Monday, July 23, 2007

Movie Review: TMNT

Even taking into account the revival of certain '80s properties such as the Transformers, I could never have anticipated the Turtles clawing their way out of the grave. Here was a franchise that had been pronounced dead, autopsied, cremated, its ashes buried at the bottom of the Dead Sea. Surely any attempt to bring them back would result in nostalgic mush, at best.

Imagine my shock - and delight - when Kevin Munroe's efforts produced the best Turtles movie to date, genuinely entertaining and a powerful reminder of why I liked them in the first place.

It's not just the new look, though the CGI is a major improvement over old-school animation or rubber suits: fight scenes are graceful, fast-paced and exciting, the Turtles are more expressive (Raphael's rage is particularly well-communicated) and the human characters such as April and Casey have a touch of the cartoonish to them without being huge-eyed anime monsters.

But the visual aspect is secondary to the movie's real strength: its script. Let's face it, virtually every adaptation of the Turtles has been campy to some extent or other - the '80s animated series was watered down (for obvious reasons), the live-action films better defined the four as separate individuals but still erred on the side of being a little too wacky (not to mention, Vanilla Ice? No. Just no. DO NOT WANT). Munroe's script balances humorous situations like Splinter's certainty that "Cody is going to break up with Donna" or Raphael's battle with the adorable demon imp with real drama that comes from within the family, from the complicated relationships between the four brothers. I think that really grounds the movie even while dealing with an A-plot about living statues and monsters running amok in New York City.

The voice acting's quite good all around - if anything, I'm surprised by how toned down Sarah Michelle Gellar and Chris Evans are, given their more dominant tendencies in live acting. Patrick Stewart is awesome in anything, of course, and Zhang Ziyi's heavy accent lends a stronger air of credibility to her portrayal of Karai (not to mention her deadpan delivery of "You've got to be kidding me" right before the climactic battle). The Turtles themselves are flawless.

What really pleases me about this movie is the feeling of authenticity - that this is what the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would have been all along had there been no need to dumb things down for the kiddies or rely on slapstick and celebrity cameos to break the box office. So while "TMNT" may not be the definitive, be-all end-all Turtles' Story (in fact, there's a pretty blunt sequel set-up during the final minutes), it's still a good and proper example on how to do this franchise right. And if this marks the start of a Turtles revival, it'll at least have kicked off on the right foot.