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ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘TMNT’ (2007), Part One

Chris Sims: Hello everyone, and welcome back to ComicsAlliance’s series of in-depth reviews of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films! Today, we’re starting in on our final entry, 2007′s TMNT.

Matt Wilson: It was only after we started doing these reviews and people began requesting we review this one that I discovered it ties in to the other movies. It certainly wasn’t promoted as a sequel to That One Where They Travel Through Time.Chris: Same here. I just assumed that it tied into the cartoon that was on the air when it came out. Fourteen years is a pretty long wait for a sequel, but then again, it’s pretty easy to see why they didn’t want to jump right back in after TMNT III.

Matt: The original plan was to only wait seven years. This movie was first discussed back in 2000, and we can only imagine what could have been. None other than John Woo was attached to direct before it got mixed up in development hang-ups.

Chris: I’m going to try not to be disappointed in this movie now that I know that, but I think we can all agree that John Woo’s TMNT would’ve been something worth seeing. How are you going to fit all those doves in a sewer?

Matt: Michelangelo all sliding across a bathroom floor, shooting bullets out of his nunchucks.

Chris: Ugh. I’m already mad that we’re not watching that. But on the other hand, there were a bunch of different plots discussed during development, including sending the Turtles out into space. Fortunately (or not, depending on your views of ninja astronauts), Peter Laird opted not to follow the format of the Leprechaun movies.

Matt: And I guess Ice T wasn’t available for skipping right on to what the next Leprechaun movie was. Kevin Munroe, an animation veteran who also helmed the ill-fated Dylan Dog adaptation a couple years ago, ended up directing, and his take on the franchise was that he wanted to get away from the “cowabunga” stuff and tell a more serious story, getting back to the feel of the original comics.

Chris: Apparently it worked: TMNT ended up being #1 in its opening weekend, beating out Zack Snyder’s Frank Miller’s 300, among other things. I never got around to seeing it, though, although I heard good things.

Matt: Nor did I. While I wasn’t averse to seeing an animated Ninja Turtles movie, nothing in the marketing really sold me on it. All I really remember is commercials with turtles running around on rooftops. And, like you, I thought it might tie into the 2003 cartoon, which I didn’t keep up with.

Chris: There’s a pretty solid cast, though: Buffy, Captain Picard, Captain America, Aquaman… They even got Mako as Splinter, which seems like the biggest no-brainer casting decision anyone has ever made.

Matt: Agreed completely. Kevin Clash was fine and all, but Uncle Iroh as Splinter is about as perfect as it can be.

Chris: So even without John Woo, the combination of the cast, some good-looking animation and hearing good things from people who have seen it actually has me pretty excited about what we’re about to see. If nothing else, I’m almost positive it couldn’t be worse than the last one.

Matt: Let’s find out!

Chris: Hopefully I didn’t just jinx it for us.

Matt: Things open up with about four minutes of infodump narrated by a voice who I’ll just call Not-Keith-David. There’s a lot crammed in here about the turtles, their origin, their names, a 3,000-year-old warlord who became immortal, his generals turning to statues, some soldiers that look like cylons and 13 monsters who came through a portal opened by aligning stars. It’s more plot than the past two movies combined had.

Chris: I think my favorite thing about this is that he just drops “named after the great Renaissance masters and trained as ninjas” as though this is no big deal.

Matt: There are quite a few “Hold up, what?” moments in this opening bit. I can only imagine what it would be like for someone unfamiliar with the franchise. Can you imagine being presented with all of this as a four-year-old?

Chris: I can, and I imagine it would be totally awesome. Thirteen ancient monsters! Ninja Turtles! Cursed immortals! It’s pretty overwhelming, but to be honest, I like that the opening spends the least amount of time on the Turtles, since they’re such a fixture in pop culture that they don’t really need any explaining. I’m already enjoying this, even if it looks like a cutscene about Protheans from the first Mass Effect game.

Matt: From this ancient battle, we transition to Central America (!?), where a group of criminal-minded soldiers are terrorizing the people of a small town, only to encounter some jungle justice in the form of the ninja turtles. It’s TMNT Inc.!

Chris: You really need to quit imagining things that are better than the movie we’re watching. But yes, a young woman and her brother are menaced by a bad guy that I can only refer to as Fat Castro.

Matt: Fattel Castro. It turns out that the “ghost of the jungle” is only one turtle: Leonardo, whose name we are informed of in Whooshing Text when April shows up to search for him. For a movie that presumes quite a bit of familiarity with the characters, this sure didn’t trust us to recognize the one with the swords as Leo.

Chris: It would’ve been better if the tag had said “Leonardo (leads)” to be followed by “Donatello (does machines)” and so on, but I’ll admit that’s wallowing in nostalgia. I have to say, though, this entire bit is really weird. Usually, referring to someone as a “ghost” is a setup for it to be revealed it’s only a man, but Leo’s a six-foot tall talking turtle that stabs people with swords, something I could consider to be way, way scarier than a ghost.

Matt: Yes, it’s the rare example of a local legend being a more reasonable explanation than the reality. April meets up with Leonardo in a cave, where she explains she’s in Central America “on business,” which means her news channel has greatly expanded its budget since having to fire her off a story for asking the police chief too many questions. A tycoon is trying to buy up the statues of the generals from the opening infodump — which are actually the generals themselves. Leo asks what his bros are up to, and they’ve all found interesting, if improbable, work.

Chris: I was about to say that for a movie meant to be in continuity with the live-action films, it was a pretty big departure for TV Reporter April O’Neil to suddenly be cast as Indiana Jones, but you’re right, she did get fired. I guess enrolling in the Lara Croft School of Tomb Raiding to get a new career actually does make sense, given her penchant for antiques in the first one.

Matt: She was back to reporting in the second movie, but by the third, she’s basically an adventuring antiques trader, so who even knows anymore. The other turtles have all taken up new professions, too: Donatello’s doing tech support over the phone, Michelangelo’s dressing up as himself for kids’ parties, and Raphael is…a non-fiery Ghost Rider.

Chris: Mikey dressing up in a giant turtle head, gluing a zipper on his shell and swinging around foam nunchucks for kids’ parties is a pretty inspired career choice, even if it does posit a world where talking turtles have become as popular as, say, magicians and clowns.

Matt: Their appearance onstage with Vanilla Ice has become the stuff of legend. I’m curious where Raph got all the resources for his many chains and his advanced biker-vigilante outfit. Donny’s tech support gig must be lucrative.

Chris: Considering that they have two jobs now, compared to zero jobs where they could afford multiple nightly pizza deliveries, I suspect that they’re rolling in cash. I will say, though, I do love the movie’s implication that they had to get jobs because Leo’s not around to lead them in crime-fighting, as though a) they’re not all ninjas, and b) that’s what was paying the bills before.

Matt: Without Leo’s guiding hand, Raphael has taken to just plain beating thieves up with chains.

Chris: All that lucrative Party Clown money seems to be going to a much nicer setup, too. Instead of their stinky old sewer lair or abandoned subway stop, they’ve got a downright palatial underground lair hidden behind a secret passage that can only be accessed by pulling off an insane Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater combo. They even have arcade games in there!

Matt: It reminds me a lot of their Cartoon Lair, which had room for Donatello to make giant Kirby machines and stuff. So far, this movie has been kind of a weird mix of the cartoon and the previous movies. They even have the van now!

Chris: True, but it’s less of a crime-fighting vehicle playset and more of a… van that Mike uses for work. While watching their (super nice) TV, Mike catches a news report about a local vigilante called the Nightwatcher, who beats up criminals using ninja techniques at night. Nobody suspects that Raphael, who sleeps all day, goes out at night, and talks about how he loves beating up criminals, is totally the Nightwatcher, because Mike and Don are both super dumb. Or maybe they’re just distracted by Splinter’s amazingly ill shoulder pads.

Matt: They are nice. Splinter intervenes in an argument between Raph and Donatello, telling them that the family’s going to fall apart if they can’t cooperate. It’s a little weird to hear a Mako character just straightforwardly say something like that; Avatar’s Iroh was such a well-written character, who would use circuitous methods to mentor Zuko into making decisions for himself. There’s no real art to what he’s saying here. It’s strangely disappointing.

Chris: I don’t mind, but then again, my primary reference point for Mako is his landmark role in 1992′s Sidekicks, in which a kid’s daydreams of befriending Chuck Norris are so intense that they become real.

Matt: This is as good a time as any to say that I’m sort of experiencing some cognitive dissonance throughout this thing. The animation — which I do like on its face — is pretty bright and cartoony. So when stuff like this dramatic scene between Raph and Don, or, you know, warlords abusing villagers happens, it has a really jarring effect. The tone got darker while the look brightened considerably.

Chris: That doesn’t really bother me, but I had a similar feeling of disconnect with the voices. Mako’s blunt statements might not bother me, but it does feel weird to see that voice coming out of an animated character that’s not Uncle Iroh, and when Patrick Stewart shows up a few minutes later as a tall, muscular, lantern-jawed Bruce Wayne-lookin’ dude with a full head of hair instead of, you know, Patrick Stewart, it pulls me right out of the movie. Neither one of those guys is a bad voice actor by any means, but I can’t get my head around who they are here.

Matt: April, having finished trying to convince Leonardo to return and restore some family order, arrives back in New York on a cargo ship carrying one of the general statues she was hired to pick up. Not there is Casey, who is apparently now working as a truck driver for her artifact-collecting business, and who sleeps in a hockey mask.

Chris: When they get to “Winters Corp,” which might as well be called Evil Plan Industries, Casey causes a minor crisis when he knocks over a Grecian urn. Hey Matt, what’s a Grecian urn?

Matt: All you need to know about it is that it’s beauty, and that’s truth. Or maybe it’s truth and that’s beauty? I get mixed up.

Chris: Vaudeville is dead and you killed it, Wilson.

Matt: I know you were going for the “earn” gag,” but I couldn’t pass up a Keats joke.

Chris: Buffy delivers the statue to Max Winters – the aforementioned Patrick Stewart character − and on the off chance that the kids in the audience haven’t figured out that he’s definitely the cursed immortal from the intro, he makes some cryptic statements about how the statues are like family to him just to lay it all out on the line. April straight up refers to the statue as “one of the Generals,” too, which makes me wonder if she’s clued into the whole curses/monsters/immortals thing, and whether she should maybe mention that to her ninja friends some time soon.

Matt: Winters is half Bruce Wayne, half Mr. Incredible. He is 30 percent jaw.

Chris: Winter ushers April and Casey out, presumably to Accounts Payable where they will get a check for “Priceless,” and then stands there casually Patrick Stewarting as Zhang Ziyi shows up with the Foot Clan and menaces him for a little bit.

Matt: For a ruthless, immortal general, he’s got a pretty great sense of humor. His line where he asks Ziyi’s character, Karai, to go ahead and kill him so he can miss his shareholders’ meeting is the best line of the movie so far.

Chris: Being an immortal gives you plenty of time for improv classes. Winters is always Yes And-ing potential assassins.

Matt: Turns out he actually is looking to hire the Foot Clan to be his “eyes and ears.” Meanwhile, Raph and Casey are trying to out-vigilante each other. Casey proves that he’s considerably smarter than the other turtles by figuring out the Nightwatcher’s identity pretty quickly. They capture a bad guy and bond for a bit while a song that is legally distinct from the New Radicals’ “You Get What You Give” plays in the background.

Chris: Raph’s disappointment that Casey guessed his secret identity when he’s wearing full-body armor and Casey’s deadpanned “It’s not that hard. You look like a big metal turtle.” is another really great line. There’s a lot of sharp stuff in this script so far. Aside from Leo’s katanas, I mean. Ha ha. Ha ha ha.

Matt: Winters wakes up his statue-generals using some kind of glowing discs while Leo comes back to New York in a plane’s landing gear. This sequence where he hang glides into the city is totally ludicrous, but I can’t say it isn’t cool.

Chris: It’s insane, but in a weird What If James Bond Was A Giant Turtle sort of way, which is exactly what I want to see from a TMNT story. Well, that and anthropomorphic animals punching each other, but I’m pretty sure we’re in for plenty of that before long.

Matt: Not if Splinter has anything to say about it. He welcomes Leo home by telling him that he and his bros are forbidden from fighting until they can work as a team again. Raph coldly welcomes Leo home after overhearing Splinter say his brother’s absence affected him most, while Mikey and Don offer a warmer greeting.

Chris: Would you say that Raphael’s reaction to Leonardo’s return is a bit… cool?

Matt: With a sprinkle of rudeness. The turtles convene on a rooftop to train, but end up talking about the Nightwatcher instead until they overhear a ruckus at a construction site. They roundly disobey Splinter to go discover an ape creature fighting the Foot Clan.

Chris: Mike’s reaction of just leaning on his elbow and cheerfully watching the Foot get chucked off a skyscraper is kind of grim, but also pretty hilarious. He’s right, though: F**k those guys.

Matt: It’s been some progression for the Foot, hasn’t it? They went from thieves corrupting the youth to working for an immortal ancient warlord. What a long, strange trip.

Chris: When your leader is beaten to death by turtles at a Vanilla Ice concert, you really have to find a new direction. Whatever you’re doing, it ain’t working.

Matt: Once the turtles are there, the Foot scamper away to leave them alone with the big beast. What follows is a nicely choreographed and animated action sequence. The construction site setting is used really well, particularly compared to the last time a construction site was part of a turtles movie.

Chris: It really is! There are a lot of great set pieces, even from before the action starts with the Turtles nimbly running across a crane to get there. Raph slides down a metal cable with his sai, there’s a great shot of Albino Donkey Kong crashing through different floors, it’s fun stuff. Eventually, though, the monster is about to get the best of the Turtles, and that’s when Winters’ TRON’d up statue generals show up.

Matt: They make quick work of the monster and look super-imposing while they do. I’m not sure I’m crazy about their designs, though. They’re all gray and red, which makes sense, but kind of blends them together to my eye. They’re not super-distinctive.

Chris: Especially with as bright and poppy as the rest of the movie has been up to this point. The black and red Generals just blend into the background of red girders against a night sky, and the Foot being in black costumes with red accents isn’t really helping either. There’s a lot of this movie that could be better lit, too, which is a pretty weird thing to say about CGI.

Matt: Karai complains to Winters that the Foot wasn’t warned about giant monsters, so Winters has the generals stare her down. Meanwhile, the turtles lick their wounds and bicker down in the sewer.

Chris: Michelangelo cracking up while telling Donatello, his brother, that the monster was “like your mom, dude” is my new favorite part of this movie and possibly the Turtles franchise as a whole.

Matt: I think mine is Splinter walking in, humming a tune and then talking about “my stories.” I take back everything I said about his stilted dialogue from earlier. This is delightful.

Chris: This whole sequence has great stuff. Raph and Leo staring daggers at each other while shoveling cereal into their mouths, the Turtles trying not to tip Splinter off to the fact that they went out and wrecked a construction site, the dialogue. It’s all really well done, from the writing to the expressive animation.

Matt: Splinter turns on the TV, hoping to watch Gilmore Girls, when a news report about the fight at the construction site interrupts. Splinter gives the turtles a talking-to, and Raph, as he does, goes out on his own.

Chris: He does this immediately after Splinter tells them that he didn’t want them engaging in any “surface activity,” and yet nobody, not even Splinter, tells Raph not to go wandering around. Do they think he’s just going to skateboard around the sewers? Either way, we cut to a pretty awesome montage of the Generals and the Foot Clan taking down the rest of the 13 monsters in various places, with some nice quick set pieces that show them off individually way better than the construction site did.

Matt: As much as I’m not crazy about the designs of the generals, the different monsters are all quite inventive.

Chris: I like the big Cyclops looking dude with the pink mohawk, largely because it reminds me of Monster Plus.

Matt: I took it as a sly nod to Bebop.

Chris: The monsters are all dealt with and caged in Winters’ corporate office building, which you have to imagine was a pretty weird day for the guys down at the loading docks. Foot Clan ninjas with glowing red eyes and clipboards all requesting a signature on the delivery confirmation, having to use the magically warded freight elevator that’s all the way on the other side of the building…

Matt: “I better get my overtime,” they all said.

Chris: Back at the O’Neil-Jones household, which is an insanely nice apartment that proves how lucrative it is to steal the artifacts of other cultures and hand them over to private businessmen for money, April is practicing her katas while watching The Only News Reporter In New York.

Matt: It’s a lot like Starling City that way. Meanwhile, Casey’s reading a newspaper that is filled with nothing but stories about the Nightwatcher. It’s really every article! I know a vigilante would be a big deal, but surely there’s something else going on in New York City, right?

Chris: There are two Nightwatcher stories on the front page! This is a city that had an unstoppable ninja crime wave and David Warner making mutants, and I don’t even think those would’ve made the front page in the real New York. Maybe on the Post.

Matt: TERROR-IUM, the headline would say. Anyway, Raph shows up at the window to invite Casey up to the roof. April notices and heads up, too. Then Man-Bat attacks.

Chris: You’re not kidding: It is straight up Man-Bat, and I think this is where the movie’s about to lose me.

Matt: Raph and Casey give chase only to find that the creature is quickly being dispatched by the Foot and the generals. Casey accidentally knocks some masonry off their building perch, alerting the whole group to their presence. Raph takes a tranquilizer dart before he tosses a smoke pellet so he and Casey can hide from a general who scales the building. It doesn’t work, but the police scare the general off.

Chris: The shot of the General skittering up the building is appropriately creepy, given that its face looks like one of the angel statues from Doctor Who, but Raph taking a tranq in the arm rather than protecting Casey with his shell seems like an awfully convenient plot contrivance. I’ll buy turtle ninjas, but only if they behave logically.

Matt: Casey not understanding what a smoke pellet is seems kind of contrived, too. You’d think if you’re in the vigilante game, no matter how much of a knockaround guy you are, you’d learn the basics.

Chris: A vigilante whose only friends are ninjas, no less.

Matt: April calls the lair to inform the team that Raph’s been knocked unconscious. Raph’s OK, but the piece of obsidian in his back indicates that those statues April collected for Winters are part of an ancient legend April just happens to know, the one we saw at the beginning. We get confirmation that the immortal guy is Winters, and we have a conflict.

Chris: Also, I love that Leo’s reaction to getting a phone call about how Raph is laying knocked out on April’s floor is less concern for his brother, and more grumpy annoyance that he went out and got himself beaten into uncosciousness.

Matt: Fun fact: Raph was supposed to die! It was only after Peter Laird complained that the script was re-written. Originally, Donatello brought him back to life with one of Winters’ machines.

Chris: Haha, what! But man, he gets his ass kicked a lot in these movies. It’s a constant. So what’s the deal with these monsters, why does Winters want them, and how are the Turtles going to reunite into a fighting force? Find out next week when we finish up the TMNT franchise! And don’t forget that starting tomorrow, you can vote on what we’ll be watching next!

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