By Jess Decina
Four films, two TV series and almost 20 years of fighting crime on the streets of New York City. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are arguably four of the most successful reptiles in pop culture.
They’ve returned to the big screen in their latest film, simply called TMNT, which aims to unite fans young and old. The film’s pull is as strong with today’s plucky 9- and 10-year-olds who watch the current TV series as it is with the now college-aged students (such as myself) who loved spending their Saturday mornings with the Turtles.
TMNT follows the four turtles – Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael — who are leading very different lives. When Leonardo leaves suddenly to become a better leader, the remaining three stop fighting crime as a team. Donatello works in customer service for Information Technologies; Michelangelo suffers through a job traveling in costume to birthday parties; Raphael takes up an alternate identity and continues to fight crime in the city by night.
Entrepreneur Max Winters changes the course for the turtles, however, when he becomes involved with collecting 13 mysterious creatures roaming around the city in order to open up a portal and send them back from where they came. But when complications arise, the turtles must learn to appreciate teamwork and brotherhood again to save the day.
Yes, the plot is as cheesy and clichéd as can be. And it’s certainly nothing complicated. If you’re expecting the next great suspense thriller, you’ve stepped into the wrong theater.
The film’s strengths lie in its rich animation and design. The computer-generated effects are brilliant and the attention to detail is outstanding. A scene that takes place in the rain is an absolutely gorgeous achievement in animation; viewers watch as each drop of water splashes and rolls off the characters’ faces. Different scenes in the movie take the audience everywhere in New York City — from the tops of glass skyscrapers all the way to the twisting sewer systems. The film portrays the city as dark and worn, giving viewers the idea of a desolate, helpless community.
Another factor to consider is that TMNT has a great sense of humor and no sense of shame. The movie’s dialogue is nothing brilliant (“Crime didn’t take a break. You did,” Raphael tells Leonardo, and that’s about as dramatic as it gets). There is plenty of slapstick humor and witty one-liners that keep viewers chuckling. And if you’re a fan of puns and bad jokes, there’s no shortage of them here. The humor isn’t side-splitting, but it does make the viewer crack a smile.
If you’re over the age of 18 and attending this film, you’re not seeing it for the plot or the script. You want the sheer familiarity of a cartoon that you love. TMNT brings that familiar spirit back. Leonardo is still a leader; Donatello still fiddles with technology. Michelangelo still wolfs down pizza for breakfast and Raphael still has an attitude (and a far stronger New York accent than the other turtles). And Splinter is still the wise but humorous Sensei who nudges the turtles along.
But what does get confusing is how TMNT meshes together plot lines from previous films and the new TV series. The character April O’Neil, known to older fans as the tough investigative journalist, appears in the film as an archaeologist who seems to be a lot less fierce and a lot more of a sidekick.
With the right expectations, TMNT can be an incredibly entertaining film and a wild ride into nostalgia. While it’s certainly nothing complex and might not be worth paying $10 to see in theaters, the film makes fans young and old glad to see the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in action again.