Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie Review: No Turtle Power

At a certain critical moment in Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The MovieMaster Splinter (voted by Eric Bauza) shouts with indignation, “Where’s the character development?!” It seems ironic that in a film with countless opportunities to use meta humor, this is one of the jokes that made the final cut. It makes one wonder if the directing duo Andy Suriano and Ant Ward realized this would go over viewers’ heads. In any case, Master Splinter voiced my exact frustrations with the new movie, and this is its biggest problem.

Based on the excellent Nickelodeon series Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtlesthe film centers on turtle siblings Leo (Ben Schwartz), Raph (Omar Benson Miller), Mikey (Brandon Mychal Smith), and Donnie (Josh Brener), as well as their best friend April (Cat Graham). The group is surprised by a visit from Casey (Haley Joel Osment), a boy who comes from the future to announce that the Turtles themselves sent him to prevent the end of the world after the Krang alien race invades and takes over Earth.


One of the best qualities of Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles The TV series is that its 11-minute episodes allowed for fast-paced stories where jokes were thrown in at lightning speed, to the point where you could sometimes miss a witty remark because you were laughing at the previous one. Of course, it’s understandable that the shift in format to a 90-minute film would compel screenwriters Tony Gama-Lobo and Rebecca May to change the pace and dynamics of the turtles. Unfortunately, however, Gama-Lobo and May end up diluting the personalities of the four main characters, whose short attention spans and tendency to make jokes at inappropriate moments made the series a lot of fun.

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It is not Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie doesn’t have jokes. The problem is that in this version they go for the obvious puns, and the funny moments are more scattered, to put together a slightly more serious story. It would be great if the stakes felt high and we could connect to the characters, which just isn’t happening. From the start, the film makes it clear what redemption character it is going for, and any viewer can map out what is going to happen to Raph throughout the story. But what hurts the film the most is that it decides this is only bow worth telling.

Throughout the course of the film, the other three turtles, April, Master Splinter, and even future Casey only serve as a backdrop to Raph’s drama, with nothing happening in other personal developments. One could argue that we don’t really need character development for the main players because we know them well enough, but even if that were the case, this doesn’t explain what the film does with Casey. Aside from never really exploring the guy’s ties to the turtles (we’re just expected to accept that he has a deep connection), a hint of his backstory only comes as an afterthought at the end of the movie, when he realizes a REALLY important from the future is around, but it laughs a little at it.

Still, there are a few moments that do Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie worth seeing. During its climax, there is a free-fall fight that, although brief, is an exciting action scene that makes me eager to go back and watch it again. Even though Raph’s arc is generic and predictable, we get a surprisingly deep dialogue exchange as Casey at one point expresses his disappointment at the fact that he was sent from the future by a ruthless Raph, only to go back in time and discover that Present Raph is nothing like the guy he admired. It was a pretty hard kick in the gut, which only makes it sad that the movie didn’t really try to work on its only character with an arc.

Which brings us to the movie villains. Like most of the characters in the film, the Krangs are basically just there, and it’s hard to fear for the future of the Turtles—or humanity—when you know there’s a character who can send someone back in time to prevent Struggle to get what they want. This reveals another question about the adventure, as the turtles have mystical powers that are taken away and given back to them at random or whenever it suits them. Pretty soon it seems that the magic will take care of the dangerous situations that the turtles find themselves in – which happens often.

Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie is a good effort to extend the legacy of a far better TV series, but it doesn’t understand that in order to tell a “serious” and “epic” story, it lets go of all the elements that made us fall in love in series initially. If we do get a sequel—which, thank goodness, hasn’t been hinted at—let’s hope we get a basic NY adventure with the good old Foot Clan, where the Turtles’ (and April’s) personalities and chemistry feel more important than time travel and alien invasions.

Evaluation: C-

Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie can be streamed on Netflix.

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