ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘TMNT’ (2007), Part Two
Chris Sims: Welcome back to the final installment of ComicsAlliance's in-depth reviews of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films! This week, we're heading for the end of 2007's TMNT, in which our half-shelled heroes battle against an immortal Patrick Stewart. So far, so good.
Matt Wilson: Our frame of reference might be a little skewed from the last two movies we watched, but it's certainly a step up from what preceded.Chris: No one has claimed to be a demon or promised an oozy secret without delivering, so if that pattern holds, it'll be the best of the series by default, even without Ernie Reyes Jr. Instead, when we last left off, April recognized a stone shuriken embedded in Raph's shell and let out a shocked "It can't be... it's... just a myth!" Keep in mind that she said this in a room full of mutant ninja turtles.
Matt: It seemed as though April was driving toward the conclusion that Winters was the immortal warlord of legend, but then continued to shrug it off so the turtles could keep arguing about whether to obey Splinter's order not to fight. Luckily, Don did notice that the dart that knocked out Raph came from Winters' company, so that at least points them in a direction. Remember how first-movie Donatello's only doing of machines involved a truck? Now he takes a full lab everywhere he goes.
Chris: It's a step up, but it's worth noting that so far, TMNT's keeping up the pattern of Donatello getting almost none of the spotlight. Raph and Leo are the clear focus of the storyline, and Mikey's got personality to spare, but Donatello hasn't done much outside of that tech support gag in the opening.
Matt: Raph's the driving force of the plot yet again, storming out of April's apartment to say he's quitting the team to become Nightwatcher full time. Casey tries to stop him to no avail.
Chris: If only someone told him that "Nightwatcher" sounded less like a superhero vigilante and more like fans of Rhonda Shear's USA Up All Night.
Matt: Or a member of a fan club for that Russian "Nightwatch" action franchise from about 10 years ago.
Chris: Winters is kicking it in his pajams with a glass of wine when one of his Generals comes in and makes the connection that if they follow Winters' plan, they're not going to be immortal anymore. You'd think he'd be up for this since he's spent the past THREE THOUSAND YEARS as a statue, but people are weird like that.
Matt: "I have to see the third Hobbit movie!" is the unspoken context.
Chris: Winters' response is, in total, "I'm Patrick Stewart so we're doing what I want to do." I imagine this is how a lot of arguments end in P-Stew's real life, too.
Matt: Even so, the general inspires some division among the ranks. He walks into the other generals' chamber and says the 13th monster must remain unfound. Meanwhile, the turtles are deciphering legend to decide that another portal to the monster dimension will open up over Winters Tower in the next 24 hours.
Chris: I haven't seen it, but I'm pretty sure that "Another Portal to the Monster Dimension" is the plot of most episodes of the 2003 TMNT cartoon. It's nice to see that this is finally where Donatello gets to shine, explaining how everything's going to go bad with computer simulations that appear to be an in-progress game of Pandemic 2. Even here, though, I'm way more interested in watching Mikey bust out that late Indy revert to manual on the halfpipe in the background. That... might just be me though.
Matt: The Nightwatcher is hanging out on a rooftop listening to the police band when he hears about a disturbance at a diner. Turns out Monster 13 is in the freezer at a diner, and it's ADORABLE.
Chris: Raphael is basically fighting Stitch from Lilo & Stitch in order to save Kevin Smith. I say just feed him to it. Ohana means family.
Matt: Celebrity cameos in animated films are so odd. Why was this diner chef Kevin Smith?
Chris: Obviously because someone was so moved by his incredible acting in Live Free Or Die Hard.
Matt: Or all those times he played Silent Bob, who was so well-known for his voice. Raph has a comedy fight with the lil' monster, the first out-and-out comedic scene of the movie, that ends with the monster eating some smoke pellets and bursting through a window. As Raph has an argument with the diner owner about whether he's a criminal or not, Leo gets the jump on him and a chase ensues.
Chris: Leo lectures the Nightwatcher about how he needs to walk away from this vigilante lifestyle and, when the Nightwatcher's not freaked out by a talking turtle with swords yelling at him, they get into a fight where Leo punches the helmet off and reveals that it's actually Raph. There are some harsh words exchanged about Raph's resentment that Leo left the team for over a year, and then, oh son, the S goes D.
Matt: I don't know why I didn't really notice it before now, but it's high-larious that Raph wears his bandana under the helmet.
Chris: Mikey and Don sleep in theirs!
Matt: Raphael and Leonardo engage in their second fight of the evening, this one starting with a Ninja Gaiden opening-style jump-and-slash maneuver (though neither of them gets slashed). It's a well-done fight-in-a-rainstorm scene, this time with Raph getting the better of Leo before having a Moment of Clarity and stopping himself.
Chris: The fight is really great, too. It's short, but there's great action in there, and even some nice angles. Bits of it are shot through a neon sign, or from grating that holds it up, and it adds a lot of kineticism to it. Plus, the music gets this crazy "BA-BABA! BA-BABA!" stuff going, almost like the Terminator theme. It's really good. It's the fight everyone who had these two action figures did in their rooms growing up, but better.
Matt: Raph realizes what he's doing and runs away just as one of the Winters Darts hits Leo's arm. The generals and the Foot grab him up and announce they're going to pass Leonardo off as the 13th monster. Raphael hears Leo screaming and runs back just in time to see him get carried away.
Chris: It really says a lot for the animation and voice acting that Raph's transition from being angry enough to literally try to kill his brother to regretting what he's doing to freaking out about Leo being kidnapped comes off as completely believable and emotional. That's tough to pull off in a movie about talking karate turtles.
Matt: It's up there with the puppeteering for the first movie, which is saying a lot. The next scene, where Raphael comes to Splinter and admits what happened, is a similarly emotional moment. The voice acting and the animation sell it all.
Chris: Raph stuttering and trying to explain and just giving up and flipping stuff over is really solid. Great job, movie!
Matt: Splinter says it's time for he and the turtles to return to the surface -- the turtles have actually been up there a few times, so that doesn't really mean much -- and get Leo back. April and Casey gear up, too, while listening to...well, music you'd expect to be in a kids' movie.
Chris: I know that when I'm gearing up to go fight and possibly die to rescue my friends from someone who wants to destroy the world, I always throw a little Newfound Glory on to set the proper mood. It's also worth noting that April gets a new costume in the form of a Kill Bill jumpsuit with what I can only call a Battle Corset.
Matt: And Casey gets an iron mask. A lot of unintended implications in these battle outfits.
Chris: I honestly wonder if it was unintended, or if the filmmakers threw that in for the grown-ups in the audience to let them know that for April and Casey, vigilante activity is totally a sex thing.
Matt: I can buy that. Over at Winters tower, the ceremony is beginning. Karai orders the Foot Clan to guard all the entrances while Winters approaches an altar in ceremonial garb. The stars line up and there comes the portal. That was quick!
Chris: I like that there's a mass of swirling green clouds with a hole in them centered right over Winters tower. You'd think somebody might be asking some questions about that, but instead we just get Casey in Mike's fake turtle costume head (which is pretty awesome) causing a distraction so they can slip in and start ninja-ing.
Matt: Ninja-ing to what sounds a lot like a song that samples "Thriller." This big battle scene is pretty cool, and a great example of something that would have been impossible to do in live action.
Chris: It is! It's one long, continuous shot of the Turtles, Casey, April and Splinter fighting an army of Foot Ninjas that goes on for about 45 seconds without interruption.
Matt: Inside the tower, Winters' actual plan is revealed: He wants to BANISH the monsters back to the dimension they came from and end his immortality, which he says is a curse. He could have acted a lot less ominous throughout this whole thing if his plans were that benign. The generals want to live forever, though, so they won't let that happen.
Chris: Again, this is pretty muddled. Were the generals even aware of what was going on while they were statues? It was only Winters and his weird TRON discs that brought them to life, wasn't it?
Matt: Right. The thing that makes the least sense to me is why Winters waited 3,000 years to get his generals back. I know he wanted to time the capturing of the monsters to the portal opening, but he could have had the generals do other stuff for him in the meantime, if he had those discs all along. Likewise, what have those monsters been doing for the entirety of the 3,000 years? We saw one as a gargoyle, but there wasn't much explanation of their situation.
Chris: Earlier in the movie, Donatello's reading a book about mythological monsters, and I think the implication is that these 13 extradimensional baddies have been the source of monsters throughout history. There's one that looks kinda like a yeti, one that's Man-Bat (so kinda vampirey, I guess?) and so on. It seems to me like they're attracted to the statues, which would explain why they're all in New York, so maybe they've been vexing Winters and keeping him from getting everything together for this entire time.
Matt: Not a bad theory. I think the movie could have spared a couple lines of dialogue to clear it all up, though. The turtles find Leo in a monster chamber, bust him out and give him his katanas back. There's a kind of corny reuniting moment, but it's short lived, because Patrick Stewart comes flying off a balcony and lands right by the turtles.
Chris: Raph and Leo's "You're gonna need these." "Gonna need you, too" is a profound bro moment (broment) on par with Dutch and Dylan arm-wrestling in mid-air in Predator.
Matt: Let's not say things we can't take back. The dialogue is saved by the next lines, though. When Winters hits the ground, we get some "Secret of the Ooze"-level jokery when Mikey says, "Looks like fall. Get it?" Leo chimes in with, "Remember our talk." It's snappy and it acknowledges the previous movies. It's a great little moment.
Chris: You mentioned last week that Winters looks a lot like Mr. Incredible, and that is never truer than when he pops up back to life in his crazy Warhammer 40,000 armor so that he can finally be revealed as A Pretty Okay Guy.
Matt: Chin for days, this guy's got. The generals step in and what follows is a negotiation as to what the final battle's going to be. The Foot declares its allegiance to Winters and starts searching for the last monster; the turtles take on the generals. Monsters start flying out of the portal. S**t gets crazy.
Chris: It's pretty awesome, though. At one point, Splinter jump kicks a monster and says "Still got it!" and while that's not a great line, it has 100% more jump-kicking than "I made a funny," so things are improving over the past films by leaps and bounds. Also, there's a bit where one of the Generals knocks Leonardo through one of the display cases that Winters keeps in his Batcave/Office Building, and then stands up, revealing himself to be way more dangerous now that he has... more swords.
Chris: I have no idea how that's supposed to work, but it's hilarious and I love it. Swords for everybody!
Matt: Out on the streets of New York, April, Casey and Karai are speeding in the Turtle Van away from the 13th monster, which is considerably more massive than when we last saw it.
Chris: That explains why it was eating so much. It was a growing boy. Girl? Genderless space thing?
Matt: It had an otherdimensional monster gender, which we cannot comprehend with our earth-limited experience. Eventually, the Van Team leads the last monster straight through Winters' door and into the portal, closing it up and taking down the generals.
Chris: Casey and Karai share a look on top of the crashed party van, and in a great bit of physical comedy, April shoves the door open and knocks Karai out of the way, and then is herself knocked to the floor when the Foot Soldier does the same thing. She and Casey make out a little bit, and then Karai walks over to the Turtles and goes "Hey, nice job, but if we do a sequel, Shredder's in it. Heads up."
Matt: It is the most blatant sequel set-up I've seen in a movie since Harry Osborn found his dad's Goblin Room in the first Spider-Man. In the comics, Karai was Shredder's daughter, by the way. So I guess she would know what he's up to, and if that's not being dead.
Chris: All things considered, it's pretty nicely done. Winters laughs a little about finally being able to die after 3,000 years -- which is a pretty heady goal for someone to have in a kids' movie, let alone for the heroes to directly cause -- and then glows and turns into dust, which of course Mikey sneezes.
Matt: He sure did not mess around with the not being immortal anymore. I thought he'd at least get the remainder of a human lifetime. But nope! Right into glow dust.
Chris: Then, it's back to the sewers for the most blatant bit of fanservice, as Splinter puts Winters' helmet with trophies from the other movies:
Chris: I recognize Splinter's helmet, the ooze canister and the time sceptre, but what's that thing in the upper right?
Matt: I think that thing in the upper right is a part of a samurai's armor; one of the facemasks the turtles wore after they time traveled in the last movie. I have no idea how Splinter would have this in his Assassin's Creed-style trophy room, though.
Chris: As the camera pulls back, the Turtles' samurai armor is there, and so are a couple of Mousers from the cartoon. It's less of an in-continuity trophy room and more what I imagine Peter Laird's living room looks like.
Matt: Raph adds his Nightwatcher helmet to the room, which leads Mikey to add his party-turtle head to the mix. It's cute.
Chris It is! And as much as it was setting up a sequel, it really does make a nice ending for the whole series. I can't believe it, but seeing the time scepter sitting there fooled me into thinking I had fond memories of TMNT 3. Only for a moment, mind you, but it happened.
Matt: There are more artifacts in there from that movie than any of them, surprisingly enough. Where are Raph's trench coat and hat? Or that straw hat Donatello wore in the first one?
Chris: I honestly expected Ernie Reyes Jr. to be sitting in there.
Matt: Like Colbert has Michael Stipe on his set.
Matt: On a character level, I think this movie works the best of any as a sequel to the original. It rehashes the Leo/Raph conflict of the first one a little bit, but it's more consistent with those versions of the character in every case but Donatello. And in that case, it resolves my issue with the portrayal! So I can't complain.
Chris: It's worth noting that the Raph/Leo stuff is done better here, too. Leonardo having to leave but not wanting to come back until he knew he'd become a better leader and being afraid of failing plays into his obsessiveness and sense of responsibility as the leader, Raph feeling angry and abandoned is more emotional than just being mad all the time because every team has to have a mad guy, it all works on a deeper level. It really treats them as well-rounded characters.
Matt: It takes the realistic feel of the first movie and makes it cartoony -- which mostly means bigger -- without being as silly or cheesy as the other sequels.
Chris: The action's bigger, but it has a much stronger emotional core for that stuff to revolve around. I mean, a street gang of troubled teens, even a ninja street gang, is infinitely more believable than interdimensional chupacabras and immortal Patrick Stewarts, but this plot hangs together so much better than the other movies. And on that same tip, there's some great action. The fight scenes are imaginative and well done, and the dialogue's pretty brisk and snappy. I don't remember a real groaner in the whole thing.
Matt: The broment didn't sit too well with me, but the rest wasn't bad. I'll say this: The movie doesn't waste any of its run time. It's over in 80 brisk minutes and never really lets up. It could almost take a little extra time to breathe, if you ask me. But it's so much better than being boring, which is what the last one often was.
Chris: Also, Michelangelo is actually funny instead of just being annoying. And you know what? Those skateboard sequences looked great. I know I'm a dude who owns more than three Thrasher Magazine t-shirts, but seriously, that counts for a lot in my book.
Matt: In regards to that and the fight sequences, I did really like the animation, for the most part. I'm not sure it totally matched the tone of the story, but the turtles were really expressive, the fights were beautiful and kinetic, and lots of stuff that wouldn't be possible in live action made it in. Going that route was a good decision.
Matt: As much as I like Patrick Stewart, the entire Winters plot feels...unnecessary. Certainly, it's secondary to the character stuff among the turtles themselves. He's kind of a throwaway bad guy (who isn't really a bad guy), and the generals don't do much to make themselves memorable. In a lot of ways, the bad-guy plot makes this feel more like a TV movie than a feature.
Chris: Also, Patrick Stewart's voice doesn't really match the strapping, ageless Bruce Wayne lookalike that he's playing. I wonder how much of that was intentional to get across that the character's 3,000 years old, but it pulled me out of the movie whenever he spoke.
Matt: Another thing that makes that whole plot seem kind of secondary: It's not really explained. As we pointed out, what was up with the generals and the monsters for 3,000 years is barely addressed, if at all. And the turtles don't really play any major role in any of those events until the very end. It's kind of just there for them to have someone to fight at the end.
Chris: Also, for a movie that has some great fights -- particularly Leo/Raph on the rooftop -- that last fight doesn't feel like it has any stakes. We're told it's the end of the world, but it's never really doubtful that the Turtles will win. There's no struggle for them, and even Splinter's like "we got this, it's fine." We don't see Casey and April having any problems with luring the 13th monster back to the Winters place, to the point where Karai and a silent Foot soldier are just sitting in the back seat evaluating their relationship. It's a funny scene, but it's not exactly tense.
Matt: Speaking of April and Casey, their roles here are very minor. After being such a big part of the previous movies, particularly April, they're all but totally sidelined.
Chris: April actually gets things to do other than be dragged across Feudal Japan, though. I like that she's been training to fight alongside the Turtles, and I would be totally into April O'Neil and Casey as a crime-fighting couple. Like a karate vigilante Nick and Nora Charles.
Matt: We just don't get to see much of it. Again: The movie speeds through its plot so fast that I think it sacrificed some potentially good stuff with its secondary characters or with its bad guys. We don't really learn anything about Karai, either.
Chris: Speaking of Karai, Zhang Ziyi does not do a very good job of voice acting in this movie. She's just completely emotionless, to the point where if Karai had been revealed to be a robot, I would not have been surprised at all. To the movie's credit, she's written in such a way that she seems kind of detached and cold rather than just sleepy, but still.
Matt: Most of the rest of the voice cast is really good, though. Mako is terrific, outside of his too-forceful first lines.
Chris: I'm honestly surprised this movie never got a sequel. I really enjoyed it, and from what Wikipedia's telling me, it did pretty well.
Matt: Who knows. It wasn't a big critical success, and I can kind of see why. If you're not invested in the Ninja Turtles characters, there's not a whole lot to care about in the driving plot that's explained in the first four minutes. The movie works so much better as a character piece than an adventure story, to be honest.
Chris: I think I'm safe in saying that it's far and away the best of the four TMNT movies.
Matt: I like the first one more, actually.
Chris: Really? Even the parts where they drive to that antebellum plantation right outside New York?
Matt: Those are my favorite parts! The moment where Raph wakes up and Leo gets all emotional is the best emotional beat of the series, I'd say. The first one isn't perfect, but everything ties in and builds up to the final battle. There are stakes. Shredder has a personal connection to Splinter and the turtles. I'm likely speaking from the standpoint of nostalgia to a degree, but that movie does hold up. This one's a close second. Two and three are in a whole different race, and it's to the bottom.
Chris: I think TMNT '07 has 'em all beat six ways to Sunday, even without the scourge of ninja crime. Either way, it's a pretty good way to end our run with the Turtles.
Matt: I'm glad people told us we should watch it!
Chris: Don't encourage them.
Matt: They were right this one time, Chris. You can't deny that.
Chris: I can and I will to my dying day, and you best believe that. But if our readers would like to take the opportunity to decide what we watch next, the poll is going on right now to determine our next review series! Will we finally get to watch the Punisher movies? Or be sentenced to the horror of video games?
Matt: The method of our doom is up to you.