Folks, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are officially back ... and with them come a new look, a new enemy and the best film of the franchise by far! It's taken 27 long years to capture the look and feel of Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird's original comic book (which they self-published back in 1984 with money from a tax refund) on the big screen. Originally intended to parody other comics (like Marvel's New Mutants), the Ninja Turtles quickly found a massive fanbase; kids searching for something a tad different, a tad more exciting -- something that was a whole lot of fun. Even after three live-action movies, an animated series, toys, lunchboxes and pez dispensers, the Turtles still somehow managed to stick around -- but not without criticism.
Though the original comics established a dark tone and a powerful, multi-layered storyline, some folks couldn't get past the silly concept. If only the Turtles were a bit more family friendly (but still kicked ass), profits would skyrocket. And they did. Thus, a new generation of kids grew up with a lighter version of the Turtles -- the kind that entertain you stuffed amidst other shows during your Saturday morning cartoon line-up. Die hard fans of the original comics grew up, got jobs and occasionally entertained the wild idea of a big-screen Turtles revival. But they knew it was too late; the superhero market was too crowded. Little did they know at the time, but a guy named Kevin Munroe would show up. And this guy ... he would change everything.
After defeating their arch-nemesis The Shredder, our four heroes have slowly grown apart. Master Splinter (Mako) has sent Leonardo (James Arnold Taylor) to South America (where he ends up playing vigilante in the jungles) to learn how to be a more effective leader. Back home in New York, Leonardo's three brothers have become restless; with no real enemy to battle, the boys are forced to take up random hobbies, stuff to occupy them during the long boring days. Donatello (Mitchell Whitfield) becomes the guy you call when your computer craps out, Michelangelo (Mikey Kelley) becomes the guy who entertains your kids at parties by dressing up as a Ninja Turtle, and Raphael (Nolan North) -- the edgy, misunderstood turtle -- secretly becomes the ever-allusive street vigilante known as The Nightwatcher. When April O'Neil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is hired to track down an ancient relic for a wealthy businessman, she uses the time to search for Leonardo -- to plead with him to return home and somehow mend the wounds his departure has created.
Though she ultimately leaves without her friend, April's surprise visit is enough to convince Leonardo that his family needs him. And, luckily enough, it's perfect timing ... because that relic April collected is about to stir up a whole mess of trouble. Her employer is a guy named Maximilian Winters, as voiced by Patrick Stewart (picture Donald Trump times ten ... and then make him immortal). Though New York City views him as a powerful tech-industrialist, Winters carries a dark secret -- one he's been keeping from the world for thousands of years. Hell-bent on reversing a curse, Winters uses his newly-acquired relic to transform his collection of ancient stone soldiers into real-life forces of destruction. Essentially bounty hunters, these soldiers are meant to team up with the foot clan (who are now a group of pay-for-hire ninja thugs, lead by a tough soft-spoken Karai) to track down and capture a bunch of menacing monsters who have recently been unleashed on an unsuspecting city. Meanwhile, the Ninja Turtles -- with help from Splinter, April and Casey Jones (Chris Evans) -- must find a way to settle their differences, band together and figure out what the hell is going on before it's too late.
Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the film is watching the new CGI look the Turtles have been given. Munroe worked with over 300 artists (stationed in California and Hong Kong) for 28 months, sketching out every last detail. Yes, it's different and completely unlike the awkward live-action films, but you can't help but be overwhelmed with the feeling that this is how the Turtles were meant to appear. They're sleek, sharp and agile -- it's the Turtles we remember from the comics, but with an updated shine. Michelangelo doesn't just skate up and down a sewer pipe, he flies down several at lightening speed. The Turtles don't just argue around an open pizza box, they confront one another on rooftops, in the rain, surrounded by the electric glow of a neon sign. Like real men. Like the grown-ups they've become.
If the film has flaws, they're minuscule ones. Munroe's story features several different layers, some of which are briefly introduced early on and not really fleshed out. The little ones might not pick up on exactly what is going on, so it will be up to the adults to guide them through. Also, Donatello is oddly stuffed into the background throughout most of the film; like Michelangelo, the two aren't given much depth or attention. I imagine if a sequel were to pop up (and it most definitely should), the two would be featured a tad more than they are here. But these are mild complaints, and Munroe certainly makes up for them with a few extra goodies meant to put a smile on the face of you old school fans. (Note: There's a nod to all three previous live-action films towards the end, so pay attention.)
TMNT isn't a movie you need to see -- it's a movie you must see. During a time when superhero flicks are a dime a dozen, TMNT immediately rises to the top of a short list of films that actually got it right. The outstanding CGI effects, the complex storyline, the vibrant characters (both old and new), the non-stop action, tension and heart -- all of it adds up to a movie that doesn't beg for your attention, it demands it. Not only did Munroe create a film that conjures up the tone of those old comics, but he also manages to keep it somewhat light so that kids of all ages can enjoy the adventure. After all, the Turtles are a family; they fight as a family and they bicker like a family, but they also unconditionally love one another as a family should.