Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Recent Watches: Turtles Forever (2009)

As previously stated, the Ninja Turtles I most remember are those of the movies. Of course, I watched the Fred Wolf produced animated series that ran from 1987 to 1996. Revisiting the series recently, it’s not good in any traditional sense. Even its best episodes were devoted to selling toys. Most of the time, it was a goofy animated sitcom. As part of my TMNT retrospective, I gave the 2003 cartoon a look. The series has a devoted following. It’s beautifully animated and clearly put more thought into its writing than the ‘87 series. However, it’s not my Ninja Turtles. After marathoning a handful of episodes, the series’ heavily serialized storytelling burnt me out. (For the record, I’ve just started watching the 2012 series but, so far, I love it.) Even if I’m not the biggest fan of the millennial Turtles, I couldn’t resist the siren call of “Turtles Forever,” the feature length series finale that had the more serious iteration teaming up with the goofier one.

“Turtles Forever” begins in the world of the 2003 series. The Turtles’ lives are interrupted when news breaks of humanoid turtles foiling a heist. The Ninjas are confused because it isn’t them. Soon, they meet up with their doppelgangers, the cornball Turtles from the ’87 series. A trans-dimensional wedgie has landed the old turtles in the new turtles’ world, with Shredder, Krang, and the Technodrome close behind. The incompetent ‘80s Shredder quickly locates his millennial counterpart. However, this new Shredder is a ruthless sociopath and quickly takes over the Technodrome. Aware of the TMNT multi-verse, Nu-Shredder is determined to track down the Prime Universe and wipe out every incarnation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that have ever existed.

Most of the fun of “Turtles Forever” comes from contrasting two wildly divergent variations of the same characters. The millennial Turtles are widely a serious, focused lot. The classic Turtles, meanwhile, crack jokes at every opportunity. Instead of using stealth and ninjitsu to get the drop on their enemies, the original Turtles walk down the street in broad daylight, sauntering into a pizza parlor for a slice. Most of the later Ninjas are baffled by their counterparts. Raphael is especially annoyed by the constant joking. Michaelangelo finds them amusing at first but quickly grows tired of their constant flippantness. Some of the best jokes in the film involve classic Raphael making some of his trademark fourth-wall breaking comments, which everyone else in the film find confounding. At first, I thought the newer series was being too hard on the original variations. The Party Wagon and Turtle Blimp both get trashed as useless vehicles. When arriving in the Fred Wolf dimension, the heroes have to rescue April from anthromorphized bananas. I mean, the eighties series was goofy but I don’t think it was never that goofy.

However, the filmmakers were aware enough to play both sides. A sweet moment has the neo-TMNT find the classic version of Splinter as comforting as their own. The climax of the film has both Turtle teams arriving in the Prime Universe. That is, the universe of the original Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird comics. The grayscale Turtles speak in gritty Frank Miller-style voice-over and are incessantly violent. They decry both newer versions as sell-outs. Even more amusingly, the comic version of Shredder is quickly disposed of, no doubt a reference to the character being an unimportant villain in the source material. The film is enough of a fan service-filled nerd-experience that it gives shout-outs to most every version of the Turtles that have ever existed, even the weird anime ones. (Though “The Next Mutation” and the “Coming Out of Their Shells Tour” are notably absent. Well, maybe not so notably.)

Another fun thing “Turtles Forever” does is show that the eighties Shredder and Krang could have been competent villains. ’03 Shredder arms himself with Dimension X technology. He remakes the useless robot Foot Soldiers into fearsome cyborgs. The mutagen is used to transform a horde of minions into super-mutants. Reoccurring villain Han more-or-less becomes a new take on Slash. Meanwhile, Tokka and Rahzar get brief cameos. The Technodrome itself is rebuilt as a floating, laser-spewing Death Star. The scene where the re-decoed Technodrome attacks New York, bursting out of ground and causing panic, is one of the best in the film. At the very end, nu-Shredder, who is apparently an Ultrom alien or somethin’, wears his own version of Krang’s growing suit. When the two face off, he proves how superior his technology is. The new version of Shredder is so ruthless, he truly is willing to destroy himself if it means wiping out his arch-enemies. The respective universe vanishing are presented in a clever way. The color fades away and then everyone is rendered as crude pencil drawings before vanishing all-together.

The cleverness of the film is best emphasized during its end. After pumping the Shredder up as the baddest dude in the multi-verse, he’s taken out accidentally by Bebop and Rocksteady. The final scene has the different Turtle teams returning to their respective universe. The Mirage Turtles rush off, hardboiled monologues playing overhead. During the final minutes, the camera pulls back, showing the characters as comic illustrations. From off-screen, we hear Eastman and Laird discuss the uncertain future of their then-new property. It’s a cute, even charming, moment and one that marks the film as a labor of love.

“Turtles Forever” is probably for diehard fans of the franchise only. There’s not much to the film and it feels more like a midnight snack then a proper cinematic meal. Yet the only real disappointment I have is that it couldn’t get the original ’87 cast members back because of some union bullshit. The sound-alikes they use are fairly convincing. The movie acknowledges the pros and cons of both cartoons while sneaking in plenty of in-jokes. Even as someone who only casually likes both Turtles cartoons, I still had a good time with it. [7/10]

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