Review of the motion picture “Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” A Less Radical Addition to the Cowabunga Canon
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles never truly went away, despite the fact that their popularity peaked decades before the majority of today’s actual teens were ever born. The most recent live-action movie based on the pizza-loving lizards came out only six years ago, and a new TMNT computer game was just launched two months ago. The cartoon series that ran on Nickelodeon from 2018 to 2020 is the inspiration for “Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie,” which Ant Ward and Andy Suriano are releasing on Netflix this week. “Rise” is a respectable, though forgettable, addition to the cowabunga canon, but it’s unlikely to win over any nostalgia-minded fans of the series’ early ’90s heyday to the fold.In the 1990s, kids were completely enamored with ninjas and martial arts, and this franchise rode the same wave as “Mortal Kombat,” “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers,” and the “3 Ninjas” films. (Of course, those of us who were children at the time had no idea that nearly all of this had been lifted from Japanese pop culture.) Even if nostalgia is currently riding what may be the most popular and lucrative wave in entertainment history, most of those franchises are still active.Saying that “Rise’s” narrative heavily draws from “The Terminator” would be an understatement; assuming that the movie’s target audience is aware of this or even cares would probably be incorrect. The story starts in the devastated New York City of 2044, where Masters Leonardo (Ben Schwartz) and Michelangelo (Brandon Mychal Smith) are so close to losing to an alien race known as the Krang that they do something desperate: they open a portal and send steadfast ally Casey Jones (Haley Joel Osment) back in time in order to prevent the catastrophe they’re facing from happening in the first place.Not being derivative is not the issue with this. It’s that the future timeline is more intriguing than the one we receive, if only by virtue of being different from the vast bulk of “TMNT” content we’ve already seen over the previous 30-plus years. The battlefield is covered in laser bursts and explosions, Michelangelo and Leonardo possess sophisticated talents we have never seen before, and the scene has a sense of urgency that the rest of the movie severely lacks. In fact, it has an eerily apocalyptic quality and seems to be on the verge of total collapse. Although the name “Middle-Aged Mutant Ninja Turtles” may not be as catchy, the film would have likely been superior.However, there wouldn’t be much time left over for fan service. According to what little we do know about this alternate reality, there wouldn’t be any pizza for the Ninja Turtles to chow down on, not to mention fewer comedic occasions when the adjectives “radical” and/or “bodacious” would be applicable. These superheroes in a half shell are popular for their catchphrases and goofy personalities, and “Rise” is careful to stick to a formula that has kept the brand at least somewhat current for decades. That will probably be plenty for the young viewers this Nickelodeon program continuation is obviously aimed for; they won’t likely care that it seems less like a movie and more like a “very special episode” of the show.However, there are several variations that remain from the program. The brothers are more physically distinct from one another than usual because they have actual mystic abilities in addition to their ninjutsu skills. Raphael (Omar Benson Miller) is much larger than his siblings, and Donatello (Josh Brener), who is always well-read, wears a full face covering while explaining ideas like the grandfather paradox to help his brothers understand time travel. But none of that changes the fact that “Rise” seems repetitive. A devoted fan like myself would never say that the ninja turtles should go, but it might be time for them to mature—even a little—a little.