TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES III Movie Review
Release Date: March 17, 1993
Directed By: Stuart Gillard
Released By: New Line Cinema
Run Time: 96 Minutes
Budget: $21 Million
$42,273,609 (United States)
A group of samurai warriors chase after a lone figure, cornering him in a thick forest. The man is Prince Kenshin, son of Lord Norinaga. The samurai disarm Kenshin and take him back to the castle, while a female archer watches silently.
In New York City, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles prepare for another day. They begin by training, honing their individual weapon skills, but Raphael soon grows tired of it all, the same thing day in an day out. Luckily April O’Neil brightens the mood with a visit and presents. She passes around the goodies to the boys, and has a special antique scepter for Splinter.
Back in Japan, Kenshin is brought before his father, and admonishes the Lord for choosing war. However a weapons monger named Walker arrives and convinces Lord Norinaga that the only course of action is to use guns to win quickly. Furious, Kenshin goes to the inner temple and ransacks the room. Hidden within a statue is the same gold scepter, which Kenshin gathers up.
The scepter starts glowing, the windows of the temple are thrown open, and Kenshin recites the inscription on the handle. In New York City, April’s scepter also activates. Energy springs forth, grabbing her body and sucking it in. The object hovers momentarily, and spits out Kenshin. The two traded places in time, trapping April in feudal Japan.
April is captured by the temple guards and taken in front of Lord Norinaga. She hopes to convince him she’s a sorceress and should be set free, but Walker calls her bluff, sentencing her to imprisonment instead. Meanwhile Kenshin wakes up after his long journey and his place in time is identified. Michelangelo and the others quickly agree that the only way to solve this problem is to head back and save April.
Donatello analyzes the scepter, trying to figure out exactly how it works. Several tests convince him that it’s an equal mass displacement system and will require one person from feudal Japan for each turtle. Mikey returns to the lair with reinforcements in the form of Casey Jones to protect Splinter in their absence. There is one catch, however – the time vortex will only stay active for 60 hours, so the turtles must return quickly.
April finds herself in the castle’s dungeon, and is soon joined by another prisoner who looks remarkably like Casey Jones. The man, Whit, is a traitor to Walker’s crew, and being punished for it. Her rescuers are on the way, though, as the scepter activates again and the turtles switch places with Norinaga’s honor guard. They arrive in the midst of a battle, and are separated from Michelangelo. Mikey is led into a nearby forest and knocked out by the same woman who witnessed Kenshin’s capture. She and her friends take him back to their village, while the other turtles wind up in a pond.
Casey has his hands full with the samurai, but Kenshin and Splinter are able to calm them down. Leonardo, Donatello, and Raphael follow the rest of the warriors back to Norinaga’s castle and quickly ditch the group to search for April. They follow Walker’s men down to the dungeon, and a quick battle leaves the guards on the ground and April and Whit free. The five of them escape through the dungeon’s garbage chute, landing outside the castle walls.
Cleaning up in a fresh river, the boys ready themselves to find Michelangelo, who is now awake in the nearby village. As Raphael enjoys the serenity and freshness of their surroundings, villagers, including the female archer, ambush the turtles. The battle doesn’t last long, and the villagers realize that these individuals look like the one being held at home. The boys head out, eager to get back to their brother.
As the group returns to the village, they are shocked to see buildings on fire and Walker’s men terrorizing everyone. Mikey escapes his makeshift prison and confronts Walker. Unfazed, the man takes aim with his gun, but the other turtles arrive and help keep their brother safe. Walker retreats, but the reunion is short-lived as a young boy named Yoshi is trapped in a burning building. Michelangelo rushes in and pulls him out, but the boy isn’t breathing so Leonardo administers CPR. With Yoshi alive, the boys are welcomed into the village as friends.
Walker returns to Norinaga’s castle, and relays the news of the turtles. The Lord fears these are the same demons who defeated his ancestors, and agrees to arm himself with Walker’s guns. Meanwhile the boys are adjusting well to their new surroundings. They’re learning to ride horses and bonding with the villagers (especially Raphael and Michelangelo, who have grown close to Yoshi and Mitsu, respectively). Donatello even concocts a plan to build a new scepter after Mikey lost the old one, to which all are in favor except April.
Back in New York City, Casey is trying to teach the samurai how to behave. He dresses them and introduces them to hockey. They watch it on TV, and then Casey tries to teach them the basics. The samurai did pick up one aspect for sure – the fighting.
Michelangelo speaks with Mitsu, and realizes that she is in love with Kenshin and wants him home more than anything else. Fortunately, the plan to build a new scepter worked out well, and the local blacksmith has constructed a nearly perfect replica. But Michelangelo grabs the scepter quickly and makes a case for them to stay. He and Raphael argue, and the scepter falls down a well, completely destroyed. As if things couldn’t get worse, news arrives that Norinaga will soon retaliate with guns.
On the eve of battle, Raphael says good-bye to Yoshi. Scared that his friend will die, Yoshi gives Raph a good luck charm, something he picked up in the forest – the original scepter. With fortune smiling on them, the turtles prepare to fight, but it occurs to them that someone must have told Yoshi to hide it. Mikey blames Mitsu, who storms out, but it was Yoshi’s grandfather who ordered it remain hidden, in the hope that the turtles would stay and fight.
After leaving the hut, Mitsu found herself in the hands of Whit, who is looking for a peace offering for Walker. Taking Mitsu and the scepter, Whit escapes, but the turtles are hot on his heals. Mitsu is presented to Lord Norinaga, and Whit is revealed to be a spy Walker had in place all along. Now Walker has the scepter, his money, and Norinaga’s honor. It doesn’t take long, however, before April arrives at the castle and is brought to the merchant.
While April distracts everyone, the turtles climb the outer wall and back into the dungeon. They free Mitsu and come face-to-face with Norinaga. The turtles fight off his men and continue the search for April. The battle resumes in the castle courtyard, where Norinaga battles Leonardo in single combat. Leo disarms and defeats the Lord, proving he is the better swordsman.
Walker brings April to the fray, paralyzing the turtles. He orders his men to take aim with their weapons, but Leonardo taunts Walker long enough to save their lives. With his cannon proving ineffective, Walker runs, leaving his men to be beaten by the villagers. The turtles give chase, and Walker tries to escape via the ramparts, only to be caught between the boys and the sea. Desperate for a way out, the villain tosses the scepter into the air, sending the heroes scrambling.
As the turtles save the scepter, Walker tries to lower himself over the wall. Unhappy with his former leader’s betrayal, Whit releases some shrapnel in Walker’s general direction, severing the rope he’s using and plunging him to his death below.
Donatello, Leonardo, and April are ready to return home, but Michelangelo and Raphael are having second thoughts. They don’t have to hide in feudal Japan, and can live real lives. Mikey wants to stay and be with Mitsu, as well, but she only wants Kenshin back. Defeated, Mikey agrees to return as well, and just in time too. In NYC, Kenshin activates the scepter, opening the portal whether everyone’s ready or not. Saying his final good-byes, Michelangelo rushes to join the others, but misses April’s hand.
Everyone appears back in the lair, but one samurai remains and Michelangelo is missing. The samurai makes a break for the surface, but the scepter’s energy activates one last time, and Michelangelo returns in his place. With the scepter totally destroyed, and history back the way it should be, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles celebrate the lives they have.
This film saw the return of many who were part of making the franchise a success. Paige Turco continued her role as April O’Neil, and Elias Koteas returned as Casey Jones. Brian Tochi and Robbie Rist both took a third turn as the voices of Leonardo and Michelangelo, respectively, and Corey Feldman came back as the voice of Donatello (after being absent from the second film).
New foam rubber suits were commissioned for this film, giving all four turtles a sleeker appearance. However, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop was not responsible for these suits. Overall, the film was very ill received, leaving a general consensus that it was unnecessary and simply trying to capitalize too much on a fading franchise.
Some of the most common criticisms for the film were the cartoonish feel, an unrealistic plot, lack of combat, and low quality turtle suits. It’s easy to criticize something when it’s not the same as something else (another film, an idea, etc.). A lot changed from the first film, but that doesn’t mean this movie was necessarily worse. The only real difference between the first and the other two was the exceptionally dark in tone, just like the comic. The others felt more like the 1987 television show. Otherwise, things weren’t really that different.
There is no room to complain about a plot being “unrealistic” when the basic premise of the franchise involves mutant turtles that practice ninjutsu. That immediately gives writers license to do essentially anything with the characters (and time travel was a part of every incarnation thus far). The number of fight scenes in this film were about on par with the first two, but they didn’t last as long individually. But there can only be so much action when four human beings are expected to perform complicated stunts inside bulky turtle costumes. At least in this movie they used the weapons considerably more, something absent from the second.
The suits themselves were an interesting departure from the first two films, but not necessarily a bad one. What could be perceived as “low quality” could also be viewed as growth. The turtles were a little older and more experienced, so it’s only natural that their look changed. All the spots might have been a bit much, but it’s not unreasonable to believe that they had grown out of the awkward adolescent stage. Likewise it looked like they had slimmed down, a normal part of puberty ending. The suits also work better for the action that was shown. It was clear that the suit actors could move much more freely in this film that the previous two, which allowed the turtles more motion throughout the film.
The story itself had a few parts that would have provided interesting points should this film have ever been expanded. First was Yoshi. A little boy named Yoshi in feudal Japan who was influenced by Raphael sounds remarkably similar to how Hamato Yoshi’s ancestor originally founded the Foot Clan. So there’s always the possibility that this boy is an ancestor of Splinter’s master. The other point is the old legends of the turtle-like demons that stopped Norinaga’s ancestors. Perhaps those demons were actually the turtles themselves. With time travel on the table, who knows whether they ever went even further back and found themselves in battle.
One aspect that didn’t make sense, though, was Michelangelo’s feelings for Mitsu. It was an interesting idea to give Mikey a love interest and explore how it would ultimately affect his decision to go home. But it was poorly executed here. Michelangelo could have learned a valuable lesson about growing up. But he and Mitsu only had one interaction that would suggest a growing bond between them, and it involved Kenshin more than anything else. There was no sense throughout the film that these feelings were there, or that mixed signals were given. So when Mikey wanted to stay, it wasn’t out of nowhere, per se, but it also didn’t make a whole lot of sense.
One thing that may have helped this film garner more positive reviews is if the story had been in tune with the other two. As previously stated, the time travel plot wasn’t bad, and is certainly a viable option for a universe that involves mutant animals, ninja clans, and aliens (in other versions). But one thing that helped the second movie was how it drew on the plot of the first and felt like a genuine sequel. This film could have done the exact same thing. There were several plot points from the second movie that would make good places to start with the third. For instance, T.G.R.I. simply disappeared at the end, and they still had a canister of ooze. What would have happened if that had fallen into the wrong hands again (i.e., the government)? Or, when Professor Perry was disposing of the ooze early on, where was it going, and might it have ended up causing more problems? There was also the moment when Donatello was struggling with their existence simply being a mistake. What if battling a new round of mutants had stirred in him a desire to just go back to being a regular turtle using the anti-mutagen? Even with Shredder gone, Tatsu was still around, and it could have been an excellent place to introduce Karai. There were a lot of ways to expand on the story that ran through the first two films, but any notion of that was abandoned.
Overall, the film lacked from some story elements, but not so much that it warranted all the criticism it received. There was plenty of room for a great story that was never really dealt with, and certain elements of what was there didn’t make too much sense. However as a whole it was a nice addition to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles universe. If it had been the plot of a comic mini-series or a couple of episodes in the cartoon, there would have been no problems. Ultimately it’s for each fan to decide the worth of this film and the others.
Raphael had a different voice actor in all three movies.
Stuart Wilson (Walker) was referred to as “Zorro dude” in the film, and later played Zorro’s arch nemesis in The Mask of Zorro.
Mark Caso, the suit actor for Leonardo, reprised his role from Secret of the Ooze.
There was a fourth film planned, but it was scrapped when the third underperformed. The basic concepts of the movie were incorporated into TMNT: The Next Mutation.
The time travel theme was used for the first Super Nintendo game, the second arcade game, the third movie, and the fourth game released on Nintendo systems.
When April’s walkman falls onto the floor in the castle, the music is heard but the headphones aren’t plugged into anything.