The Ninja Turtles have been way around and as hyper popular for way longer than anyone could have assumed. It seemed like a franchise that was very specific to the 80s, but it’s had long comic runs as well as three long running cartoons in the 30 years since its inception. But while the series is fun as we know it now, the comics it was based on were more serious and satirical. It just goes to show that anything can merge into something new as time goes on. As we are about to see the newest entry on the big screen in the new cinematic continuity for the Turtles, it’s high time to look at the past entries with these kung fu dudes. Hold on to your butts kids. It’s time for another list.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: Turtles In Time – In a franchise that’s never really been particularly illustrious, to be the low point is a real bitchslap to one’s reputation. But unlike many a franchise that goes for as long as this one has, it didn’t hit the abortive low that most do. This is no Die Another Day or Superman IV: The Quest For Peace. It’s a bland, forgettable movie that just didn’t do anything to really justify it’s existence other than be the basis for a fantastic tie in video game. Sending the Turtles back in time could have been a fun enough idea if they played with the Ancient Chinese setting, doing more with the Ninja aspects of it. But it’s a limp movie overall that doesn’t reach the ironic highs of it’s predecessor nor the legitimate qualitative value of the original. Yet, there’s still some fun to be had if you like the Turtles. Otherwise, it’s not a movie bound to win everyone over.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) – This is really not a good movie. Although the hatred is wildly overdone, it’s not something that should garner much enthusiasm. Yet, it’s a movie that has it’s charms. But before one can appreciate the charms, the flaws are overwhelming. The plot is absolute nonsense, doing a particularly lazy version of the chosen one story by making everyone connected in the utmost bullshit convoluted ways while also being so chopped up and narratively disconnected thanks to some next level studio meddling/reshoots. There’s a certain point in the movie when all the stuff they are setting up is thrown away in such a clear example of not being what was originally intended. Megan Fox as April O’Neill wasn’t a good idea from the inception, and her portrayal of her as an overly sexualized doof that stumbles onto everything is not good. She’s also quite grating. The typical Michael Bay and co. humor lands like a dud most of the times. Except for when it’s being tackled by the biggest success of the movie, and that is that they absolutely nail the personalities of the turtles. The designs may make them look like sentient Goomba dicks, they just completely nailed it on the performance side. Splinter, while looking very nasty thanks to his overly realistic design, is quite good too. The voice acting is fun all around and makes the movie much more fun that it should really be and the best comic adaptation that Bay is involved in, which is a backhanded compliment since Transformers isn’t something too hard to top. There’s one scene in particular that shows these guys are done well, and it’s them taking an elevator to the final battle and they just beatbox with each other in a spontaneous moment of camaraderie. But what cements this as a more worthwhile movie than the one below it is the fantastic mountain chase scene towards the end of the movie. It’s a thrilling, well crafted set piece that builds and builds. That alone makes this movie enjoyable. Hopefully it’s sequel can build on it and make something that can be enjoyed on a higher level than begrudgingly.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of The Ooze – If there is only one reason that this movie is worth a damn, it’s the ending with Vanilla Ice and his amazingly on point freestyle of a Turtles rap song. This movie is one that holds a special place in the hearts of 90s kids, falling at a higher level of quality than the equally ironically enjoyed Space Jam, but still one that has not aged as well to be enjoyable as a grown up. Yet, for those of us that did fall into that time frame, this is a time honored classic. It doesn’t have much of a plot, feeling very slapdash in it’s quest to find ooze or stop Shredder from getting ooze or some shit. There’s a looseness to it that allows it to be a bit more fun and silly than the original. But the lack of real stakes hurts it. It’s a movie that got tackled by How Did This Get Made?, so that alone should let one know what it’s quality is. But it also tells us that there’s a good deal to be fun in the movie because of how silly and nonsensical it is.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) – The movie that kickstarted the cinematic adventures of the Turtles, this helped to cement the reputation of the franchise. Whereas the comics were darker and more satirical, this movie and the long running cartoon made the franchise more kid friendly and easy going. A lightness took over and we now all know it to be the cowabunga turtles having a good time in between fights with evil ninja clans and/or mutidimensional beings and/or other mutated animals. This movie though plays as a middle ground between the comic and the cartoon, while leaning more towards the kid friendly side. There’s a kiddie grittiness to it, making it feel more grown up than it actually is without being unsuitable for kids. The puppetry on display is quite impressive for the time and helps the team to make the Turtles the individuals we’ve all come to love. This is the first one and set a high standard that wouldn’t be topped for quite some time. It’s not too stupid to be unenjoyable but it’s not high cinema that will be mistaken for pretentious art. It’s a fun movie that has aged well enough to keep the Turtles legacy strong to this day.
TMNT – There’s a certain kinda of sense to the fact that the best cinematic work with the Turtles is the only one that’s animated. A CGI cartoon feature that tackles the Turtles and the crazy sci fi/kung fu narratives it deals in shows how lacking the prior entries have been in the faithfulness to the insanity the property can reach. It’s a gorgeous movie that really merges the fun and the action packed thrills without missing a beat. The turtles are, as throughout them all, are done real well. The side characters are great too and it has a story that’s actually well done and interesting, a far cry from the chopped up narratives that the other movies before it had to deal with. This is the high standard the series has to live up to and one that can hopefully be matched by the newest entry. Or at the very least get close enough to to make this whole thing worthwhile.