Jab’s Reviews: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (The Movie)

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Casey: “What is all this talk o’ spendin’ the night down here?”
Donatello: “*chuckles* You’re a claustrophobic!”
Casey: “*stunned*… You want a FIST in the mouth?… I never even LOOKED at another guy before!”
-Donatello and Casey, who has somehow conflated claustrophic with homophobic, and homophobic with HOMOSEXUAL.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: The Movie

The TMNT Movie was pretty much a hallmark of my youth- I was way more into the Turtles than I was, say, G.I. Joe and The Transformers kind of came and went before I became “of age” to really get into that (I was born in 1981, and was thus the perfect 8-11 years old for the Turtles’ prime in the late ’80s and early ’90s period. The cartoon series was great enough when you were a kid (bright, colourful, full of jokes, and had big new characters of whom you could buy the toys EVERY WEEK), but a MOVIE? And one done WELL? It was like every kid’s frickin’ dream.

This franchise was really all over the place in that era. Starting in 1984 by two nerds, Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird, the first Turtles comic was really a one-shot joke. It was a parody of Daredevil (which had TONS of Ninjas) and the X-Men (who were mutants), and they combined the two concepts into a grim ‘n’ gritty batch of teen angst the likes of which the 1980s were FULL of. The art was ugly, the stories were weird and disjointed (they killed the Shredder in the FIRST ISSUE), but it was an absolute cultural sensation for whatever weird screwed-up reason. Seriously, an INDEPENDENT COMIC BOOK making THAT kind of a splash? I’m thinking cocaine was involved. This franchise was easily the biggest one of my childhood- I still remember watching the first episode with my brother, telling my mom about it, and her coming home with toys like THAT DAY or the day after, apparently having anticipated just how big this thing was going to be.

And it was enormous. A three-film franchise in its prime, nine years on TV, two separate comic book series and the biggest toyline of the ’90s… and that was BEFORE the multiple reboots!

THE FILM SERIES:
I would argue that the first Turtles movie was the peak of the franchise- it definitely was for me. The movie was shockingly adult (“DAAAAAAAAAAMN!”), extremely violent and dark, yet it was fun, inventive and exciting. The fight scenes were awesome, the dialogue is great (“I hate punkers…”), the animatronic puppet-work was brilliant (Jim Henson worked on it specifically for the challenge- it still holds up remarkably well, despite some odd facial reactions and funny “angry faces”), CASEY JONES THE GREATEST MAN WHO EVER WALKED THE EARTH features in it heavily, and there are tons of great scenes as well. That whole scene where Shredders stands in front of all these punker kids in the greatest hide-out in history (filled with literally everything ’80s children thought was cool) and gives them this big “I AM YOUR FATHER NOW” speech… that is AWESOME and I totally wanted my own Dragon Doji so that I could pick pockets and slap nosy reporters around, too. The first movie is awesome, and made a ridiculous amount of money (it cost $15 million to make, and made TWO HUNDRED MILLION DOLLARS. In *1990s* money!), so it was inevitable that it would create a series.

The second movie (The Secret of the Ooze) made a very respectable $78 million, but was worse in almost every way- it featured Shredder’s return, no Casey (replacing him with a Spunky Teen Sidekick), a MUCH hotter April O’Neil, and two new mutants (after Eastman & Laird requested “no Bebop & Rocksteady” in Tokka & Rahzar, a pair of mentally-incompetent giant animals. It was funny in parts, very inventive, and had some decent scenes, but it was much goofier than the first movie (deliberately- I’m sure some parents were less than impressed at the scene in the first where Raphael gets the living shit kicked out of him and tossed through a skylight, not to mention all the “Damns”), the fights were less intense and more goofy, etc. It did have “Super Shredder” (Played By future WWF & WCW World Champion Kevin Nash), and HE was awesome, though. And oh yeah- the utter hilarity of Ninja Rap. It actually bugged me as a kid that Vanilla Ice would somehow have the wherewithal to improvise a new Rap song during a massive fistfight in his concert, but this is apparently a skill called “Freestyling”, and Ice is apparently the master. It also annoyed me that the two cool-looking bad-ass mutants were babies, though David Warner was really good as the cynical scientist (apparently he was originally going to be revealed as an Utrom Brain-Alien).

The third movie… sucked out loud. Turtles in Time involved some magic lantern that brought the boys & April to feudal Japan, where they faced some Evil White People and a Big Mean Daimyo. The plot was cartoonish and silly (one critic noted that “This is a movie for children, and could probably have been written by them as well”), the animatronics work took a nose dive (their faces jump and flop around when they talk), and it had a bunch of solid ideas done WAY too quickly for them to work (Michaelangelo falls in love, and Raphael becomes a father-figure, but both plotlines are given about three minutes of development before being dropped), and even Casey Jones’ return couldn’t make it awesome. The fights are bad, and the villains suck, too. The movie made some decent money (cost $21 million, made $42 million), but the backlash was pretty bad, and the franchise had basically died by 1993 anyways, so that was it for the movies. Until…

The fourth movie is apparently in the same continuity, but is totally different. It’s a CGI film, and was honestly okay. I think it’s better than the second movie (but still ages behind the first), but doesn’t have the same nostalgic punch (I can still quote almost the entirety of Secret of the Ooze). I REALLY hate the art style they went with (Casey Jones & Splinter look okay, but the Turtles are so buggy-eyed and big-headed with skinny little bodies that any drama in their scenes is almost ruined- it looks like bobble-heads fighting), but it’s got some good moments with Leo & Raph doing their classic “Good Son Leader-type” versus “Asshole Rebel-type” thing, especially when they brawl on that rooftop (Leo has gone off to do some training, as the best way to train yourself to be a leader is to isolate yourself entirely from other people).

The backdrop storyline is utterly uninteresting (a Macguffin Hunt for thirteen ancient evils that get rounded up in seconds off-screen), Karai and her Foot Clan basically do nothing, and the Four Stone Generals look cool, but aren’t very deep characters either- basically they worked for an Immortal Dude who is responsible for a lot of ancient history (Caesar and junk), and he wants to creat a mystic ceremony to take away his immortality and that of his generals so that they can be human again, but they decide they like the power that being stoney brings them, and they fight him. It had a respectable, solid run in theatres (cost $31 million, made over $95 million), but it failed to resurrect any huge interest in the franchise. Curiously, it’s got some pretty mediocre voice-acting, considering that both Mako (Aku, Uncle Iroh) and Patrick Stewart (Picard, Xavier) are involved. There’s very little “epic dialogue” going on, which the first movie had in spades.

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LEONARDO:

-Leonardo is the de facto leader of the Ninja Turtles, given the cool blue headgear and the best Japanese weapon ever: the katana. Unfortunately, in virtually every TMNT-continuity ever, he’s been limited to just donking guys with the butt ends, cutting up robots, or knocking over scenery with them, since you can’t have him hack up Shredder in front of the kiddies. In the movie, he was my favourite version ever as the intense, lone leader-type, emotionally divesting himself at times (a good general tries to keep himself at arm’s length from the troops he may have to lead to their deaths), but in reality feeling the hits the hardest when his brothers or master were injured. He was noble, smart, wise and still pretty funny along with the rest of them (but not the class clown like Don & Mikey). His rivalry with Raphael was beautifully done there, as well- he constantly argues with Mister “Screw Authority”, but forces himself to stand constant vigil at Raph’s side when he’s nearly killed. Interestingly, in nearly every continuity, he’s always the most serious one, but the one considered the best fighter and most noble-hearted.

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DONATELLO
-Now, Donatello is my FAVOURITE Ninja Turtle (I mean, if he’s not the best, then why is he wearing purple? That’s just math). That’s mostly because the day after the cartoon ended, my mom, being overall an awesome mom-person and hearing about the shitstorm about the series beforehand, went out and bought all four of the bros to give to my brother and I, and I picked the two coolest colours, blue & purple, for mine. My love affair with purple (I wonder if my dad was concerned…?) led to me picking Donnie as my personal favourite, and his scientific ways & bo staff, and general likability (in any continuity, he’s usually the last one to be yelled at, or be doing the yelling, and he isn’t a stoner surfer-boy like Mikey was). Now, in the movies, he was played by Corey Feldman, then a famous mega-star who’s now more of a punchline and a gag story than anything else. And he was portrayed a bit differently, lacking the technical know-how at first (he works on a car with Casey Jones in the first flick), but by the second, he’s a genius working with the Doctor dude to make a cure for the mutations of Tokka & Rahzar. He was always Mikey’s co-conspirator in most of the jokes, which was kinda necessary for a comedic duo, since Raph was marked as the “grouchy one”, and Leo was the “serious one”. So Donny kind of became everyone’s best pal in the movies.

RAPHAEL
-Raphael has always been the most antagonistic of the four Turtles, shown pretty easily in the movie, where he was arguably the central breakout character. While Leo was always in charge and Mikey was always more flashy, Raph had more solo scenes than anybody, going off on his own, fighting Casey Jones, fighting the Foot Ninjas on the rooftop, getting injured and making his big comeback, etc. This is a pretty far cry from the borderline-suicidal Mirage Raph, the generic foulmouthed black-wearing Archie Raph (he said “Hell” once! In an ARCHIE book!), and the “just one of the guys but slightly more sarcastic and witty” Cartoon Raph. Thus, he had all the drama and character development, and even got a bit of a solo run in the SECOND movie, where he helped their New Buddy join the Foot as a spy… and then got captured. In any case, his sarcasm and bad attitude have earned him a LOT more of a fanbase among the adult fans, while the kids mostly like Michaelangelo. I know I used to not care for Raph, and now he’s practically my favourite. If only because he’s the only Turtle with a New Yorkah accent.

-But wow, that scene where he gets the crap kicked out of him by the Foot Clan, dragged across the rooftop, then thrown through the skylight? That was FRIGHTENING for a kid. You’re used to watching cartoons where the laser blasts never hit, the weapons are used to cut down things that fall on the bad guys, and everyone just gets cartoon bruises or lumps on their heads, and you see THAT? A fight with ACTUAL CONSEQUENCES? It felt uncomfortable, scary, and REAL. It’s this moment where even as a little kid you look at it and go “… this is DIFFERENT, isn’t it? This is SERIOUS”.

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“A fellow CHUCKER, ehh?!”
-Michelangelo, upon spotting a Foot Clan nunchaku-wielder

MICHELANGELO

-Michaelangelo (spelled with or without the first “a”, since the Renaissance artist didn’t have it, but Eastman & Laird made a mistake when they wrote the first issue)… I have mixed feelings on him. As an adult, I recognize the need for kids to have a “class clown” type to be a fan of. He was pretty much the ‘identify with this guy’ character of the Turtles, but I hated him. Mostly because EVERY FREAKING KID IN MY ELEMENTARY SCHOOL was a Michaelangelo fan, and I was the only kid who liked Donatello the best. Stupid kids. Even back then, I knew Mikey was kind of a pandering character archetype (plus he was the most in love with pizza… and yes, I am the only person in the ENTIRE UNIVERSE who hates pizza), and his “Totally Radical” dialogue bugged me, especially when it made him the unofficial spokesman for the entire team, the only guy getting into that “Cartoon All-Stars To The Rescue” anti-drug special (itself an epic symbol of the ’80s, by telling some dumb kid to not smoke weed). But nunchucks are still cool, and he fits in better in other continuities, whereas the first Cartoon kind of over-did it. He’s still my least favourite, but I get the necessity.

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APRIL O’NEIL

-April was a little better than she was in the cartoon, being less of a Damsel in Distress (he only got saved twice by the Turtles; the rest of the time she was helping THEM out of binds), but never developing her budding ninja skillz that the Archie books gave her. She was also very, VERY ’80s in design (reminder: each decade usually only gets defined in retrospect, and most decades’ identities carry on to the first few years of the next one- rock & roll and youth culture was pretty much the same in 1962 as it was in the ’50s, hence American Grafitti & Happy Days‘ later seasons both taking place in those years- so April’s hair was classic ’80s curly despite it being 1990). For some raeson, they went with a different actress for the other movies- Paige Turco (the second and third movie’s April) was MUCH more attractive than Judith Hoag, but completely unmemorable as an actress, whereas Hoag carried a lot of the workload of the movie (she’s essentially interacting with five PUPPETS in many scenes). Both were very minor actresses, too, as they never really went on to do anything else, much like the rest of the non-Casey Jones cast. Oh, and she was totally hooking up with Casey at the end of the first movie, but he was Chuck Cunninghammed from the second, so who knows where that issue lies? Maybe it got resolved in a third movie… too bad they never made one. EVER.

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“Were you SEEN?…”
“N-no, Master Splinter! We are NINJAS- we practice stealth and secrecy.”
*holds up newspaper of the Turtles rapping and dancing in front of a group of people* “Practice HARDER.”

SPLINTER

-Splinter’s almost as important to the TMNT canon as the boys themselves are, and he defines the “Wise Old Master” archetype better than anyone not named “Miyagi”. In the movies, he was a background guy for the most part, but still gave important information towards the boys’ origins, made them some friends, and turned the young Daniel to their side by the end. Oh, and he beat The Shredder when none of the others could. Though his movie origin was the same as his ridiculous initial one (he’s a RAT who learned MARTIAL ARTS?), they probably did him better than just about any other medium I’ve seen. And yeah, he’s voiced by FRICKIN’ ELMO.

But holy shit, this scene- this is WONDERFUL. Best, most thoughtful version of Splinter ever. Look at Raphael, completely in AWE of what just happened, as shocked as anyone that he had the spiritual calm necessary for it. The sheer love of Raph & Leo holding hands in a “We DID IT!” after all their scrapping earlier. Goofy, whacky Michelangelo brought to tears from it. Greatest TMNT EVER.

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“… Hey, what are you- some sort of punker?… I hate punkers. Especially… bald ones wearing green makeup, who wear masks over ugly faces.”

CASEY JONES:

-Casey Jones was an idol to tons of kids I knew growing up in the late ’80s, early ’90s era. Like, he had everything little kids liked- he was tough, violent, psychotic, dressed like Jason and beat the crap out of people using sporting goods equipment- he was PERFECT. Oddly, unfamiliar with the Mirage comics, I took my love for the guy from the cartoon series, where he only appeared in FOUR episodes, two of which I actually saw. It’s funny because in every single other continuity (except the Archie comics, which quickly formed their own unique supporting cast), he was a much more important character, essentially becoming a recurring member of the cast.

-But I still prefer his psychotic, bad-ass ’90s toon version (he talks like a young Clint Eastwood), not that his movie version didn’t RULE. The best pure actor of the bunch for the film, Elias Koteas played him up a bit more as a buffoonish joker (at one point, he calls April “broadzilla”) who was nonetheless also violent. Sadly, he only used the BAD-ASS HOCKEY MASK for a few bits of the film, since actors want to show their faces on screen more often than not (think of how many times Tobey Maguire lost the Spidey mask in his movies). But he still got to kick the ass of “The Dragon” in the movie, and got most of the best lines as well (see above).

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FOOT SOLDIERS:
-Foot Clan Ninjas are the ultimate cannon fodder minions, being just capable enough to kick a hero’s ass en masse, but nothing resembling a challenge one-on-one. The movie versions are honestly my favourite ever, having the cool ‘mesh eyepieces’ and an all-black look, instead of being generic skull-headed robots who explode on contact with anything solid. They had their own set of bad-ass moments (the guy slapping April telling her to “Shut it!”, throwing Raphael through a SKYLIGHT), and had a cool origin, being an old ninja clan now filled with street kids and other runaways, trained by The Shredder and his second, Tatsu.

“Got any cigarettes?”
“REGULAR or MENTHOL?”

FOOT HEADQUARTERS:

I swear to God, this was like the concentrated microcosm of everything every kid thought was awesome in the world during the early 1990s. It was like how every kid desired being “bad” (remember what I said about the nature of the movie being more “adult” than stuff we’d normally get to see?), and this was that aspect MAXIMIZED. In about half a minute, we saw kids playing pool while smoking big cigars (likely a direct reference to that “Pinocchio” scene this is based off of- the “Badness” of being a young runaway and hooligan), a slutty chick wandering around in punker clothes while smacking gum, kids playing cards while smoking, a mohawked guy playing a guitar, neon lights and giant skateboarding ramps EVERYWHERE, guys spraying graffiti (apparently on some random wall), kids playing violent arcade games, etc. There’s even a quick shot of a box of ARCHIE COMICS laying around… it was AWESOME. I think that scene where Tatsu goes NUTS, flattens a bunch of stuff, and beats some poor random kid into a coma (it’s VERY obvious in retrospect that the kid was supposed to be dead- all the “he’ll be alright” and coughing was off-camera dialogue- just look at everyone’s faces) was designed solely to make this ninja, runaway lifestyle LESS cool to the kids, because I saw that movie at nine years old, and lemme tell you, I wanted to join the Foot Clan BAD after seeing that set-up for the first time.

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TATSU

-Tatsu was a great minion in the TMNT movies, filling a necessary role of #2 in the Foot Clan organization that was missing with a lack of Bebop & Rocksteady, as well as being kind of “The Dragon” for The Shredder, being a top-notch combatant on his own, and enough to intimidate rookies, punish guys when he’s mad, beat the crap out of a weaponless Casey Jones, etc. He didn’t speak a lot (his actor couldn’t speak English, so he was dubbed), he was grouchy, and he was just the right kind of side-character a fighting-based movie needs.

-There’s a very good scene in the first film where Tatsu, in a fit of rage, starts breaking stuff all over the Foot’s hide-out, grabs one of the teens, and beats him so mercilessly that the others are horrified. It’s notable for two reasons. 1) It shows you that this ideal-looking, bad-ass lifestyle in the “Bad Kids Hangout” is actually REALLY AWFUL, because these are dangerous psychopaths and hanging around them can get you seriously hurt. Sort of like the end of an Anti-Drug PSA. 2) If you look carefully, you can tell that the guy IS DEAD. Seriously, Tatsu fatally-injures him with his assault. All of the kids’ horrified faces show this. And note how the guy is heard coughing, while someone mutters “you’re gonna be okay”… that’s OVERDUBBED DIALOGUE, added to reduce the horror of the scene. You can tell because it’s all off-camera. Much like Duke’s death in G.I. Joe: The Movie, it’s taken away to avoid mortifying too many kids (or their parents).

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“MONEY cannot buy the honor.. that you have earned tonight…. You make us all… PROUD. Only EFFORT, discipline, LOYALTY, earn the right to wear the Dragon doji. You are here because the outside world REJECTS you. THIS is your FAMILY. *I* am you FATHER! I want you all to all to become FULL members of The Foot. There is a NEW enemy. Freaks of nature that interfere with our business. You are my eyes and ears- FIND THEM. Together we will punish these… CREATURES. These… TURTLES!”

THE SHREDDER

-The Shredder is the Big Bad of the TMNT universe, so much so that any appearance by them in media that doesn’t feature him seems to fall flat, focusing on generic Dark Lords or Cosmic Bad Guys and the like. But let’s face it, it’s all about the Shred-Head. He’s mean, angry, lethal and vindictive, and it always works because he’s got a past link to the team via Splinter. As the evil leader of the Foot Clan, in the movies Shredders was practically more of a background character, getting less screen time than everyone from the Turtles to April to that Danny kid, but it was like the movie “Jaws”, where it works because his first appearance fighting just has him kicking the bejeezus out of the boys with ease. It’s only a bluff from Splinter that saves the day. By the second movie, he was now a full-on in-every-scene type of guy, where he just acted angry a whole bunch and tried to kill everyone again. Forced into a semi-comic patsy-type role alongside new buffoonish henchmen, he was still pretty tough, but it wasn’t until his awesome SUPER SHREDDER upgrade that he really overpowered the boys again. Unfortunately, he was almost insane with rage at that point, tearing down the pier they were on, which finally killed him. Me, I’m just wonder how drinking some green liquid managed to change his COSTUME AND SPIKES.

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SUPER SHREDDER

-Super Shredder’s the climax of Movie 2, set up like the same guy, but with barbaric super-strength and invulnerability. And man, he was FRICKING AWESOME, being ten times as scary as Tokka & Rahzar combined, looking remarkably like a pro wrestler in spiked tights (mainly because he WAS exactly that), monstrously strong, invincible to attack, etc. It was a crying shame he was only in the movie for about a minute altogether, but really, when your Final Boss Mode looks THAT cool, there’s no way the heroes would have lasted any longer. He dies by wiping out the entire docks, resulting in a massive collapse that smushes him for good. Actually, he never hits the Turtles, nor do they hit him. Given that the suit probably weighed a million pounds, that’s probably for the best.

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Ernie Reyes Jr. talking about what performing in the movies was like.

KENO
-After the success of Danny as a runaway kid/pain in the ass in the first movie, who betrayed the team, then betrayed Shredder, there came a new kid character in the second film: Keno, a young martial artist who fought some thieves before being saved by the TMNT from a giant Foot gang. Successfully tracking the brothers down, he was your standard “plucky young pain in the ass” Audience Avatar character, helping them discover the Foot’s hideout as a potential recruit, but was largely absent from the rest of the movie.

TOKKA & RAHZAR
-Tokka and Rahzar were newly-created monsters for the second TMNT movie, kind of as a stand-in for the buffoonish sidekicks of Shredder in the show, Rocksteady & Bebop. But where the cartoon bad guys were mere dunderheads, the movie characters were childlike monstrosities, capable of easily beating the crap out of the four brothers. Nearly invincible to their best punches, and not as inaccurate as you’d think for such big guys, Tokka & Rahzar mopped the floor with the Turtles for at least two battles, only being defeated by being outwitted with a miracle anti-mutation cure and some CO2. They were pretty cool in appearance in the movie, but a little too silly for my tastes; they eventually made a Canon Immigrant jump into both cartoons & video games, though in altered form in the ‘toon- they were talkative and rather mundane, thrown in casually at the start of an episode that wasn’t even ABOUT them.

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