TMNT (2007) Movie Review

QUICK FACTSTMNT 2007 Movie Cover

 

Release Date: March 23, 2007

 

Directed By: Kevin Munroe

 

Released By: Warner Bros. Pictures

 

Run Time: 87 Minutes

 

Budget: $34 Million

 

Box Office:

            $54,132,596 (United States)

            $95,004,670 (Worldwide)

 

 

PLOT

 

3,000 years ago, the warrior King Yaotl and his brotherhood led an army to conquer the world.  During his raids, the warrior king used the power of a celestial alignment to gain immortality.  However, his newfound life came at great cost.  His trusted brotherhood was turned to stone, 13 demons were set free on Earth, and the warrior king would have to live with his lapse in judgment forever.

 

With the Shredder defeated and the Foot Clan in hiding, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles grew restless with life, leading each to explore his own path, hoping to find purpose in something other than ninjutsu.  For Leonardo, that meant training across the globe, finally landing in Central America, protecting local villages from evil warlords and marauders. 

 

April O’Neil arrives in Central America, following Leonardo’s trail while on business for a rich tycoon.  She tells her friend how lost they are without him, but he’s sure everyone is just fine.  Meanwhile, back in New York City, Donatello has taken a job as tech support, Michelangelo works as a birthday party entertainer, and Raphael spends his nights protecting the streets as the hero Nightwatcher.  April tries to convince Leo to return, but the turtle still doesn’t feel like he’s become a better leader.

 TMNT 2007 Ninja Turtles Leonardo Central America

Michelangelo returns home from work, and the brothers all immediately start arguing about who contributes what to the family, with Donatello scolding Michelangelo for not moving on from the “glory days” and Raphael for not doing anything at all.  Master Splinter breaks up the tiff, and reminds Donnie that he needs to be more willing to accept his brothers’ strengths and weaknesses as they are.

 

April returns to NYC with her artifact secured, and phones Casey Jones to come help her deliver the package.  The two take a stone statue to a rich man named Max Winters, who tells them how the collection of four generals are like family to him.  As April and Casey leave, a new figure steps from the shadows in Winters’ office.  It is Karai, now leader of the Foot Clan, and Winters has an offer for her.  They will work for him, collecting the 13 monsters once escaped from the void, and bring them to him.

 

TMNT 2007 Nightwatcher Raphael Ninja TurtlesNightwatcher is back in business, but he’s interrupted by Casey Jones, who has already figured out that it’s Raph in costume.  The two join forces again to keep the streets clean.  Back at his lair, Winters activates a device that gives life to the four stone generals, preparing them for the stars to align once again.  At the same time, Leonardo returns to the city, and heads for home.  He speaks with Master Splinter, who sees how strong he has become, and welcomes him back with open arms.  Leo greets his brothers, and everyone but Raph is happy to see him. 

 

The turtles head to the surface, ready to start training again, but a roaring monster interrupts them. The Foot Clan and Karai are battling a giant blue creature, and the turtles eagerly join the fray.  The Foot abandon the fight, leaving the boys to take down the creature alone.  The turtles are beaten back, and the monster is about to deliver the killing blow, when the four stone generals arrive and easily subdue it, taking it back to Winters. Karai returns to the billionaire as well, angry that the Foot was tricked into being monster hunters.  Winters makes his show of strength, though, and Karai has no choice but to obey.  Winters puts the generals in charge of the Foot’s actions from there on out, and places the first monster in a cage.

 

The turtles are licking their wounds, and Leonardo and Raphael begin arguing about how the team falling apart is all Leo’s fault.  The fighting stops as Splinter walks through the room, and he soon learns of the events from the previous evening.  Splinter berates Leonardo for not keeping the others in check, and neither he nor Raphael takes it well.

 

The Foot and the generals are back on the hunt, tracking down and capturing all but a remaining few of the 13 monsters.  Raphael rounds up Casey for another night of work, and the two are barely out of his apartment before another monster flies overhead.  They give chase, only to witness the monster’s capture.  However, the stone generals notice Casey and Raph, and attack.  Raphael is hit by a tranquilizer dart, and he starts fading fast.  Luckily, the police arrive, causing the generals to retreat.  Casey manages to get Raph back to April’s, and the other turtles come to check on him.

 TMNT 2007 Karai Ninja Turtles

Raphael comes to with a stone shurkien stuck in his shell.  Casey tells April about the statues, and she relays the story of the warrior king and his brotherhood to the turtles, having heard the legend during her travels.  Donatello analyzes the dart, and sees Winters’ logo on it, leading them to believe that he may be the immortal king.  Raph is ready to go return the favor, but Leonardo orders him to stay.  Fed up with his brother, Raph leaves his brothers, ready to put the Nightwatcher back on the street.

 

The stone generals only have two monsters left, but worry that lifting the curse will take their immortality.  They begin questioning Winters, and refuse to locate and capture the final monster.  Meanwhile, the turtles are busy preparing for the celestial alignment, and the horrors it’ll bring.

 

Another monster is running amok at a diner, but Nightwatcher is on the job and starts wrestling with the creature, chasing it out onto the street.  As he tries to help the diner owner clean up, Leonardo arrives, issuing a challenge to the vigilante.  The two go toe-to-toe on the rooftops of NYC, with Leonardo winning and learning Nightwatcher’s true identity.  Raphael finally releases all his pent up rage toward Leo, and after some taunting on both sides, the two fight again, ninja versus ninja.  Raphael comes out on top, and runs as he realizes how close he came to delivering a killing blow.  As he disappears into the night, Leo is attacked and captured by the stone generals.  Raph hears his brother scream, but returns too late to help.

 TMNT 2007 Movie Raphael vs Leonardo Ninja Turtles

Raphael goes back to the lair, angry with himself, and tries to relay what happened to Splinter.  The rat master calms his son, telling him that he too has the qualities of a leader, but his own personality also stops him from being such.  Finally, Raph spits out what happened, and the team mobilizes to save their brother.

 

The Foot stands guard at Winters’ tower, as the turtles sneak in.  The stars align, opening the gateway to the monsters’ dimension, and Winters realizes too late that his generals betrayed him.  The turtles, April, Splinter, and Casey battle the Foot, making their way to the inner chamber.  They free Leonardo, getting him back in the fight just in time to team up with Winters to face off against the stone generals.  The Foot Clan heads out to find the final creature, and the ultimate battle begins.

 

Each turtle faces off against a general, while Splinter and Winters keep the escaping monsters at bay.  The turtles push back the stone warriors, and together launch the four into the inter-dimensional vortex.  However, their immortality allows them to return unharmed.  Luckily, the final monster has arrived.  The beast crashes into the generals, sending them all into the vortex.  With the 13 monsters returned, Winters’ immortality is gone and the world is saved.  Karai gives the turtles an ominous warning that their feud is far from over, taking her leave.  3,000 years catch up to Winters, and the curse releases him so he may finally rest in peace.

 

Splinter adds Winters’ and the Nightwatcher’s helmets to his trophy collection, and the family is whole again.  The brothers head back out in the city, ready to protect it with their lives.

 TMNT 2007 Movie

 

PRODUCTION NOTES

 

A CGI version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was first announced in 2000.  Many who were involved, including Peter Laird and Kevin Munroe, wanted to have a film that felt real, but did not suffer from the constraints of the live action films (such as budget and the “unrealistic” stories).  However, the movie didn’t make it out of development until 2004, when a new animation studio acquired the rights.  The story was always meant to be a bit darker and provide a look at what happened when the ninja family fell apart.Preproduction began in 2005 in both Los Angeles and Hong Kong.  Munroe wanted the New York City skyline to look like it was pulled from the black-and-white films of the 1940s and ‘50s, creating an even edgier look to the whole piece. 

 

The film acquired an all-star voice cast, consisting of live action stars like Sarah Michelle Gellar, Chris Evans, and Patrick Stewart, as well as prominent voice actors like John DiMaggio, Kevin Michael Richardson, Rob Paulsen, Frank Welker, and Dee Bradley Baker.  Together they gave this film something new: Star power.  Having big name actors allowed the film to be promoted in different ways than the others, which relied solely on the brand itself to draw crowds.

 

TMNT also marked the last film for Mako Iwamatsu (Master Splinter).  Iwamatsu-san was announced as part of the cast at Comic-Con 2006, and then died the very next day.  This movie was dedicated to that man for his successful acting career, including standout performances in Samurai Jack, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and appearances on dozens of major television shows over 45 years.

 

 

ANALYSIS

 

The first thing worth noting about this film is how beautiful it was.  The CGI used was ahead of its time in 2007, and still looks more amazing than many other computer-generated shows and movies made in the few years since.  CGI was also an excellent decision as to the presentation.  While a fourth live action film was in the works (and ultimately scrapped, with the balance of its ideas being incorporated into TMNT: The Next Mutation), the stories had gone into the fantastical realm of the TMNT universe, and a fourth film would have undoubtedly included some sort of plot element that would have made the film seem a bit too unbelievable.  However CGI solves that problem.  It’s a feature film and in the same vein as the first movie, but its look and feel are also in tune with the two animated series that had been produced before it.  Essentially, no matter how you tied it to the rest of the universe (or if it sat as its own continuity, separate from all others) it worked.  The CGI also made it possible for better action sequences that felt like ninjas fighting, where as the first three films were less ninja and more awkward flailing a lot of the time.  Note: See this film on Blu-ray.  The definition in textures, fluidity of movements, and dark undertones of color really pop in a way that standard definition cannot capture.

 

TMNT was a feature film in the stead of the first three, and could be seen as a natural continuation of that story.  At the end of film, Splinter puts Yaotl’s helmet on a shelf of trophies, near Shredder’s helmet, the canister of ooze, and the time scepter.  This means that at least for the sake of the four films, they all likely happened in the same general continuity.  (There are other treasures as well from the two animated series and comics, so how all the incarnations actually fit togehter is a task for another day.)  Showing that the fourth film is also part of the other three creates a very different dynamic to the story.  Instead of spending too much time wondering how the turtles got to the point where their family was falling apart, the viewer can go back through all the films and see the evolution to trace the progression.

 

Assuming that fourth film is a continuation of the first three, then it’s a very natural one, told in a way that adds to the mythos created, instead of trying to differentiate itself too much (like the third).  The question of “what happens to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ family when the boys start to grow up and explore their own paths?” is a deep one that deserved discussion.  However, this film also turns the third movie into an even bigger question mark.  One, two, and four are all very natural progressions from each other.  So why didn’t three answer some of the questions that four took for granted?  For instance, the turtles seemed at least familiar with Karai (even if they didn’t call her by name), but as far as the audience knows within the films, they never met her before.  Having her appear in the third film to fill the void left by Shredder would have made much more sense.

 TMNT Movie Trophy Case

Where the other films failed to deal with character development, this film was driven by very real characters who did things that always added to their individual identities.  Michelangelo got a job being crazy and wacky all day, yet hated it, showing maturity.  Donatello was trying to balance his role with his brothers to his devotion to growing up.  April and Casey were attempting to make a relationship work when Casey was still playing hero.  These were real things happening to real characters.  The most important, however, was in Raphael and Leonardo’s showdown.

 

Fans of the comics were treated to this duel long ago.  But fans of the television shows and films had never seen the culmination of the rivalry between Raph and Leo.  Now they have.  From a technical perspective, the art direction and animation were at their best in this one scene.  From a universe perspective, this was the true ultimate battle.  No confrontation would be more meaningful and more desired than a real showdown between Raphael and Leonardo, and it did not disappoint.  Raph let everything he’s ever felt about Leo out in this fight.  He gets mad about his brother leaving, makes his points about their skills, talks about who should be leader – all to prove that Leonardo cannot simply take his appointed authority for granted.  It was also interesting to see Raphael use his sais for their express purpose in disarming swordsmen.  This was the battle of all battles; one of the legendary showdowns that pop culture fans hope to see.

 

In spite of being in a completely different medium than anything produced prior, this film was excellent.  While maybe not as successful as the studios had hoped (and probably not successful enough to justify the cost of another), it was still an amazing film.  The story, the action, and the animation all played to the strengths of the TMNT universe, creating a movie that by any standard is a great addition to the mythos.

  

FUN FACTS

 

All four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle films were released in the month of March.

 

According to Kevin Munroe, the turtles are supposed to be between 18 and 19 years old.

 

A few of the 13 monsters were based on actual mythological creatures, including the Cyclops, the Yeti, gargoyles, and the Jersey Devil.

 

Raphael is left handed in this film, as shown while he’s eating breakfast after Leonardo’s return.

 

“I love bein’ a turtle” has been said in all four films.

 

Other trinkets in Splinter’s trophy room include mouser parts, Lord Norinaga’s helmet, Walker’s hat, and a Triceraton space helmet.