Since their initial inception in 1984, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have managed to reinvent themselves more times than Madonna. And still, after a comic book series, three live-action theatrical films and three TV series, the turtles have once again achieved new life on the silver screen.
Their latest incarnation, an all-CGI film titled “TMNT,” picks up some time after the events of 1993’s forgettable “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles In Time.” Leonardo has been sent to South America by Master Splinter for leadership training; Raphael has assumed the role of a steel-clad vigilante known as the Nightwatcher; Donatello is working for a customer service hotline; and Michaelangelo has been reduced to entertaining at children’s birthday parties under the professional name of Cowabunga Carl.
It isn’t until a malevolent force of ancient beings awakens from a centuries-long slumber that the reptilian foursome must reunite to save New York City from certain destruction.
Fans hoping to watch the turtles tangle with their archnemesis Shredder will be disappointed (the film takes place after his defeat), though the infamous Foot Clan is back, under the new leadership of the dark ninja Karai (voiced by Ziyi Zhang). Karai is hired by Max Winters (voiced by Patrick Stewart), a villain with a surprising level of depth and personal torment. Inadvertently cursed with immortality, Winters enlists Karai’s help to round up the 13 monsters needed to lift the curse and end his eternal suffering.
Some character elements may seem odd to older audiences at first, such as April O’Neil (voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar), no longer being a journalist and suddenly having ninja fighting abilities. This is because the film’s story is largely based on the comic books, rather than the more popular films or TV shows. Fortunately her relationship with Casey Jones (voiced by Chris Evans) remains intact, as the two share a cozy Manhattan apartment.
Jim Henson costume enthusiasts were initially concerned with the CGI look of “TMNT,” but the freedom of mobility given to the characters through the magic of computer animation is an undeniable benefit. The turtles are more agile than ever as they stealthily leap across buildings and engage in extensive, fast-paced combat, both of which were nearly impossible because of the rigid costume designs of the live-action films.
A commendable aspect of the film is how it effortlessly caters to both of its target audiences — the younger children who are being introduced to the turtles for the first time, and the twentysomethings that grew up watching the 1987 cartoon series. The turtles still spout traditional “cowabunga”s and refer to different characters as “dudes,” but their personalities have also appropriately evolved to suit today’s youth. Michaelangelo even attempts a “your mom” joke to Leonardo, which of course backfires since all four turtles share the same parents.
While Michaelangelo is responsible for providing comic relief, the level of dramatic interaction between Leonardo and Raphael is captivating, and a definite payoff to those who have been watching the tension build for years. Director Kevin Munroe brings the extreme sibling rivalry to a boiling point when the brothers finally face each other in a one-on-one showdown. With torrential rain pounding down and the occasional lightning bolt splitting the sky, the battle oozes with intensity and its conclusion leaves audiences with bated breath.
A conversation between the turtles and Karai at the end of the film includes a less-than-subtle suggestion of a potential sequel. This possibility should stir excitement both in fledgling fans and those who still have their deflated Ninja Turtle Blimps stashed away in a dark corner of their basement.
“TMNT” was written and directed by Kevin Munroe.
“TMNT” received three stars.