Subspace Emissary initial run was completed but we still have characters missing. Time to go get Wolf!
Musings on Musou, Talking about Turtles, Speaking of Street Fighter, and other topics
Subspace Emissary initial run was completed but we still have characters missing. Time to go get Wolf!
14 years following Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 the turtles were finally back on top. The new cartoon series that started in 2003 was building in popularity. While the turtles had not yet regained the height of it’s popularity from the late 80’s, they were a strong enough name in 2007 to warrant a new movie. This time, however, the turtles would forgo the now expensive animatronics for a fully animated movie. Big name movie stars like Patrick Stewart and Sarah Michelle Gelleher were called in to do voice-overs for this installment. It had all the inklings of being the next Turtles smash hit. However, that didn’t turn out to be the case…
As with many of the Turtles sequels, it stumbles out the gate at the conception stage. Going into this movie, news sources were conflicted about when and what continuity this movie took place in. Some claimed it was a reboot, some said it was part of the Turtles’ movie franchise, others thought it was linked to the cartoon that was running at the time. The opening of the movie makes it clear that this is not a truly stand alone turtles movie, so we’ll indulge a moment to bust some of these theories.
The opening sequence states that the Turtles have already defeated their greatest enemy the Shredder. It also glazes over the turtles’ origin with very little detail — because these are things the audience already knows. If this movie was intended as a full-fledged reboot, this was a poor way to start it off. Also, the turtles having pre-established relationships with April and Casey in this movie seems to refute that.
It’s possible the writers just wanted to tell this story first and double-back to the origin story and the Shredder later, but that is not the most obvious choice when conceptualizing a reboot. The idea of doubling-back to the Shredder also conflicts with Karai sequel-baiting the Shredder’s return at the end of the movie.
In essence, this doesn’t appear to be a reboot, as it is clearly working in a universe already in motion.
Following Movie Canon
Evidence to this movie following the chronology after Turtles 3 exists in the form of the scepter appearing in Splinter’s trophy room at the end of the movie. However, several details seem to contradict that. For starters, the turtles are inexplicably in a more traditional sewer lair, rather than the abandoned subway from the previous two movies. The relationship between April and Casey also feels odd following the third film since Casey’s absence in the second film, and lack of interaction with April in the third seemed to imply the two were not necessarily an item. These details, however can be over-looked if you consider Turtles 3 and Secret of the Ooze as non-canonical to the movie timeline.
April’s development between films, however is the so striking it is difficult to overlook. None of the films imply to any degree that April gave up her job as a news reporter — the only exception being Turtles 3, which only failed to reference her job directly. What’s more, there was little to indicate that April would drop her day job for an archaeological expedition to South America. Even if her trip back in time in the third movie awakened some deep inner need to explore historical findings, it would make more sense if she was investigating artifacts from Japan, the area she traveled to in that movie. What’s more, she’s apparently had enough time to train with a katana to be a match Karai — the current head of the foot clan who in most continuities was trained in ninjitsu since birth. Somehow it seems like too much of a stretch for April make this many drastic changes, especially if the turtles are still considered teenagers.
In summary, if many of the details of this movie don’t directly contradict the movie continuity, April’s odd change in direction in the relatively short amount of time does.
2003 Script or Tie-in
While this is still a rumor, it seems to be the most logical conclusion based on the backstory of the movie. The rumor states that the movie was drawn from an abandoned script for the 2003 cartoon series. Presumably, TMNT’s script would pick up somewhere around the 3rd or 4th seasons of the show while Leonardo is separated from the others to train. This more easily explains Leonardo’s presence in the jungle. Also, April spent much of the 2003 show either unemployed or self-employed, running her late father’s antique shop; thus, an expedition to a far off country to look for old relics is a little more plausible for someone with a more flexible schedule and a penchant for antiques already. Also, April learning to defend herself was touched upon a few times over the course of the 2003 series, so it’s less of a stretch to say that she can use a katana as well as Karai.
Karai, however, is the crucial evidence to this theory however. In TMNT,Leonardo acts as though he knows Karai during their first encounter, and Karai seems familiar with the turtles as well. At this point, Karai’s appearances in media consisted of her original appearances in the original comics, a couple of video games, and the 2003 cartoon. Karai was not shown or referenced at any point in the movies up to this point. Therefore, any ties to the movies seem unlikely, and ties to the cartoon are far more plausible in this scenario.
Story and Script
Regardless of the origins of the plot, it focuses around the turtles’ estranged relationship after Leonardo leaves the team for an extended period — in particular the relationship between Leonardo and Raphael. This was a stroke of genius for this movie. Leonardo and Raphael are frequently at odds with each other, both in movies and in most of the cartoons. Usually, however, their dysfunction is a background element to some other major action going on. In this movie, it is the emotional core. Raphael’s feelings of resentment and abandonment are understandable and can be related to. Leonardo’s confusion at Raphael’s reaction to Leonardo not only leaving, but coming back carries through and is also relatable. The two coming to blows over their differences in ideals and opinions is something that really carries and resonates throughout this movie.
Oh, I’m sorry… that was the B plot.
The main plot, which isn’t fully revealed until the third act, focuses on millionaire philanthropist Max Winters. Winters is actually an ancient commander who used a cosmic event to summon a hoard powerful monsters and become immortal. This came at the cost of turning his other generals to stone. After many centuries, he regrets his decision and hires April O’ Neil and the Foot Clan to help undo his terrible curse. He is betrayed by his brothers-in-arms however, who see their immortal stone form as preferable to death. It’s an interesting dynamic that tries to parallel the relationship between Leonardo, Raphael and the other turtles, but is unfortunately not as interesting. Since we are not given all of this information until nearly the end of the movie, we have little investment in Winters and his friends.
Strangely enough, this is the first story synopsis where I’ve talked specifically about the turtles, so we may as well cover them next…
The turtles are realized this time in CG animated form. The turtles are leaner than previous incarnations, and have a tendency to hop and dart around more often, most likely to take advantage of the engine that rendered the movie. The turtles are easily the best looking parts of the movie, as despite the change in physique, they look very similar to turtles from previous movies. Of all the movies they tend to be most similar to the Secret of the Ooze models, but even then they are only vaguely shaped that way. Each turtle still has their own unique style and appearance, which is nice to see.
Unlike previous movies however, the turtles’ relationship plays a large role in the plot, so I will need to spend some time discussing them.
This is the first turtles sequel to get Leonardo’s personality accurate, as well as the first turtles movie to portray him as flawed. Leonardo had left the team in order to train and become a strong leader, but apparently never figured out when was the right time to come back. Leo returns not sure of what he’s learned, and trying to simply go back to the way things once were between him and his brothers. Leonardo is also shown to be both stubborn and self-righteous, refusing to believe he’s done anything to hurt any of his brothers until Raph finally bears all. Leonardo in some ways becomes the antagonist of the B plot, though never by his own intention.
It’s not exactly clear if Leonardo learns anything from this movie, since he spends the tail end of it captured, but the impact of his fight with Raphael reverberates throughout. Leo, despite his flaws, really isn’t the turtle that needs to grow in this film though. That responsibility falls to…
While this is still another “Raph has a temper that’s out of control” type story arc, this movie gives Raph plenty of reasons to be angry. Also, unlike previous installments, Raph actually faces consequences of his actions and seems to grow from them. From his admittance of his folly to Master Splinter, to taking charge of the situation in order to save Leonardo, Raphael proves by the end of the movie that he understands his mistake, and wants to make amends for it. The climax is more about Raphael’s redemption than Max Winter’s, which is another reason the turtle storyline is far more compelling in this installment.
Unfortunately, the heavy focus on Leo and Raph leaves Donatello and Michealangelo with little to do again.
Donatello does contribute somewhat to the plot, as it’s briefly mentioned he is the stand-in leader during Leonardo’s absence. However, it’s made abundantly clear through his interactions that he does not have the leadership skills to keep Raphael in line. He berates Raphael, but does not look any further into what Raphael is up to or provide Raph any reasonable alternatives. Aside from being another flawed turtle, Donatello is in charge of approximately half the exposition in this installment, a role he shares with April.
Michealangelo is reduced to the comic relief of the proceedings. While he did take a job as Cowabunga Carl to appease Donatello, it’s obvious Mikey is more at home goofing off and cracking jokes. Sadly, none of Mikey’s jokes are any good in this movie, and in some cases, just make Mikey seem like an idiot.
It’s worth noting that despite the star studded cast, the turtles themselves were portrayed by experienced voice actors. The turtles’ co-creator Peter Laird had to fight to have the turtles voiced by voice actors and not celebrity talent, and that likely contritubutes to the stregth of the turtles’ plot. Nolan North, who portrays Raphael, dominates the entire movie. North would go on to provide voices for the Kraang and a variety of other characters for the 2012 cartoon as well. James Arnold Taylor also does a great job as the voice of Leonardo. Mitchell Whitfeild and Mikey Kelley are good choices for Donatello and Michealangelo as well, despite not given much to work with. .
So, about that celebrity talent…
The Art-style and Cast
Since the movie is animated, the human characters are all portrayed with a stylized look, which is another point of contention for some fans. The major problem is that our human characters all seem to share a very thin, wiry body with large eyes. Max Winters and some of his generals are the exception, having a more burly physique. There doesn’t appear to be much in-between in terms of body structures however. They still animate well in action scenes, but aren’t particularly appealing during the slow start of the movie.
I mention the art style because it unfortunately hurts the audiences’ first impressions of these characters, so the voice talent already has ground to make up for.
Sarah Michelle Gellar and Chris Evans are both passable as April O’ Neil and Casey Jones, but don’t really sell the idea that they are a couple. The two are rarely in the same scene or interact much anyway, so it’s not as though they have much opportunity.
The late Mako as Splinter was off-putting at first, namely due to Mako’s Splinter sounding incredibly different from Splinters of the past. Splinter has plenty of scenes though, where he really feels genuine. Splinter is easily head-and-shoulders above the rest of the celebrity voices, likely due to Mako’s previous voice-over work on the Avatar cartoon.
Ziyi Zhang as Karai was also distracting. Unfortunately, I could not get over her portrayal like I did with Splinter, as I never felt any strength in the performance. This was further impeded by the character never given any opportunities to show herself as anything other than a lackey.
Max Winters is the biggest stain on this movie though. The great Patrick Stewart is not very good in the Max Winters role, but that isn’t the primary issue with the character. To be clear, my summary of the plot was very spoiler-heavy, because without knowing any of Max Winters’ motivations ahead of time he comes across as a generic villain — which he is for most of the movie. Max Winters is written as a rich man with an unknowable evil plot most of the time. Only as the climax draws upon us does Winters make any indication that he is vying for redemption. Throwing this revelation into the movie in the third act feels abrupt and unsatisfying. The fact that so much of the movie was dedicated to this plot line hurts even more.
Ranking – 2
Based on all the problems I have with TMNT, it seems like I would rank this much lower; however, I am of the opinion that a good movie existed in the middle of this mess somewhere. The art-style is consistent, and the action scenes in this movie are far more vivid than other Turtles excursions. Nevertheless, the strong story involving Leo and Raph’s strained relationship is the true selling point for this movie. This plot thread, in fact, is far better realized than any of the plot threads in Secret of the Ooze or Turtles 3 combined. I dare say it’s more compelling than the Leo and Raph relationship from the original movie.
Where it stumbles is not allowing the turtles’ relationship to be the central story-arc, and giving the turtles a new enemy with his own backstory and complications make the entire affair feel cluttered and uninspired. This installment strove to be more than it’s predecessors, yet failed. The original movie only beats TMNT out of the top slot because it works better as an overall story.
So, that means… yes, TMNT is also better than our latest installment, which we shall conclude with, next time!
I’ve been slacking behind on the organization of the site lately. Today, I have updated all the pages to more accurately reflect articles available now.
In terms of future projects, I have cut my losses on a few, as time commitment is becoming an issue.
Unlock Run: Subspace Emissary – We’re not quite done as there are 3 characters that have not been unlocked. I plan to edit and upload these when time permits.
Back to the Sewers – Although it’s taking longer than I anticipated, I like the direction it’s going. This series will continue this week, concluding in November.
Amiibo Test – Amiibo test is still underway, though going much slower than I had hoped. Will work hard to bring this to you before Smash Brothers WiiU launches November 21st.
Hyrule Warriors Impressions – I’ve been meaning to do this for awhile but other projects have interrupted. Since Warriors games are a significant part of this site, it feels natural to talk about it.
Top Warriors – inspired by Josh Scorcher’s recent list, I’m revamping my original idea for this, and will be working on this over the holiday this year.
I have a few other ideas stewing as well, but will require a larger time investment. Let me know if any of these interests you, and I’ll be sure to try and get them up.
Smashing with Q – I still have Brawl Online footage that hasn’t been used yet, but any dialog would have to be editted in post. It’s also possible we will do some matches when Smash for WiiU launches.
Let’s Play Warriors Orochi 3 Hyper – I received a copy of this as a gift, so I intended to do a Let’s Play of it since that will allow me to talk about the various characters without doing a full Musou Missives episode. This will likely require a large amount of time, so I may have to put this on hold unless there is a significant amount of interest for it.
Let’s Play TMNT (2007) – Found a copy of this when we were in the heat of doing Let’s Plays. Still interested in playing it, but may require some effort to complete. far less effort though than the Warriors Orochi 3 playthrough, as this game is significantly shorter.
Things tend to backup the closer we get to the holiday season, but I will attempt to get as much content as I can through the end of the year.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 has many of the same problems Secret of the Ooze faced. It was looking to capitalize on the turtle craze before it faded out, but now two movies set precedence of what to be expected. However, rather than forcing itself to try and emulate the previous movies, or force a family friendly routine into a darker movie, this movie picks a tone and sticks with it, for better or worse.
If it wasn’t obvious by my opening, the tone of this movie is very different to the others. In lieu of imitating it’s predecessors, it goes for a more cartoon-like vibe, imitating the silliness and slapstick of the TV show more than the adult undertones of the first film. The turtles’ look reflects this change in tone, with them appearing overall much lighter, and the lighting being very bright to give a lighter, airy feel, even in the Turtles’ sewer lair.
The story itself is more akin to old samurai movies, like the Seven Samurai, with unexpected heroes coming to foil the greater foe, while having to learn to adjust to a new way of life. Turtles 3 has scenes of the peaceful countryside interspersed with intense action, which matches the pacing of old samurai films as well.
Overall the tone is the most light-hearted of any of the turtles movies to date, but at least unlike Secret of the Ooze they at least picked a tone instead of wavering between two conflicting ones.
Story and Script
Presumably, the writer’s turned to a little known story of the original run of the comics that involved time travel, but the story was heavily modified to fit the theme and tone of the movie they were going for. While this may show a great amount more work was put into this script than it’s precursor, I have yet to find any specific reference to said comic or receive clarification as to which time travel story was being referenced. Therefore, I can’t yet give any credit on this aspect.
I can say, as I mentioned with the tone, it does seem to follow a traditional samurai movie in terms of major plot arcs. The heroes first encounter, their struggle to gather resources, time adjusting to the their new surroundings, and the final confrontation has many aspects used in the samurai genre — even if teenage turtles is a bit out of their scope.
Nevertheless, while Turtles 3 still has about as many plot threads as Secret of the Ooze, the over-arching plot is at least easy to summarize and follow — the Turtles must find and rescue April O’Neil from feudal Japan within 60 hours or be trapped in the past. Granted, this just serves as the basic motivation throughout the movie, but subplots build from this point, rather than just growing out of other miscellaneous plot points.
The other major plot that the turtles are unwittingly sucked into is a complex relationship between Lord Norinaga and the peasant rebellion. Norinaga is the daimyo of the area whose son Kenshin is busy romancing the leader of the rebels Mitsu — that is until April and Kenshin have their places switched thanks to the magic scepter. Naturally this creates some confusion, made worse when four mutant turtles, who most mistake for Japanese demons, show up looking for her. And the turtles have to tip-toe around both sides of the conflict before they fully understand what is happening.
The “main” villain of this movie though is really the English(?) trader Walker, who is trying to play the daimyo and the rebellion against each other, and eventually feeds Norinaga’s fear of demons in order to sell his guns, cannons, and gunpowder at a huge profit.
All of these factors eventually converge into a story that should be pretty easy to tell. Unfortunately, it’s mangled quite a bit by the script itself.
As previously mentioned, this is a much lighter turtles romp, so it tries to focus on comedy when it can. The comedy in this movie, however, is very hit or miss. Any pop-culture references feel very out of place or very dated (even for it’s time). Jokes about Japanese language typically fall flat as well, especially since the turtles being ninjas ought to know a little of it. They also have segments with the Japanese honor guards and Kenshin in New York, but these are typically short gags that fail to live up to their potential.
The climax is also a big build up to a very disappointing conclusion, that feels unbalanced. Norinaga, who has been shown to be the lesser of the two evils, being utterly humiliated by the end. Meanwhile, Walker, who the audience wants to see get his comeuppance, being undone by a lucky shot from a catapult.
What’s more, the somewhat complex situation that the plot tries to cover is also littered with cliches. The villagers are nondescript and uninteresting with only a couple exceptions. The English traders are rude, crude, and generically villainous, but perpetually stupid to make our heroes look better by comparison.
Speaking of, let’s take a look at our heroes in a half-shell…
While these are still Jim Henson Creature Shop creations, they don’t look nearly as good, for a number of reasons. For one, these animatronic heads had to be used on both the honor guard outfits in feudal Japan, and the regular turtle suits as well, The heads are definitely less distracting on the bulky armor of the honor guards, but simply look out of place atop the suits that aren’t wearing anything. Secondly, the lighting in this installment is easily the worst of the three, especially in regards to selling the illusion. The lighting is very even and bright for most of the movie, and in the open sequence in particular. Therefore, the turtles illusion is never given a chance, as they are placed in the worst possible lighting, angle, and outfits at the onset.
As for the turtles affecting the plot well…
Raphael is given yet another temper-centered subplot, this would be 3 for 3 at this point. This time, however, they do change it around by giving it some kind of resolution. Raph destroys the turtles’ boombox at the opening because he’s tired of practicing for seemingly no purpose. Later, while in Japan, he pulls Mitsu’s cousin Yoshi (played by Travis A. Moon) aside because he’s getting angry with his playmates. Raph has a little heart-to-heart after realizing what Splinter had been trying to instill in him for 3 movies. It’s not a terrible arch, especially considering Raphael’s struggles with this in the previous installments. However, this whole development last for about a scene, and unfortunately simply isn’t handled as well as it should be. Raphael’s bond with Yoshi is the only part that feels somewhat genuine, and is one of the few highlights of this movie.
The other turtle that the script tries to develop is Michaelangelo. This should be a lost cause, as Michealangelo spends almost a third of the movie captured or unconscious. Nevertheless, the writers attempt to give Michealangelo an unrequited love-affair with Mitsu (played by Vivian Wu). While this provides a complex scenario for Michealangelo, it seems out of place, particularly when none of the turtles have exhibited strong emotions of this nature before, much less with a human. What makes it worse is that Michealangelo latches onto a person he knows he can’t be with, as it is established early in the movie that Mitsu and Kenshin are an item. There could be some potential in this subplot, but it isn’t given any time to develop by the time it impacts the story.
It should be noted also that Raphael and Michealangelo are only given these subplots to force conflict at the 11th hour after a sub-par climax.
Leonardo and Donatello
Corey Feldman returns as Donatello, which is a waste in this movie. Corey easily has the most speaking lines, because Donatello is in charge of most of the movie’s exposition. Donatello is also in charge of trying to move the overall plot in the proper direction, so you at least hear more of him than in the original Turtles’ movie. Donatello does get the only jokes I like in the movie as well, so that’s at least something.
Leonardo does almost nothing until the climax. He’s still the leader and says leader-esque dialogue, but is otherwise forgettable. His finishing of Lord Norinaga and dropping into his shell to avoid Walker’s cannon fire are his only highlights.
April is played by Paige Turco, who is given much more to do this time. Playing the modern woman in an ancient world means much of the performance relies on Paige selling the idea. Given the script she was working with, I’d say she succeeded. There was never a point where I felt Paige’s performance was lacking. At the end of the day though, we aren’t really dealing with April O’Neil specifically in this movie either.
Elias Koteas returns to the role of Casey Jones, as well as playing Walker’s underling Whitt. As Casey, Elias is completely under-utilized, since Casey is basically baby-sitting Kenshin and the Japanese honor guards while waiting for the turtles to return. In fact, it’s funny in a fourth-wall-breaking way when Leonardo explains to Casey that he’s basically not going to do anything all movie, leaving Casey disappointed.
Instead, the bulk of Elias’s material is given to the character Whitt, who is a darker character than the rest of this movie seems to allow. He seems like a regular guy, but inevitably betrays the turtles and captures Mitsu in order to finalize Walker’s deal with Norinaga. It’s never really clear what the character’s motivations are, especially when he is ultimately responsible for Walker’s demise at the climax. This is another character with some potential, if the script decided to spend some time on it, but ultimately is forgotten.
Sab Shimono’s Norinaga is a character that is far more interesting in conception than in practice. In the movie, Lord Norinaga is a feudal lord of an area of Japan in 1603, around the Sengoku or Warring States period. This timing seems to imply this character is Matsudaira Norinaga who was a daimyo around that time. However, the location of his castle, nor the events of the movie seem to support this assertion. His name could also be an allusion to the poet Motoori Norinaga, who studied a wide-array subjects and contributed to much to the culture of Japan, much as Kenshin seems to favor. Motoori Norinaga, however, did not live until several centuries later. Most likely, Norinaga is a stand in for the far more sinister Oda Nobunaga who was known for trading with the West for guns and ammo that turned the Warring States conflict in his favor. The nuances are all incorrect however; as Nobunaga was defeated by his own general turning on him, and was not succeeded by a son. Norinaga in the movie is portrayed much more low-key than the great general Nobunaga traditionally would be, which may be the cause for finding a substitute. Sab Shimono does perfectly fine with the script he’s given, but he doesn’t carry enough presence to be anything more than a one-note villain, a kin to Tatsu from previous movies.
Stuart Wilson’s Walker is the only other really note-worthy performance. Wilson is given plenty of opportunity to chew scenery, and he takes advantage of it. Walker is one of those characters that just seems to revel in how evil he is, and so Wilson seemed to assume, correctly, that he didn’t need to play this character very subtly. Despite being one of the worst villains in turtles history, Wilson’s performance of him is hammy enough to make it worth seeing.
Other supporting characters include Vivian Wu as Mitsu, and Travis A. Moon as young Yoshi. Both of which aren’t terrible, but not exactly inspiring performances either. There are several other supporting roles as well, but much like Mitsu and Yoshi, they only service as plot devices or comic relief. This serves as a pretty big blemish on the movie as well, as there are simply too many ancillary characters that are either under-performed or under-developed, or most likely both.
Ranking – 4
I made no bones about this being strictly my opinion. Nevertheless, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 is easier for me to sit through than Secret of the Ooze. Perhaps it’s the setting, despite being somewhat inaccurate. Perhaps it’s the stricter sense of tone and story. Perhaps I just liked the jokes better, though not by much.
The major thing that stands out to me when comparing the two movies is that Secret of the Ooze is much more insular, requiring more knowledge of the previous movie or Ninja Turtles lore in order to enjoy it fully. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 stretches outward toward a different genre instead, seemingly most similar to old Japanese samurai movies, with little actual Turtles knowledge coming into play. Your own enjoyment may then depend heavily on which angle you enjoy more.
Unfortunately, Turtles 3 wasn’t what fans were hoping for, and the franchise would not hit the big screen for over a decade, which we will discuss next time…
The final battle begins… but aren’t we missing someone?
Edit: somehow wrong installment was initially posted.
Things only gets so much easier with a map…
Still in the maze, surely there must be a way to nagivate it….