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Whenever a movie is adapted from a beloved property, it’s always subjected to the dreaded opinions of diehard fans. Remember all of the backlash over Daniel Craig as James Bond when fans realized he had blond hair? And we've all met – and I’m sure some of you are – Harry Potter maniacs who hate the movies for the sole reason that they’re not exactly the same as the books.
The geekier the property – think comic books and superheroes – the more vehement the backlash if the movie isn’t up to the diehard fans’ standards. The Internet is bombarded with comments and blog posts and message board rants about how Kevin Spacey isn't a close enough representation of Lex Luthor, or how the Hulk looks slightly too cartoonish, or how they killed off too many characters in X-Men: The Last Stand. I usually role my eyes at these nitpickers. Watch the movie for what it is – not what you imagine it should be.
But suddenly, I find myself in their place.
Let me explain. I am a huge Ninja Turtles fan. The cartoon was my favorite show as a little kid. Before I turned ten, I remember bragging that I had seen the first movie eight times. Since then, I've probably seen it a hundred or so more times, thanks to my DVD copy and plenty of down time in the video store where I used to work. I even mentioned the Ninja Turtles in my high school graduation speech – a reference that was met, to my surprise, with spontaneous applause. Something about Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael just provokes happy nostalgia, I guess.
Well, now they’ve come out with an all-new, computer-animated Ninja Turtles film called TMNT. Do I review it on its own merits, or will I fall into the Geek Trap, complaining about everything I personally would’ve done differently? I guess we’ll see…
To my surprise, TMNT is more or less a continuation of the three live-action movies made from 1990-1993. The turtles' arch-nemesis, the Shredder, is presumed to be dead, and the rat Splinter, their sensei, has sent Leonardo on a trek through the world to learn to be a better leader. Back in New York City, Michelangelo and Donatello have taken up odd jobs. Raphael, annoyed at the sudden lack of action, has started patrolling the streets at night for criminals, vigilante-style.
The plot involves something about an ancient curse that turned a man immortal (Patrick Stewart) and his friends to stone. This unleashes thirteen monsters into the world, but there are also these five immortal guys made of stone, and"Â¦well, it’s needlessly confusing. In fact, the film starts with a prologue narrated by Laurence Fishburne trying to explain
it. Why would they go for such a complicated plot? In the first movie, I always liked the fact that the turtles and Splinter were really the only supernatural things in the movies; they lived in the real-life New York City, and their enemy was this crazy Japanese guy with an army full of disillusioned street kids. (Speaking of which, the legendary Foot Clan is actually still in the movie, although at a lesser capacity. And near the end, there’s a not-so-subtle reference that a certain archenemy may show up for a sequel, despite supposedly being dead.)
Luckily, the essence of the turtles is intact. The central conflict in the film is the ongoing feud between Leonardo and Raphael, the leader and the loner. All four turtles are animated excellently. And the humor is vintage Ninja Turtles. Michelangelo has some brilliant one-liners that are totally up to par with some of his past best; he has a couple of lines that pay direct homage to the previous movies, which was cool. And the four actors (all voice-over veterans) are top-notch.
The non-turtle characters are met with mixed results. Aside from Splinter, our favorite human allies are back, April O’Neil and Casey Jones. Past fans may be surprised to find that April is no longer a news reporter, but has turned to some sort of archeologist. She’s voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar. Casey, meanwhile (voiced by Chris Evans of Fantastic Four) still has the good ol’ hockey mask and still enjoys hunting for criminals at night.
Unfortunately, while Casey used to be this really cool, dark, loose cannon "” I believe the descriptive phrase was: “Wayne Gretzky? On steroids?” "” he’s been turned into something of a youngish, poorly-animated weakling. In fact, most of the characters seem poorly animated; one senses that they spent so much time perfecting the turtles’ looks, they forgot to focus on any of the humans. Splinter is passable, but his voice is a harsh distraction that doesn’t fit him at all (he’s voiced by the late Mako).
In light of these sorts of things, did I enjoy the film? Perhaps to my own surprise, yes. I could take points off for animation, plot specifics, etc. "” and yet I found myself enjoying the heck out of it. It did the most important thing of all "” it kept the spirit of the Ninja Turtles. This isn’t just a familiar brand done up into something completely different and substandard "” it actually keeps its sense of humor, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and allows the characters to stay true to themselves.
Yeah, that sounds a little geeky. But what can I say? T-U-R-T-L-E power!
Movie Grade: B+