Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Limelight Entertainment 1990.

Before watching the movie:

I am broadly aware of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, but I was never all that into it. I briefly thought I was going to watch the cartoon series, but I was given a parental directive to choose one violent show between TMNT and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and I chose the latter. Then a few weeks later I abruptly decided the whole premise of MMPR was silly and dropped it.

Apparently there’s a well-known easter egg that in one telling of the Turtles’ origin story, the radioactive ooze that made them was also involved in making Daredevil. That’s pretty neat. That will not be relevant to this movie.

After watching the movie:

New York City is in the middle of an unusual silent crime wave, with most victims being robbed blind right under their own noses, though many citizens are being helped by a band of four human-sized turtles who stay unseen in the shadows. Investigative reporter April O’Neil draws connections to similar crimes in Japan perpetrated by the Foot Clan, who attacks her for her silence. She’s rescued by Raphael, one of the turtles, who brings her to their home in the sewer to recuperate. While the turtles escort April to her apartment, their sewer hideout is invaded by the Foot and their mentor Splinter is abducted. The turtles stay at April’s place for safety, but when her boss and his delinquent son Danny drop by, Danny sees one of them. Danny has been spending time at an inner city youth community center-slash-arcade-slash-dojo-slash-cult induction operation-slash-warehouse of stolen goods operated by the Foot Clan and its leader the Shredder, and so when the Shredder announces that their new enemy is the freaks of nature who stalk in the shadows, the turtle menace, Danny is able to direct the Foot Clan to April’s apartment, where they attack en masse, leading to the destruction of the building and a narrow escape with Raphael unconscious for days. The gang retreat to April’s family farmhouse to regroup and maybe figure out how to look for Splinter when they can return to New York.

The movie has an impressive look for a project that no major studio believed in. Somehow the relatively tiny budget managed to pay for Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop to do the turtles and Splinter, and that quality is definitely on display, though the Splinter effects often give the movie a bit of a Dark Crystal or Labyrinth vibe.

However, that small budget also leads to an excess of product placement in an era before product placement was all that pervasive. The most prominent example is the Domino’s delivery scene with a big closeup of the box, but there are products in the background constantly. The warehouse full of stolen goods has many crates with brand names emblazoned upon them like JVC, but unless there’s a brand I’m not aware of and can’t find the right search terms to cut through the generic results, there’s also a very visible crate completely covered with the word “CRATE” as a logo. Perhaps there were just so many labeled boxes that it looked bare and a set dresser had some fun?

The end felt a little anticlimactic. It didn’t feel like anybody really learned anything, but suddenly everyone is doing what they should have done in the first place. The Turtles easily mow through what members of the Foot that weren’t disillusioned with one sentence from Splinter, Splinter actually confronts Shredder, and generally Splinter is more important to the resolution than the Turtles themselves are in their own movie.

The plot in general is secondary to the Turtles goofing around and getting in ninja fights, which is really what fans came to see. However, as a non-fan, I wanted a little more story. “Here come the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to have some fun and do some cool stunts for 90 minutes” is more what I expect from that live show that happened somehow.

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