Starring - Chris Evans, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mako, Kevin Smith, Patrick Stewart, Ziyi Zhang, Laurence Fishburne
In an attempt to make my blog more relevant I’m here to analyze the Ninja Turtles movie – not the new Ninja Turtles movie that was in theatres this summer, mind you. That would be too relevant. And not the original Turtles film that would offer relevance in the form of kitsch value – my age and upbringing would infuse that piece with too many biases. Rather, I’m here to scrutinize the 2007 film that was released during one of their less spikey peaks in popularity in the middle of their 2nd animated season. For some reason. Actually, there is a reason and it reaches somewhat beyond my desire to branch out and add variety to the genres of film that I analyze – and that is that TMNT didn’t get near the respect it deserved. Be it kid entertainment or nerd nostalgia, I found TMNT to be quite successful with most elements in its effort to once again exemplify the nuances of mutated reptiles. Those nuances, of course, being that ninjas will never forsake the use of their favourite weapon. Or that teenagers love pizza. Or that if four turtles grow up together, then become mutants, then learn how to talk, a percentage of those turtles will develop accents. Wait… those can’t be right… There’s a nuance here somewhere… My inner child just spoke up and gave me the answer – “Giant turtles punch and kick stuff.” And there you have it; the secret to their popularity.
Falling directly into the canon line started by its live action predecessor 17 years prior, TMNT has the boys reunite with Leonardo in order to fight monsters, stone soldiers, foot ninjas, and kitchen sinks. See, an altruistically diabolical tycoon has returned sentience to said ancient soldiers in an effort to cease both their and his own “eternal life”. Classic villain with a heart of gold scenario… I miss the Shredder. In a throwaway line regarding his whereabouts, it is stated that Shredder is “dead” – a good way for kids to learn a harsh life lesson, and it saves the family on goldfish.
The pacing of this film is exceptional, and was one of the first things that made me figuratively stand and take positive notice. TMNT heartily follows the “7 minute rule” and applies it to children, making it more along the lines of a “3 minute rule”. The “7 minute rule” plays to the male attention span, exercising the notion that your average man can only pay attention for 7 minutes at a time. Thus, a film has to toss out violence, comedy, or sauciness every 7 minutes in order for a male to be fully engaged for an entire movie. Now, we know that children and men have comparable attention spans, and in a quote-unquote “kids” movie, that 7 minutes has to be greatly reduced. And that is something TMNT does with great success. Scenes filled with dialogue or narrative exposition last only a couple of minutes before cutting to a different individual or group. When there is no fight scene imminent, the writers simply rely on showing a turtle unconventionally utilizing a means of transportation to keep the pace brisk. Be it a skateboard, a motor bike, an airplane(‘s landing gear), or a hang glider, these forms of travel offer the viewer a taste of action that looks cool but doesn’t fall back on fighting.
Speaking of fighting, the brawls are played out to fruition – the choreography is excellent and each fight is comprised of long takes, resulting in the viewer’s ability to actually see what is going on. There’s also a lot of style infused into these battles, making them more enjoyable than your average mutant ninja fight. Between the POV that follows Raph’s unfurled chain, Raph’s free-fall down the side of a building, and Raph’s POV as the tiny monster beats on his helmet, there is certainly no lack of entertaining details when the fists do fly. Though, a list like that does make it seem like Raphael was at the center of all the good stuff. And, as if all that bad guy besting wasn’t enough, there’s even a skirmish between Raph and Leo – I love it when the good guys fight each other… Fucking goody two-shoes… But why couldn’t the writers have figured out a way to include Don and Mike, giving us a four-way fisticuff that wouldn’t have soon been forgotten.
If the fighting truly is the film’s hero in a half shell, then it also leads to one of the film’s biggest disappointments; namely, the final battle. It’s the one fight that doesn’t pull back for some medium to long shots and rushes Casey and April’s task in coaxing the 13th monster to follow them. Not only is it somewhat anti-climactic, it literally feels like there are scenic elements missing that may have been left behind for time. With the Turtles engaged in un-stylized assault on the stone soldiers, in comes the van leading the monster to its extra-dimensional demise. Wipe hands thusly and cue pertinent rock music.
There isn’t much more that can be negatively said about TMNT. In fact, I find CG films in general difficult to review because the majority of things said about them is plot-based. For example, when’s the last time an animated feature had bad animation? It’s been a very long time. Even Doogal looked good. Or voice-acting – sure, not every voice-over can be accompanied by the accolades that go to a Mark Hamill, but when voice is all you have to judge, it takes away the myriad of other elements one can explore and, subsequently, belittle. No facial expression, no subtle movements, voice-acting usually ranges from “awesome” to “competent”, but never any lower, and this also rings true for TMNT. The above cast list, taken directly from the fine print on the back of the DVD case, all do a capable job, neither wowing nor disappointing the discerning viewer. On an interesting side note, none of the above listed stars actually voice the core four. Kind of a slap in the face to four dudes who had to master the art of the “cowabunga” utterance. Of course Chris Evans got top billing – it is a comic book movie, after all. Kevin Smith even managed to wrangle his guest spot (and I do mean “spot”) into 4th billing; to be back-trackingly fair, he probably had nothing to do with it.
All in all, TMNT doesn’t feel like a desperate attempt to rejuvenate a long dormant franchise in order to squeeze out a few more nickels. Rather, it feels like one more step along the path of a property that already has a built-in audience, and a concept that still has the ability to bring in new fans. Imagine you heard the term “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” for the first time – can you say with a straight face that your curiosity would not be peaked? Granted, it has been modernized – I don’t recall the Turtles saying “radical” even once, and, deep down, that hurts. That said, TMNT moves so fast the pain doesn’t have time to settle in. Granted, going the CG route worked wonders when it comes to the fight scenes – those bulky costumes from 1990 obviously hindered the ninja skills of the live action doppelgangers, but it came with a caveat. CG essentially screams “Kids movie!”, and probably served to alienate many of the old school fans that the box office was reliant on. Hence, if you’ve been hesitant to tag along on this bodacious journey, don’t be. Dust off your Turtles cereal and official TMNT shaving kit, look beyond the fact that it is a cartoon, and enjoy yourself. In case you haven’t heard, animation is not just for kids any more.