It’s such a shame when you can see what they were going for – but you really dislike it nonetheless. Considering this movie takes the Ninja Turtles seriously, I feel extra bad for giving a harsh review. I don’t think anyone who likes the Ninja Turtles deserves to be ridiculed by friends, classmates or work associates. The way I see the turtles are beings who have all the qualities of good people who want to be a part of their community but can’t because of their outer identities. As a big Ninja Turtle fan, I can understand how this film has a fanbase, and like all movies I dislike, I always respect the views of who see more in it than me. If you’re one of these fans, I’d suggest just not reading on. With that being said, let’s discuss the CGI animated Ninja Turtles movie TMNT, which dared to bring Raph, Mikey, Leo and Donnie back on the big screen after 14 years.
TMNT takes place at least a year or two after the turtles managed to beat Shredder, in this dimension anyway. Now that their main foe is over and done with (it’s even flat-out mentioned he’s dead at one point), Splinter has sent Leonardo off for further training. That being said, it’s now been a long time since all the turtles were together and kicking butt. Donatello is now a stay-at-home IT clerk, Michelangelo is in the party business as Cowabunga Carl, and everyone thinks Raphael stays in bed all day being lazy, but in reality he’s keeping the city safe under a mask and suit that gives him the title of Nightwatcher. April manages to convince Leo to come home when finding him in South America, and as they reunite, a prophecy thousands of years old is coming back and is plopped right in the middle of the Big Apple. But the turtles can’t just get back together as a team like that. A deep anger has now brewed and can’t be fixed with a handshake.
As much as I love the turtles for how during high school they were able to bring a sense of jolliness to my life in a time where so much was changing and I felt so uncertain of the future, there are some times where they’ve bothered me. The best example would be in Nickelodeon’s 2012 Ninja Turtles series, which is admittedly very impressively animated and a lot of fun. But their Master Splinter was straight-up a bad mentor and a worse father, and the attitude the turtles sometimes gave to each other felt realistic but overly toxic, especially Michelangelo being often belittled. And that attitude was sadly smeared all over this one movie.
Splinter and Leonardo are both at their very worst here. Splinter, the more simple case, was who originally sent Leo off for more training. But if Shredder was beaten, why would Leo need to train so seriously he had to move away from his brothers? The movie never made that clear. And when Splinter ends up “disappointed” in his sons for battling a creature when he forbid them from fighting until they could fight like a team again, he completely disregards the fact the monster rampaging in the first place wasn’t their fault, and if it weren’t for them people could’ve died. Splinter had the same problem in The Secret of the Ooze and it was amplified here. I really don’t like when any rendition of Splinter puts his ego of his students over the well-being of others.
And Leo’s even more intolerable. Raph ends up during one scene saying outright to him that he’s so smug, and I couldn’t agree more. Leo is so devoted to being the leader and getting his way and hanging off of Master Splinter’s every word to the point he isn’t able to tolerate the natural difference between his brothers. I have to admit the tension between Leo and Splinter on one side and Raph on the total opposite side is effective. Leo and Raph end up having a brawl on a rooftop in the pouring rain, and from their determination you can tell this fight is going to determine once and for all who the better turtle is and who is better at pretty much everything. This fight is actually quite…terrific. You can really feel both turtles have emotions they’re hungry to let out.
The rivalry between the two oldest brothers has gravity and fury you can really identify, but the anger in this production has a sense of going too far, generating more misery and discomfort than poetic storytelling and drowning out the enjoyment of the action scenes. Michelangelo’s the only one to provide any goofiness or real peppiness that made us originally fall in love with the turtles and he’s on the sidelines too much, Donatello’s presence in the film is as minimal as possible, and even though I was glad Raph won the rooftop fight, the fact I was glad Raph kicked and punched Leo in the face and how I wished the film congratulated Raph more speaks volumes for how messed up the movie managed to take their troubled brotherhood when it didn’t need to.
Raph keeps his Nightwatcher identity a secret even from his brothers and lets them think he just sleeps all day, and the only reason I suspect he keeps this secret is he feels his brothers would try to stop him from doing so. This is not what the turtles are supposed to be all about. If there was more jolliness, more of a sense of reminiscing about the good days if this must take place post-Shredder-defeat, then maybe I would’ve been more appreciative of the drama, but the drama is put into overkill and the characters sending out messages have an air of misjudgment.
The villains are a whole other thing. In a thriller, having an interesting bad guy is one of the wisest things you can do, but the bad guys here are more plain than a cheese pizza. The villains are basically centred around a typical tale of a thousand-year-old prophecy and curse involving the unleashing of monsters and wanting to, um, take over the world. And the opening explaining these origins is colourless, soulless, bland and looks like a video-game cutscene filled with a thousand non-player avatars copied and pasted all over the place. They continue to look that way throughout the production.
I will admit, the songs, like when Leo jumps out of a plane and returns to his home, as well as the soundtrack to the final fight, are very good. The plane soundtrack is also used in a 30-second epilogue scene narrated by Raph that is wonderfully animated and voiced, of the turtles running across the rooftops in the middle of the night and helping one another out when needed. The ending credit song of Shell Shock is also a groovy example of rap that deserves more recognition. Even if the models of the turtles are pretty much exactly alike, the rigging of their movements is more than good enough. So I guess the best way to explain my grade is this movie belongs to the action scenes. Whenever one isn’t going on and the characters are talking to each other, it’s like the dopamine is sucked right out of the room.
There are several significant instances of me very against the Tomatometer, but the Rotten Tomatoes consensus on this film – “TMNT’s art direction is splendid, but the plot is non-existent and the dialogue lacks the irony and goofy wit of the earlier Ninja Turtles movies” couldn’t define my opinion better.
If you like this, I’d watch the live-action Ninja Turtle adaptations, and Captain America: Civil War, a movie featuring allies facing resentment towards each other even more than this film and which gives more fair and balanced attitude toward both sides of a more involving inner conflict.