Seventeen years ago I trundled off to the premiere of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles with my new friend, Margaret-Anne. That movie was full of puppets and men in rubber suits. And the voice of Corey Feldman. When Splinter appeared, the post 9:00 pm adult comic book geek audience sounded ready to give him a standing ovation. The movie was a fun romp and helped cement the new friendship.
The Turtles, however, dropped out of my life pretty soon after the movie left the theaters and Margaret-Anne went on to be my best friend, lending me the rent money for my first apartment, sheltering me when life sucked and acting as my maid-of-honor. So it seemed fitting that she accompany the husband unit and I to this month's assignment.
This film, a CGI animated spectacular, finds our turtles long after that first movie. In fact, long after the second movie and the death of Shredder. The turtles are no longer a team. Splinter has sent Leonardo to Central America to make him a better leader. This means that he is beating up the soldiers who have been preying on local villagers. Problem is he has been there longer than Splinter (voiced by the late, great Mako, to whom the movie is dedicated) intended and doesn't seem to want to come back.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch (okay, the city) Splinter has forbidden the remaining amphibians from fighting crime until they can fight as a team. Michelangelo is working as a children's entertainer who dresses up as (wait for it) a turtle. Donatello is working as tech support, with hilarious results. Raphael, never one to follow rules, is spending his nights as a vigilante known as the "Nightwatcher". April O'Neil, voiced by the ever sultry Sarah Michelle Gellar, knows that the boys are falling apart. Already in Central America for business, she heads off to the jungle to find Leo and bring him back.
And what business is April in Central America for? She is retrieving statues for mogul Max Winters, voiced by the instantly recognizable Patrick Stewart. These statues are actually ancient generals who have been turned to stone. Their leader? The apparently immortal Mr. Winters, who was out to conquer the world 3,000 years ago. He turned his generals to stone and released thirteen really nasty monsters on the world. Luckily for the generals, a.k.a. the Rockettes, Winters has invented a way to animate them so they can walk and talk. Winters wants to use an upcoming stellar conjunction, that seems to always be necessary in these kind of operations.
So how does the Turtles' plot and that of the 3,000 year old rich man collide? One night, Casey Jones (Chris Evans: Johnny Storm to those of you who actually paid attention to the plot of the Fantastic Four movie rather than just looking at Jessica Alba's spandex-clad breasts) is finding domestic life with April a wee bit boring. As I mentioned earlier, Sarah Michelle Gellar plays April. Casey is obviously nuts.
Anyways, he heads out to the rooftops to done his hockey mask and fight for justice. While out there, he meets up with the ever grumpy Raphael and the two bond while thy stumble across the Rockettes, who are laying the smackdown on some monsters.
It's at this point that Leonardo returns from the jungle to try and rebuild the team. Donatello and Michelangelo (did I mention that they were in the movie?) are all for it, but Grumpy Drawers Raphael doesn't think Leo should be the leader anymore. So we get the teen angst laden fight between the two turtles, on the roof of a building, in the rain, behind a neon sign. Highlander anyone?
The end of this fight sees Leo kidnapped by the Rockettes, who have decided that they like being immortal. Leo is going to be the thirteenth monster. (I was hoping for Antonio Banderas, but you can't have everything.) This leaves Raphael on his knees, in the back alley, in the rain, screaming "Noooooo!" Ripped from countless other movies and TV shows we've all seen.
The movie is darker than the previous outings. It is definitely darker than the TV show versions. It's hard to tell if the audience for this movie is really the little kids that populated the theater with their parents. The movie is full of cliches that adults will find trite and annoying. But the violence level is way beyond the cartoon series that these kids grew up on.
The animation is very good. It's so good that it bumped this movie's star rating up a notch. Remember the fight scene on the roof, in the rain? The raindrops that hit Raphael and Leo in the nose, muzzle, whatever, look real. I commented on the rendering during the movie and I don't talk during movies. Of course I also pointed out that, due to the laws of physics, one particular falling scene was not physically possible, but then I was reminded by my two companions that it was an animated kids' movie and to let it go.
Overall, it's not a bad movie. Margaret-Anne, the husband unit and I were cackling at many points. Unfortunately, I don't think it is where the filmmakers intended. If you're a diehard Turtles fan, go. If not, this one might best be left for DVD or cable.