression than both fans and the general moviegoing public were able to accept. The reason for this is surprisingly understandable in rational terms: TMNT failed to engage its audience because it was too concerned with maintaining fidelity to the original, as opposed to working out the kinks from the prior live action films (outside the obvious issues with having live-action giant talking turtles). TMNT has the same weaknesses of character and dialogue as the prior installments, though it is more interesting in plot and form than the prior three Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies. If the movie had had the courage to strive for originality instead of trying to keep the lame humor of the original franchise, it might have actually worked. So, with the impending reboot, perhaps a radical change of direction is what the franchise actually needs.

That said, TMNT is more average than either extraordinary or awful.

After a primer that describes the story of an ancient warrior who opened a mystical gateway, in the process encasing his generals in stone, the present finds strange things happening in New York City. At night, an armored vigilante (Nightwatcher) works to save ordinary citizens and mysterious creatures are glimpsed. In Central America, April O’Neil hunts down Leonardo, who she fills in about the state of her friends. The other teenage mutant ninja turtles have gotten jobs or are, apparently, loafing about. O’Neil convinces the leader of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to return to New York City.

There, the tycoon Winters has assembled all he needs to utilize the stone warriors left behind three thousand years ago. He begins capturing the mutant creatures around the City that will allow him to open the magical portal. While he seeks to assemble the thirteen monsters that might break the ancient curse, the villainous Karai wants to use the portal's power to gain more power, possibly enough to dominate the world. As the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles come back together and train, they become the fighting force needed to take on their new enemy.

TMNT abandons the live-action format of the first three Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films in favor of a sophisticated computer generated animation style similar to The Clone Wars (reviewed here!). In its plot progression, TMNT feels quite a bit like Gargoyles, albeit with the “gargoyles” not utilized as the main characters.

In every way, TMNT is an average fantasy action film and there is an appropriately epic sense to it. The mood of danger and importance – enhanced by a decent score – is diminished by the dialogue. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are ridiculous protagonists and their use of humor diminishes the serious tone director and (bafflingly, because he seems to be working at cross-purposes) co-writer Kevin Munroe otherwise creates.

On the acting front, TMNT succeeds where the other Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films failed simply through amazing casting. When the vocal talents of Laurence Fishburne, Patrick Stewart, and Mako are employed, it is hard to argue with the results. In fact, no matter how bad the dialogue is at various points, the voice acting – even by Sarah Michelle Gellar, who voices April O’Neil – is expressive and well-defined. It is not the fault of the performers that they are given often inane lines to read with characters that are hardly distinct or entirely compelling.

On Blu-Ray, TMNT comes as a “movie only” option, though it looks great in HD. Regardless, it is a very average film.

For prior installments in the series, please check out my reviews of:
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret Of The Ooze
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles In Time


Check out how this movie stacks up against others I have reviewed by visiting my Movie Review Index Page for a listing of every film I have reviewed, from best to worst!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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