Review of The Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie.

Although their popularity peaked long before most of today’s teenagers were born, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles never really went away. We’re only six years away from the latest live-action movie based on the pizza-loving reptiles, and it’s just been two months since a new TMNT video game was released. Ant Ward and Andy Suriano’s Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie, out this week on Netflix, is based on the animated series that aired on Nickelodeon from 2018 to 2020. The series’ heyday dates back to the early ’90s die herd, “Rise” is a useful – if forgotten – entry in the Cowabunga canon.

It’s hard to overstate how obsessed ninjas and martial arts kids were in the ’90s, when the franchise rode the same wave as Mortal Kombat, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, and the 3 Ninjas movies. (Of course, the fact that almost everything was ripped off from Japanese pop culture didn’t occur to those of us who were kids at the time.) Most of these franchises endure, although the wave they’re riding now is one of nostalgia — which, from a certain perspective, might be the most profitable and ubiquitous genre there is.

To say that Rise’s plot borrows generously from The Terminator would be light-hearted; assuming that the film’s intended audience knows or cares would probably be wrong. It begins in devastated New York City in 2044, where masters Leonardo (Ben Schwartz) and Michelangelo (Brandon Mychal Smith) are so close to being defeated by an alien race called the Krang that they do something desperate: open a portal and send their longtime ally Casey Jones (Haley Joel Osment) back in time so the disaster they face can be stopped before it begins.

The problem with this isn’t that it’s derived. It is that the future schedule is more compelling than the one we’re getting, if only because it differs from the vast majority of “TMNT” fares we’ve seen over the last 30+ years. Michelangelo and Leonardo have advanced abilities we’ve never seen from them before, laser beams and explosions blanket the battlefield, and there’s an immediate sense of urgency that’s sorely lacking in the rest of the film. It’s downright apocalyptic, in fact, and feels mere moments from utter ruin. Middle-Aged Mutant Ninja Turtles might not roll off the tongue that easily, but it probably would have made a better movie.

That wouldn’t leave much time for fanservice, though. What little we know about this future timeline tells us there would be no pizza for the ninja turtles, let alone fewer moments of hilarity when “radical” and/or “awesome” would be appropriate to say. The catchphrases and fun-loving atmosphere of these half-shell heroes are a big part of their appeal, and Rise is careful not to stray from a formula that’s kept the franchise at least semi-relevant for decades. For the kids, this sequel to the Nickelodeon show is clearly purposeful, that’ll probably be enough — albeit feeling less like an actual movie and more like a “very special episode” of the series.

However, there are some differences carried over by the show. Here the brothers have real mystical powers in addition to their ninjutsu skills; They’re also more visually different than usual, with Raphael (Omar Benson Miller) being much taller than his siblings and the ever-scholarly Donatello (Josh Brener) wearing a full face covering while bringing up concepts like the grandfather paradox to help his brothers to understand time travel. But none of that stops “Rise” from feeling the same. A longtime follower like me would never suggest that it’s time for the ninja turtles to go away, but it might be time for them to grow up — if only a little. Review of The Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie.

Charles Jones

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