Works better, looks smarter, and packs in more realistic drama than many of its live-action genre counterparts.
After the defeat of their arch enemy, The Shredder, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are no longer the team they once were. Leader Leonardo (voice of James Arnold Taylor) has been sent to train in South America, Donatello (voice of Mitchell Whitfield) provides phone tech support, Michelangelo (voice of Mikey Kelley) does children’s parties, and Raphael (Nolan North) spends his nights as a vigilante. The group must come back together as a team, however, when a billionaire industrialist (voice of Patrick Stewart) seeks to open a portal into a monster-infested realm of power that could wipe out the planet.
If it seems like the nefarious plot was a footnote in the above description, you’re right. Not just a change in film medium to CGI, this franchise reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles combines origin story elements with an emotional and action-packed upgrade to adult fare without falling completely back onto the ultra-violence of creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s original concept. Characters like April O’Neil (voice by Sarah Michelle Gellar), Casey Jones (voice by Chris Evans), and even Master Splinter (voice of Mako) have been slightly made over to uniquely fit this new design. But what is immediately clear is that there is nothing fluffy or cartoonish about the adult direction the film franchise is finally taking in spite of the absurdity of mutant ninja turtles (are they still teen aged at this point?)
The real plot of this film is family value, both in working together and communicating. And this isn’t limited to just the turtles; the so-called heavies in the film are also having similar problems and conflicted emotions. From brooding and angst to outright pummeling thugs to take the edge off, TMNT jumps right into adult concepts that the Spider-Man films have taken three films to ease audiences into. If the film is a success and spawns further sequels, let it be said here that studios have finally connected with audiences that understand the potential of CGI for strong fantasy and sci-fi storytelling that would still be cost-prohibitive or unbelievable in a live-action venue.
As a footnote, Ziyi Zhang as the voice of Foot Clan leader Karai was not only brilliant vocal casting, but the honorable yet villainous character repeatedly steals the scenes she’s in, even when hearing her lines off screen. It’s this kind of attention to detail and above-average scripting that lets TMNT realize its potential and take everything up a level. After watching live-action costumed characters run the franchise into the ground, seeing the Turtles in action and launching themselves across the rooftops of New York makes one realize that this concept still has plenty of originality and storytelling potential.
(a three and a half skull recommendation out of four)