This weekend saw the premiere of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s a return to a franchise that began as a cartoon series in the 80s and 90s, then became a live action TV series, a series of three live action movies and one CGI animated movie. I’m not even counting the comics, games, T-shirts, bed linen and millions of dollars of merchandise. But it’s 2014 and now we have a brand new entry into the history of TMNT, a live action movie with CG rendered Turtles. It is produced by Michael Bay and directed by Jonathan Liebesman and has the high production values you’d expect from two such leading lights in the action genre.
As with many modern day reboots, this is an origin story and fans of TMNT will recognise many of the characters despite a few tweaks here and there. April O’Neil, played by Megan Fox, is a keen journalist trying to get her first big story by attempting to expose criminal activity by a violent terrorist group named the Foot Clan. Her efforts flounder when another group of vigilantes overthrow the Foot Clan. Much to her surprise, April discovers that this new band of vigilantes is a group of giant turtles. Be honest, you’d be surprised too.
April soon realises that she has met the turtles previously. Only then they were just regular turtles and not ass kicking ninjas. They were part of a science experiment that her father undertook some years ago with another scientist called Eric Sacks. Together they develop a powerful mutagen. Only once the mutagen is complete Sacks has his own ideas about what to do with the discovery.
A fire breaks out in the lab and April saves four turtles and a rat from the conflagration, releasing them into the sewers of New York City where, thanks to the mutagen, they grow into huge ninja turtles each possessing incredible abilities, in fact abilities that outdo anything the turtles exhibited in any of the previous franchises.
When evil scientist Sacks learns that the turtles have been alive all this time he joins forces with equally evil criminal genius Shredder to try and track down the turtles and extract the mutagens from their bodies so they can offer it as a cure when they release deadly toxins into the city.
TMNT retains its timeless comic book appeal. Like most superhero movies it’s a good verses evil story. The story is augmented with absurd effects and rip-roaring action. And although there have been some updates there are also homages to the original with classic lines like Shredder’s ‘Tonight I dine on turtle soup.’ In fact most of the script comes the cartoon and 1990 version of the film.
Will this updated version of TMNT have an impact on today’s kids? This is a film from the 90’s for a generation of children who are now adults. It would have to compete with movies like Transformers to get kids excited. But given that it has the same producer, Michael Bay, and even the same actress in Megan Fox, then it might just do the job. So far it’s taken over $340 million at the box office worldwide. Weep all you want for the original but the movie has been box office gold for the producers.
Still, I am that child of the 90s and personally I thought the 1990 movie had more emotion than this CG spectacle, despite the rubbery suits. But perhaps that is the magic of the franchise. It can be remade and remoulded as cinema technology changes and each generation will keep faith with the version that captured their childish imaginations. And when a new version emerges they’ll recommend it to children of their own.
As always, our pizza eating heroes Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello, Raphael and their trusted Splinter are at your service. Cowabunga!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is out on 17.10.14.