It’s unpopular opinion time!
This is the third Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live-action movie from the 1990’s. I liked the first a lot but had significant problems with the second. In Part 3, Raph, Leo, Donnie and Mikey are still living peacefully in a long forgotten subway they found in the second film while hiding from the Foot Clan and Shredder (who they were seemingly able to vanquish.) All’s fine, but Raph’s not feeling all the fun of training, dancing, and front-flipping across the picnic table. He’s kind of suffocated, wanting more than living several feet underground where no one knows they exist. And Raph ends up getting more than they bargained for when April arrives with some gifts she got for her friends at the antique shop, as a bye-for-now gesture before her trip. But one of these gifts is a strange 16th century scepter that begins flashing light and causing the lights around it to violently flicker. And soon, April is zapped away…and replaced by someone else in her same clothes, a man named Kenshin (Henry Hayashi) from 1593 living in Feudal Japan.
Donatello realizes that how the scepter works is someone has to grasp the scepter, and then someone from the past (or future) switches place with him or her, and the two people who switch places must have the same weight for it to work (which to me is a simple yet brilliant sci-fi and fantasy idea for how the scepter functions, though I bet the weight can’t be entirely spot-on; maybe a deference of a few pounds would be acceptable. If I ever find a version of that scepter, I’ll run an experiment.) It turns out in this time period, not only is April lost, but a village is under attack by a gun businessman and warmonger named Walker (Stuart Wilson), and an army general Norinaga (Sam Shimono), and Kenshin and his sister Mitsu (Vivian Wu) are the only ones really keeping the village together in this invasion. So the turtles each end up switching places with four of Norinaga’s guards to try and bring April back, but when the scepter goes missing during a bumpy arrival, the turtles not just have to retrieve it, but protect the village, and confront their own feelings about the place.
What I really like about this entry in the series is it switched a lot of things up, and the switches ended up paying off. The voice acting change of Splinter and the animatronic turtles at least compared to the previous ones may be exceptions to this but the other changes that did pay off are a lot more involving in the film. One is having a different army and a new main antagonist, and what’s more important is the actual plot. Let me put it this way; the turtles live your typical Spider-Man-secret-identity-I-can’t-reveal-myself-because-I’d-endanger-people life, except it’s harder for them because they’re not wearing costumes; they’re mutants day in and day out. Due to this they are unable to live a normal life or fight alongside many humans, but in this movie they get the chance to in an entirely different setting, and the result is a welcoming, heartwarming and refreshingly cultural Ninja Turtles production.
You just normally don’t expect Turtles productions to be dramatic, at face value at least. But the first movie, this one, and a few others made several years later have managed to, in my opinion, craft stories that bring surprising chills from how much gravity we feel in the drama without it being too overbearing or nauseatingly claptrap. This movie not only allows the turtles (some of them anyway) to feel they are in a proper community they could call home, but also gives Raphael and Michelangelo friends they begin to really take a loving to. Raph falls in love with the young but brave Yoshi and Mikey falls in love with Mitsu. Raphael also ends up taking a loving to how naturally beautiful the environment is, of clean unpolluted water, undisrupted forests, and a sense of peace, and we take a liking to it too.
One minor flaw is April’s attitude towards Whit, Casey Jones’ feudal-Japan lookalike. She goes off on quite a tangent near the third act of the film towards this character, which he admittedly deserved, but he makes up for it and then the two of them aren’t able to properly make up about the whole thing. I also felt the members of the group who weren’t as keen on staying in the timeline were a bit pushy in the end towards those who wanted to stay.
Even with those little things, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III makes up for a lot of the problems I had with The Secret of the Ooze and in my opinion ends the series on a high and effective-enough note to be the best entry. コワブンガ is what I say, which is “Cowabunga” in Japanese.
If you like this, I’d try the original 1987 cartoon, the other 90’s Turtle movies, and the Jackie Chan film “Around the World in 80 Days”
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