“TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES” // AN EXHILARATING JOY RIDE
**** out of ****

Believe it or not, I saw the original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie when it appeared in theaters back in 1990, and I enjoyed it for the harmless guilty pleasure that it provided. The exploits of a quartet of anthropomorphic Chelonian crime-fighters was as entertaining as its eponymous characters were bizarre. Bandanna-clad vigilantes armed with an arsenal of feudal Japanese weaponry; these nimble turtles talked, walked, and displayed a predilection for pizza. Creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird never imagined their mutated box turtles with the names of Renaissance painters would become a comic book sensation and remain in print for 26 years from 1984 to 2010.
Eastman and Laird say they drew inspiration from the works of Frank Miller and Jack Kirby. Specifically, Eastman and Laird sought to skewer not only “The New Mutants” and “Daredevil” at Marvel Comics, but also the eccentric Canadian comic book “Cerebus the Aardvark” as well as Frank Miller’s “Ronin” at DC Comics. The Ninja Turtles have since metamorphosed into a cult phenomenon, with three animated television series and a short-lived live-action series boasting a fifth turtle, a female called “Venus de Milo” skilled in the supernatural art of shinobi. Four “TMNT” films followed from 1990 to 2007. The first three movies were live-action, while the fourth film “TMNT” (2007) was an animated opus.
Almost 25 years after the original “Turtles” movie came out; Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon have rebooted “The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” with bombastic “Transformers” director Michael Bay as producer and “Wrath of the Titans” director Jonathan Liebesman calling the shots. No matter what you’ve heard about this latest adaptation, the new “Ninja Turtles” movie sticks pretty much to the origin. Casey Jones, the human vigilante with a hockey stick who served as news reporter April O’Neil’s romantic interest, has been jettisoned by “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” scenarists Josh Appelbaum & André Nemec and “Divergent” scripter Evan Daugherty. Happily, while the characters have undergone some significant changes, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”emerges as a derivative, but an exhilarating rollercoaster of a joyride that should satisfy most vintage fans.
Unlike the 1990 movie, this “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” reboot gives the characters a makeover. Channel 6 news reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox of “Jennifer’s Body”) is more than a television journalist covering a widespread crime wave in New York City. She is now the daughter of one of the two scientists who toiled on Project Renaissance. April’s father and his partner Eric Sacks (William Fichtner of “The Lone Ranger”) were conducting experiments on four turtles and a rodent to devise a new mutagen strain for its medicinal qualities. Unfortunately, O’Neil’s father perished during a mysterious fire in his laboratory while Sacks managed to survive. Neither April’s deceased father nor Eric Sacks knew about April’s role in rescuing the rodent and the turtles from the conflagration. She set them free in the sewer.
Years later April finds herself struggling with a story about the Foot Clan, an underworld syndicate run by a notorious Asian criminal called Shredder. Unlike the original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie, Shredder doesn’t use homeless adolescents to accomplish his evil designs. Instead, he commands an army of deadly adult ninjas packing automatic weapons with orders to kill. After he discovers that the Turtles survived the fire, Shredder orders his second-in-command, Karai (Minae Noji of “The Last Run”), to take hostages. Shredder hopes the vigilante turtles will try to rescue the hostages and fall into his trap. Naturally, Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), Leonardo (Pete Ploszek) and Donatello (Jeremy Howard) show up to save the hostages held at gunpoint in a subway station. Shredder explodes with rage when the Turtles not only thwart his plan, but also leave his minions trussed up like turkeys for the police. Meantime, April shadows the Turtles and tries to photograph them, but they frustrate her efforts and delete the photos from her cell phone. Eventually, the Turtles escort her to their lair where Master Splinter (Danny Woodburn) reveals that she alone rescued them from the fire. When she divulges her outlandish tale to her boss, Bernadette Thompson (Whoopi Goldberg of “Ghosts of Mississippi”), April loses her job. Desperately, April turns to her father’s old partner, affluent billionaire Eric Sacks, for help and gets the surprise of her life.
“Wrath of the Titans” director Jonathan Liebesman generates madcap momentum throughout this PG-rated film’s melodramatic 101 minutes. The new Ninja Turtles are even more differentiated than their predecessors. Standing six feet tall, they resemble the Marvel Comics character the Incredible Hulk. They still crave pizza, but their abilities have been ramped up far and away beyond what they could have achieved before this fantastic reboot. For example, Donatello has been transformed into a nerdy computer hacker. Furthermore, the Turtles’ leader Splinter sports a longer tale which he deploys as if it were a bull whip. Shredder resembles a samurai version of Darth Vader from “Star Wars.” He has special devices attached to his wrists that enable him to hurl dozens of deadly knives. The knives behave like boomerangs so he can retrieve them if they miss their targets. Truly, Shredder emerges as a stronger, more belligerent villain who puts the lives of our heroes in jeopardy until the last minute. Interestingly enough, unlike most fantasy thrillers that create massive destruction, but almost no collateral damage; innocent bystanders suffer from debris falling in one scene.
Liebesman lenses the action so his cameras are whirling constantly around the various characters. The most gripping scene occurs when our heroes plunge an 18-wheeler helter-skelter down a snow-swept mountain. This adrenaline-laced scene alone makes the classic chase in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” look like a spin on a tricycle! People who suffer from motion sickness may find this scene a challenge to endure. You don’t have to be a kid to appreciate this entertaining, slam-bang, over-the-top actioneer with spectacular computer generated imagery and hilarious shenanigans to spare.

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