Category Archives: Ninja Turtles

Quick Impressions: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) for 3DS

Last year I did a rather scathing review of Activision’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: the Videogame released on the Xbox 360, Wii, and 3DS.  Sometime later, I concluded what may have actually occurred.  My assertion was that developer Magic Pockets were initially vetted to create a 3DS Ninja Turtle game, but during development the scope changed.  The game was then ported to the 360 and Wii, and had to be modified to accommodate the local multi-player functionality.  This lead a game which may have been passable on the 3DS to become a nightmare on all three consoles.  The emphasis on things flying at the screen, and the camera’s fascination with moving through tunnels, supports that this was intended for the 3DS at least originally.  Had the game been a single-player experience on the 3DS only, I likely would have been more forgiving of it’s other short falls.

Well, either someone was listening, or had a similar thought, because this year we saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) release for the 3DS.  Based off the movie license, this game was made exclusively for the 3DS by the same developer, Magic Pockets.  Do I smell a challenge?

 

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Back to the Sewers: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

 


Our series draws to a close with the final and most recent Ninja Turtles movie released just this year.  As the turtles’ popularity peaked again last year with the new cartoon series, it made sense to try and reboot the movie franchise once more.  Unlike before, the producers did not try to directly tie it into previous turtle movies or shows, but they also took that as a cue to approach it in their own way.  That would not sound so ominous if the name Micheal Bay wasn’t attached to the title.

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The Turtles

We’ll start with the elephants in the room first.  The Turtles themselves were given heavy make-overs for the new movie.  To start with, they are significantly larger.  In the eighties, the Turtles were either shorter than or approximately the same height as April O’Neil depending on what material you were looking at.  That has been mostly the case in each subsequent entry to the franchise.  In the new movie, the Turtles are far more massive, towering over April and Vernon.  However, the movie does provide explanation, as the mutagen in this universe is a sort of super-soldier-serum.  The size is an odd choice, but an understandable one.

What isn’t quite as understandable is the turtles new flair, which I will discuss individually, as well as their realization in this movie.

Raphael

Raphael is easily the best looking of the four, as he is the one with the least amount of swag dangling off him.  The worst he gets is a doo-rag which is similar to the bandanna style they all wore in the Next Mutation series.  Otherwise he looks fine, which is good since he easily has the most screen time, yet again.

Raphael is the only turtle crucial to the story, as well as the only one with an arc of any kind.  However, his arc is implied and mentioned, but not really well developed at all.  He expresses wanting to strike out on his own early in the movie, but ironically is put in the position where his brothers are captured and Splinter incapacitated.  This leaves Raph to save his brothers, with some help from April and Vernon.  This is a slightly different approach to developing Raphael, but unfortunately it isn’t developed enough to feel impactful… or at least not as much as the movie wants it to be.

Leonardo

Leonardo’s look is probably the most positive change.  Leo wears reeds arranged across the front of his shell to resemble armor.  Being a shell, it’s doubtful it has any practical use as such, but it channels the samurai look that Leonardo’s personality usually reflects.  Perhaps due to him still being a teenager, he does offset this look with an obvious NYC button on his belt, but I’m willing to let that slide given how the rest of his design was handled.

Unfortunately, despite scoring well on his design, the script doesn’t give Leo much to do.  Leonardo is voiced by Johnny Knoxville who does a good job with what he is given.  As such, Leonardo is easily the most memorable character in any scene he’s in, but almost none of his scenes involve significant character or story revelations.

Donatello

The winner of the “what-the-heck-were-they-thinking” award goes to Donatello’s design.  Donatello is wearing more technology than he apparently knows what to do with, as it is almost never is used in the course of the movie.  His ability to use his goggles is also impeded by the overly large eyeglasses that have been taped together — because every geek has to wear glasses right?

I’d comment about the Jeremy Howard’s performance, or Donatello’s story significance, but honestly there isn’t really anything to comment on.  Donatello serves very little to the plot except providing possible answers to questions every now and again.  His only starring scene is an action scene that was mostly CG eye-candy.  I can’t say Jeremy Howard did a bad job, as Donatello is just far more ancillary to the plot than most of the other turtles.

Michealangelo

Michealangelo’s look was what threw most fans off, namely that he wears pants.  I never felt this was necessarily out of character for Mikey, considering he is the most human-empathetic of the four, and because he wore pants in Turtles 3 as well.  The sunglasses also aren’t really out of place either, since I could see Mikey liking them and choosing to hang on to them, much like a young kid or teenager might.

What I don’t like is how Michaelangelo is portrayed in this one.  Mikey is usually the goofball, and that is somewhat the case here.  The difference is much of Mikey’s comedy this time comes from him trying to seduce April.  Again, if we’re interpreting him as a teenager, most of his lines make sense, as he’s likely very unfamiliar with how relationships work.  Also, Mikey having these types of feeling makes sense, since he is the heart of the team most of the time.

The issue I have is Michealangelo’s “moves” are all very inappropriate and at times kind of disturbing, especially if you take a moment to think about them.  The fact that this is a would-be an inter-species relationship does not help any.

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However, while how the Turtles look and act are one thing, how they interact with each other is easily the foremost concern, and on that end this movie hits it out of the park.  The Turtles’ banter is refreshing and shows their comradery and companionship is still intact.  This is what holds all the changes together to ensure to the audience that these are the same turtles we know and love.  It’s only a shame that aren’t very well developed individually, but what can you expect when we only spend about two-thirds of the movie with them.

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April O’Neil

April is the other elephant in the room when it comes to this film, because she is being portrayed by the much-maligned Megan Fox.  This is where I have to give some kudos, as April is well written for the most part during the first act.  In this universe, April is a news reporter who is given public relations and other “fluff” stories rather than actual news.  Meanwhile, she is slowly piecing together how her past, the turtles’ origin, Eric Sacks, and the foot clan are intertwined.  Her goal is to pursue this hot story to prove her worth, and the viewer wants to see how she tries to achieve that goal.  However, her pursuit inevitably gets her fired, and which belies the issue with April.

April O’Neil is important in the first act, but when everything is revealed as the second act begins, April’s story is pretty much over.  She doesn’t try to get the big scoop on this story to get her job back; she doesn’t start uploading video to youtube to show the truth or warn the public. She is just there.  She’s not even the turtles’ driver, a role given to Vernon instead.

April’s story is a huge missed opportunity, as she has absolutely no development.  It hurts worse when we’ve spent a whole third of the movie with her with absolutely no pay off at the end.

Meagan Fox wasn’t the problem with April O’Neil, in fact she has a few good scenes that sell her in the role.  The script, however, heavily mars this character.

The Plot and Script

Unlike some turtles films, this one has a very clear 3 act structure.  Act 1 follows April O’Neil as she seeks out the connections between the turtles, the Foot, and herself.  Act 2 is the capture and recovery of Leo, Mike, and Don as well as the Shredder’s plot being revealed.  Act 3 involves the Turtles chasing down the Shredder to put a stop to his plan.  It’s very simple, straight-forward, and doesn’t get too bogged down with extra side-plots.  All the major players being interconnected in this way makes the Turtles’ world seem kinda small, but when the alternative is having several smaller plots that go nowhere, this would be an improvement.

The script is where I think most of the fault actually lies with the film, as it is all over the place.  There are parts that are quite clever, such as Fox’s April being tired of being treated like a piece of meat, or the Turtles using a variant of a game they played as kids to defeat the Shredder.  Other parts, though are particularly blunt.  For instance, the audience at one point is treated to a montage as April O’Neil goes through her father’s notes and an old video she made as a girl, showing that these are the same turtles and rat that were in her father’s research facility.  Once the montage is over, we move to April O’ Neil explaining all this to a character who only seems to exist for April to exposit to.  It’s one thing to do this once, but it happens again at the end of the film too.  When the Turtles are falling to their possible doom, Raphael explains every nuance of his implied character arc as well.  Apparently, someone involved in this film heard the phrase “show don’t tell,” and decided he’d do both just to make sure the audience “gets it,” which is rather insulting.

Because of these issues, the movie does not seem to know what exactly it wants to be.  Is it a story of great personal discovery, a science-fiction super-hero movie, an action film, or all of the above?  It’s worth noting this movie is the first Turtles film to be rated PG-13 upon it’s release, due mostly to scene of intense action, as well as some rather dark elements when the three brothers are captured.  These moments hint at something that may have lied underneath this film.

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Rewrites

Rumor going around is this movie experienced a plethora of rewrites, to the point where some scenes had to be reshot in post-production.  This means that the script most of the actors were working with may not have been the same product that we experienced.  There appears to be some evidence to support this.

While the turtles’ banter helps keep the mood light-hearted, most of the time they are either off-screen while the banter is happening, or in a scene with no physical actors present.  Eric Sacks’s presence adds little more than a public face for the Foot Clan to manipulate, and serves little other purpose in the movie.  The Shredder’s motivations make much more sense if Sacks himself is the Shredder, rather than just his puppet.  We also never see the shredder without his mask except in small interior shots with other villains.  Also, the special focus on April in the early part of the movie is odd considering she has little to do in the rest of the movie.

While it’s not clear exactly where the changes took place, it seems the original script may have been quite a bit darker, but also far more stream-lined.

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The Cast (or what’s left of it)

It’s worth mentioning that while Danny Woodburn and Pete Ploszek did motion capture work for Splinter and Leonardo respectively, but they were dubbed over in post by Tony Shaloub and Johnny Knoxville.  Shaloub/Woodburn’s Splinter is very interesting.  Splinter is much harder on the Turtles than in other movies, though this would match his modern cartoon persona a bit more.  Nevertheless, he’s far more interesting in fight scenes than previous films, as his tail does some unexpected things.

William Fitchner’s Eric Sacks chews only the appropriate amount of scenery — as in enough to make us believe he’s crazy.  Whoopi Goldberg gets one scene where she gets to look at a crazy white girl.  Minae Noji and Tohuro Masamune were wasted with the roles of Karai and Shredder since we barely see them do much of anything in the movie.

However, I found myself in a conundrum as the character most useless to the script happens to be the biggest saving grace of the film.  Vernon Fenwick is completely devoid of purpose to the point that forcing his presence throughout the film gives April’s character even less to do.  However, Will Arnett’s performance is easily one of the best in the movie.  He’s rather crude, but in a charming way that carries the first act.  Because he has no actual significance to the plot, he doesn’t get the chance to be irritating either.

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Rating – 3

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) is a movie with many problems.  Unlike most other Turtles excursions though, it has a distinct story progression that concludes without too many unanswered questions.  It falls short of the original, because it still doesn’t have the charm or depth of character to the turtles, likely because it spends too little time with them.  I also rank it below TMNT (2007), as the new film lacks any deep emotional core that it’s precursor had.

In conclusion, this is not a Turtles’ film I would watch all the time, but it’s good for every now and then.

 

This film is getting a sequel sometime in the near future as well.  I’m not holding my breath for it to be any better, but perhaps we’ll see that one when we go back to the Sewers.

Back to the Sewers: TMNT (2007)

 

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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…

 

Origin

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.

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Reboot

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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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The Turtles

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.

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Leonardo 

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…

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Raphael

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.

 

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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!

Back to the Sewers: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 (1993)

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.

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Tone

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.

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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…

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The Turtles

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

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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.

Michealangelo

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.

The Cast

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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

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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…

Back to the Sewers: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

An actual birthday present I received this year was a trip to see our favorite heroes in the half-shell on the big screen once again.  Rather than simply reviewing the movie, however, I thought I would do a short series on the Turtle movies as a whole in order to give a full-effect of where this new movie lies in comparison to it’s predecessors.

So, without further ado.  Let’s jump in the way-back machine to 1990.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

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In 1990 the Turtles underwent their first translation to the big screen.  This was a monumental task for the time, as CGI effects were in their infancy;  therefore, the Turtles had to be realized through practical effects.  Cue Jim Henson’s creature shop who created animatronic heads that would allow the turtles to emote on screen.  Throwing the heads on top of some martial artists in rubber suits, and they had some state-of-the-art Ninja Turtles.  Much of the movie’s success relied on this effect.  While the illusion has dwindled somewhat due to the advent of high-definition, it’s still a great spectacle seeing the turtles walk and talk on screen alongside actors and actresses.  So, there’s the hook, but did a good effect produce a decent movie?

Plot and Script

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Trying to summarize the plot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is somewhat difficult, for multiple reasons.  One is the main villain’s motivations are not terribly clear.  The Shredder has started a crime wave, though it’s never clear to what ends.  April O’Neil’s snooping gets her on the wrong side of Shredder’s Foot Clan, though it’s never fully explained why they even care about her investigation.  The story instead is structured in a fashion that these questions aren’t having to be directly addressed, as it plays out as a series of strands that eventually weave together.

For instance, April is rescued from a mugging in the opening scene by unseen vigilantes, later revealed to the audience as the Turtles.  Raphael, however, leaves a sai at the scene, which April takes with her.  This leads to a plot thread of Raph trying to get his sai back; which is resolved later when April is accosted in the subway by Foot ninja.  This then leads to April inevitably meeting the Turtles; however, a Foot ninja following Raph back to the lair triggers the Foot attacking the Turtles’ home and capturing Splinter… etc.

The point being, everything plays out as a series of intertwined events;  even if the scenes feel somewhat disjointed at times, the pay off usually isn’t very far off.  Given the amount of items that have to be addressed through the course of the movie, this kind of puzzle-piece structure works well.  In addition, the proceedings are written with a great bit of levity, if a bit more mature than it’s perceived demographic.

The Turtles

 

As stated before, the turtles look good given the technology at the time.  It helps that many scenes play out in poor or low light, which more easily conceals the illusion.  Even in broad daylight, the turtles don’t look bad, they just look less real than they would otherwise.  In terms of writing, it depends upon the turtle we’re talking about.

Raphael

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Raphael is the turtle the audience spends the most time with, and therefore the one we get to know the most during the first half of the movie.  Raph is a hot-head and a loner — two qualities that worry their adoptive father Splinter.  It also puts him at odds with his older brother Leonardo.  Raph is taught a lesson by being ambushed by the foot while he’s out on his own, though it’s unclear if he actually learned anything from it, as the second half of the movie after Raph is out of commission shifts focus onto the other turtles.  Overall, Raph is represented uniquely, and would be a reference point in future iterations of the Turtles.

Leonardo

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Leonardo is the other turtle heavily involved in the plot, as Raph goes out on his own as a result of their argument on how to handle the loss of their master.  Leonardo feels guilty about things he said to Raphael before he was incapacitated.  Leonardo is also the one who is initially contacted spiritually by Splinter, leading to the turtles climatic face-off with the Shredder.  Leo is shown to be the most responsible of his brothers, as well as the one most in-tune with their father — qualities that would be further developed in other media following it.

Michaelangelo

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As would be the case in later installments, Mikey is used primarily as comic relief throughout the film.  Michaelangelo effectively gave birth to the fight-scene banter that has become a staple of the turtles in subsequent movies, tv shows, and video games as well.  He breaths levity into a situation that would otherwise be rather intense much of the time.  The drawback, however, is that Michaelangelo doesn’t really get much else to do, and is possibly the least developed of the four.

Donatello

While Michaelangelo was given little to do, Donatello was given less in terms of dialogue.  Reading into the few lines Donatello has that aren’t jokes, we find that he does contemplate Splinter’s foreboding message at the beginning, as well as empathizes with April’s feelings about her father’s antique shop.  Unfortunately, that’s about all.  His traditional techno-geek persona isn’t really addressed, but then it never really comes up in the story either.

The Cast

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The rest of the cast was mostly strong.  Kevin Clash (also known for Elmo from Sesame Street) does Splinter’s voice, and creates a very iconic image of him.  Splinter was also more of a traditional muppet, but was still believable in most of his scenes.  Unlike the turtles, his scenes are never in daylight, likely for this reason.

Judith Hoag’s April O’Neil is a reporter who will not take no for an answer, and will step on anyone who gets in her way.  In many ways, she’s a reflection of Rapheal, as both have an attitude that gets them into desperate situations.  Judith does a good job bringing out April’s more fiery aspects, and is really in her element in when she’s arguing with one of the other human characters.  She’s more than adequate in the quieter scenes as well.  Overall, I was impressed with her performance, particular since she had to carry so much of the movie.

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Elias Koteas, in return, brings some humanity to the psychopathic vigilante Casey Jones.  While Casey clearly has a chip on his shoulder, he proves to be a decent guy by jumping into the fight when he sees Raph ambushed by the foot.  Elias’s Casey also sets a standard that future iterations of the character would take notes from.

The weaker point of the human cast falls on Micheal Turney as Danny Pennington.  The Penningtons (Danny and his father Charles) are original characters to the film.  They basically serve to move plot along, tie-in further backstory, and give a glimpse of the situation from the Foot’s angle.  Their scenes are necessary, but often not terribly interesting.  Charles (Jay Patterson) at least does a decent job and is believable as a worried dad.  Micheal Turney’s delivery, however, is mostly dry.

Similarly, the Shedder, though well done by both the physical actor, James Saito, and voice actor, David McCharen, he is never very well realized in the film.  In fact, we learn more about his underling Tatsu (Toshishiro Obata/Michael McConnohie) than the shredder himself.

Tone

The tone of the film is an interesting discussion point, which is why I chose to address it separately.  The movie feels like it is very dark and gritty, but I attribute that actually to the films lighting and direction.  It only feels gritty and dark because it is filmed that way.  The dark and low light helps maintain the illusion, so it’s the proper choice for most scenes.  The script itself is mostly light-hearted with some occasional emotional moments.  It’s an odd blend that ends up working due to the turtles darker source material, but more kid-friendly alternative media.

Ranking = #1

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I will be ranking each of the 5 films with an overall score based on how it performs compared to it’s counterparts.  The original film is the test for which all other turtles movies are judged, and for good reason.  Despite some flaws, it covers the basis of everything anyone expects from a Ninja Turtles film — action and humor blended with a decent story.  For this reason, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) holds the highest rank of the 5 films.  Often imitated, but so far never duplicated.

5 Notables about Ninja Turtles (2014)

In case it wasn’t apparent enough yet, Ninja Turtles are very special to us here at punch, kick, all in the mind.  I personally have been a Ninja Turtles fan about as long as I’ve been a gamer, so they hold a special nostalgia for me.  I haven’t kept up with the new Turtles show as well as I’ve liked, but what I’ve seen of it was rather good.  I have been reading the recent IDW comics which have been awesome, however.

 

When it was announced that Micheal Bay was producing the new movie, and that Meagan Fox would be in it, I wrote this whole thing off.  Then, this trailer hit yesterday:

 

While I’m not saying this teaser has made me reverse my decision, it is forcing me to take a second look at it.  So, below are a few notable things about this teaser.

‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’

One of the things that caused the most controversy was the idea that these weren’t going to keep to the basic premise of the story — namely that the “Turtles” would be aliens from another dimension or something completely unfamiliar to the fan-base.  The fact that they are keeping the title shows that if that ever was on the table, they’ve passed on it at this point — at least to some degree.

 Turtles: Into Reference

One of the things I noticed was that the teaser was full of nods and clips that felt familiar to the original.  The New York cityscape flyby is reminiscent of similar shots in the original movie and it’s sequels.  The giant glowing machine that Shedder(?) unveils reminds me of the TCRI lab featured in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Secret of the Ooze.  Speaking of TCRI, TCRI appears on the side of a canister of ooze.  Also, the low-light shots of a fight in the subway while April tries to nab photos of it takes me back to the opening scene of the original movie, as well as April’s first confrontation with the foot in that movie.  The way Shredder says ‘Miss O’Neil’ sounds like the lead foot soldier in the confrontation scene also.

All of this made me feel nostalgic again.  However, I am aware that these were all likely done that way for that very reason, not necessarily out of respect for the material.

Leonardo’s Look

I’ve heard conflicting opinions on this aspect, as this is the first we’ve seen of the Turtles at all yet.  I will say this, Leonardo looks awesome, and I think he’s really what sells this new look.  His size, the way he moves, and the way the new ‘clothes’ enhance his features I think really works. I also like how their shells look like armor, the part behind their head almost reminiscent of Japanese Kabuto, which would be highly appropriate.  The idea that their shells are their armor makes me less concerned about their new size and considerable weight — being turtles, it makes some amount of sense.

The downside is the face.  Michealangelo actually speaks in the trailer, and his face seems to belong on a green rabbit, not a turtle.  We do see a full shot of Raphael, but it’s a little to dark to see him clearly;  we barely see Donatello at all.  Overall, I am warming to their look, but I still ere on the side of caution on this one.

Michealangelo’s Voice

Speaking of Michaelangelo, he’s the only on that gets more than one line in this teaser, and it’s a pretty funny bit.  The actor portraying him (Noel Fisher), seems to be channeling a little of both the current cartoon Mikey and the original movie Mikey, both good references.  I’m afraid though that the joke may not be as good within the context of the movie.

The Tone

The last thing to note was the tone.  This seemed to be going for an almost Dark Knight-esque affect through most of the teaser, until Michaelangelo showed up at the end.  Also, I did see that tip of the skyscraper falling over — I guess if you’re working with Michael Bay something has to blow up.  This has me a little wary about what the tone of the actual movie will be.  One of the problems with translating this series is finding the right balance of action, drama, and comedy, and it’s not one even the original movies got right all the time.  Going too gritty omits the younger audiences from the proceedings; going too goofy will turn older audiences off.  The trailer seems to imply there’s some balance to this, but it’s unclear.

 

One the plus-side, I owe someone $10 — looks like Michealangelo is not the ‘jive’ Turtle.  Thank the Lord!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the Video Game – Part 3 – Fall of the Foot Clan

As I stated earlier, I ran into a hiccup loading up the first video of the Let’s Play due to copyrights on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles via Viacom.  It was most likely due to the entirety of the Turtles theme song and the entirety of the show opening plays starting up the first stage.  It’s possible to just edit the theme and opening out, but I preferred avoid another possible mark by not uploading it at all.

It’s at this point the curtain was being pulled back just a little bit for me.  I understood that these companies were out to make money, but I never really imagined what Activision and Nickelodeon/Viacom’s true intentions with this game ended up being, however.

Please note that I am not accusing Activision, Viacom, or anyone associated with these companies of any wrongdoing, the following is the opinion of Nyuuron, which could be entirely wrong. 

If Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows had only one flaw, it was simply over ambitious.  It was so crammed full of game variety that it simply didn’t have the resources to fully flesh out anything perfectly.  Meanwhile, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the Video Game is the exact opposite.  The later feels cheap, comes with more advertisements for other products, and can easily be beaten in a weekend, if not a single night.  These two games were released within two months of each other, so as to be easily compared.

This was intentional.

The game with better game-feel, an actual art style of it’s own, and a developer with more pedigree was released as a download-only title.  The cheap license cash-grab was given a retail release with a price more twice that of the downloadable title.

But , why?

The answer is money.

Activision sees more per dollar spent on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows than it does on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the Video Game, due to the difference in overhead expenses (i.e. Out of the Shadows having very few or almost none).  Activision prices the retail game, not at a full $60, but significantly higher price than it’s downloadable cousin, because it knows the smart shopper will choose the cheaper product.

In the meantime, Activision also plants the seeds of doubt into the retail release system gamers supported this summer.  The dichotomy of these two games leads consumers to ask, “If the downloadable title is really better than the retail release, maybe downloadable games aren’t so bad?  Maybe if all games were downloadable, we’d get more good games like this and less of that other, terrible game.”

In addition to that, it’s clear Nickelodeon and Viacom were not really looking for a big project based on their license anyway.  The prevalence of the advertisements in the box, the proliferation of the latest toys in the game, and the lack of passion behind the feel of this game is all evidence to that.  This was another product to geared to sell more toys and advertise their TV show in another venue.

This is further evidenced by the marketing of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the Video Game, or should I say ‘the lack thereof’.  The game has seen two trailers now, one of which was released far from the actual release date. The other released the day after the game launched for some unknown reason.  The title of the game is vague and unspecific, so that finding information on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the Video Game  is almost impossible given all the other Ninja Turtles material available.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the Video Game (what Amazon and the trailers refer to it as) tends to bring up other older titles in searches.  Some sources call it Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2013), which tends to bring up information on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows instead.

Everything about the game’s release, marketing, and production reeks of corporate scheming.

I’ll admit, I was duped to thinking that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the Video Game was an actual product meant for my amusement, or the amusement of any gamer.  This was a passion project for no one involved; it was just a product to cash-in on the Turtles resurgence of popularity.

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And so, speaking to anyone who happens upon this game in a bargain bin, or on a store shelf somewhere, don’t buy it.  Don’t give the publishers your money.  Even if you’re the most hardcore of hardcore Turtles fans, don’t get it because there’s nothing for you here.  If you have to buy a new Turtles’ game, buy Out of the Shadows; given my revelation on these corporate conspiracies, I feel reluctant even recommending that now.

The Ninja Turtles are a great franchise, but they deserve more than to be used in this manner.

I do not own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Activision, or any property mentioned in this article.  I only own the opinions formed here, and the learning experience this product has granted me through this ordeal.  Opinions were formulated from the XBox360 version of this game.