MOVIE MAN

Latest ‘Turtles’ are heroes on a half (hearted) shell

By Movie Man | Published Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The fourth decade of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” has arrived and here’s a new movie for a new generation.

The Turtles have had their ups and downs through the years.

ABOUT THE FILM

The Turtles were first conceived in November 1983 when a couple of artists jokingly sketched out four turtles in ninja attire with weapons.

The Turtles’ origin story is patterned after Marvel Comics’ Daredevil. A canister bounces off a truck and the radioactive goo inside creates superpowers. Instead of hitting a man, as in Daredevil, the gunk splashes onto some baby turtles.

The liquid also gets on a rat, Splinter; the Turtles grow big, Splinter not so much.

The writing duo self-printed 3,000 copies for $1.50 each and sold out in March 1984. After the first book’s success, the guys shook off the “one-shot” idea, and in January 1985, a second issue was printed – 15,000 copies were requested.

The original series lasted 75 issues plus several mini-series and spin-offs.

Archie Comics ran a separate series for 72 issues until 1995.

The early Turtles were not kids’ fare. They cut up foes and cussed. But when toys were created, the Turtles became more kid-friendly. So, #*@&! became “Cowabunga!” (Howdy Doody creator Buffalo Bob Smith sued the Turtles’ artists for $5 million saying he owned the phrase; he settled for $50,000.)

The original Turtles all wore red masks; the way to differentiate them was via their weapons. Parents buying toys wouldn’t like that, so colored masks arrived.

Outside the comics, a cartoon popped up on TV in December 1987. Shaky at first, the show eventually ran for 188 episodes. The reptiles returned to TV for another series from 2003-2009. (One episode, “Insane in the Membrane,” was so dark it was pulled; Shredder dismembers a scientist, then creates a clone.)

Today, another series is airing on Nickelodeon and utilizing star voices like Jason Biggs and Sean Astin.

Over 400 different Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles merchandise pieces were created; the series ranks No. 3 all-time in the character market behind “G.I. Joe” and “Star Wars.” Plus, there have been 23 video/arcade TMNT games.

The first movie was a hit in 1990. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” grossed more than $200 million internationally.

But the two sequels paled. The second, “Secret of the Ooze” (1991, with a rap song by red-hot Vanilla Ice) and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III” (1993) made just $78.7 million and $42.7 million, respectively.

When computer generation arrived, a new version in 2003 starred Sarah Michelle Gellar and Patrick Stewart; it made its money back at $95 million.

And now this movie has arrived, all Michael Bay jacked up.

THE PLOT

April (Megan Fox – remember her?) is a low-rung TV news reporter. Her cameraman, Fenwick (Will Arnett), tries to convince her to be happy with her lot.

But she longs for a big story to move up the TV anchor chain. And she thinks she’s on the trail of one with the clandestine delivery of some mysterious chemicals.

New York City is under siege by the evil Foot Clan, led by Shredder (Tohoru Masamune). But when his minions try to steal the chemicals, they are thwarted by a “vigilante.”

Fox can’t get her TV boss (Whoopi Goldberg) to believe her story. So she continues to investigate on her own.

She runs into a wealthy businessman, Sachs (William Fitchner) who happened to work with her father, who had died in a fire years earlier.

Fox discovers the vigilantes are actually the four Turtles, juiced with a concoction that her father worked on. Not only that, but Fox played with the Turtles as a child as Sachs and father worked on a secret formula.

She was there when a rat, Splinter (voiced by Tony Shalhoub) was injected, too.

Sachs and Shredder, in cahoots, use Fox to unwittingly lead them to the Turtles and Splinter.

Sachs wants the Turtles’ blood to recreate the serum. Shredder plans to release a deadly toxin over NYC, then Sachs will deliver the antidote.

The Turtles are determined to thwart the evildoers, but the metallic samurai Shredder is one tough dude.

WHAT WORKS

While the original Turtles were quite violent, this version keeps everything kid-friendly.

Also retained are the wisecracks delivered regularly by the Turtles.

Still, there’s some serious chop-socky here – enough to earn the Turtles’ first ever PG-13.

The computer generation is very good; the Turtles and Splinter look great. And plenty of set pieces will thrill Turtles fans.

A couple of 3-D sequences, like Shredder throwing knives, look cool, and the finale atop a skyscraper is solid. But better is …

BEST SCENE

… Fox and Arnett with grumpy Raphael hurry to the lab where the other three Turtles are being drained of their vital fluids.

The trio save the day – hooray, adrenalin – then begin a madcap escape that has them in an 18-wheeler careening down a snowy mountainside.

It’s a rare time when incessant, rapid-fire editing works as the truck – with people and Turtles inside and outside the rig at various times while being pursued by a slew of gun-firing bad guys – flies down the mountain.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK

Other times, however, the editing is so frenetic you have to look away. It can hurt your head.

While plenty of the comic asides from the Turtles – and a few from Arnett – are funny, too many are inaudible because of the deafening, relentless sound.

Fox is deadly dull, her career continuing to peter out. And Arnett deserved more comic lines.

A big problem with “TMNT” is that there are long stretches – especially early – that are too talky. Kids are gonna get bored.

Most of the time, the 3-D is totally wasted. Except for Shredder’s knives, the mountain scene and a tumbling skyscraper, 2 would have been plenty of D’s.

THE RATING

As noted, this is the first “Turtle” PG-13. It’s really pretty tame compared to superhero movies, but there’s enough fighting and mayhem to worry about its effect on little children.

SUMMING UP

The Movie Man isn’t a “Turtle” nut – one who has generations of fans in his family. So plenty of in-jokes and characters might have been missed.

Still, “TMNT” just lacked something and didn’t light the Movie Man’s fire – or many others’ in attendance, judging from the lack of laughter and squeals of delight.

NEXT UP

“The Expendables 3.”

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