Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles hits theaters today, amid a chorus of groans as Michael Bay is involved. But is it as bad as the marketing makes it look? And where does it fit among the other Turtles movies? Here’s a ranking to help put it into context.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
The definitive silk purse out of a sow’s ear: The creative team on this movie turned a pretty ridiculous cartoon into a halfway credible movie, largely because somebody read the original comic books. Granted Danny was a waste, and how, precisely, the Foot clan intends to take over New York with the early ’90s version of Neverland is never explained. But considering it’s basically a cheap exploitation film, it’s surprisingly well done, and easily the best of the Turtles movies.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
Yeah, I’m as shocked as you about this one, but hear me out. This movie actually combines all the elements of the franchise that some executive demands be there, from pizza to April O’Neil, and it actually almost makes sense, or is at least internally consistent. It’s the kind of movie where April is a fluff reporter and promptly gets fired from her job when she tells her boss there are giant turtles saving the city.
More to the point, it’s fairly fast-moving without feeling rushed or forced; Jonathan Liebesman gets this from point A to point B surprisingly quickly, and the action scenes are fun and plentiful, although the snow chase is the only one with any genuine inventiveness or style. The speed of the movie also helps gloss over the plot holes and Megan Fox’s less-than-bountiful acting chops.
Granted, there is some stupidity; William Fichtner, who starts cramming every bit of scenery into his mouth the moment he’s revealed to be a villain, tells his scientists to, and I quote, “Drain every last drop of blood, even if it kills them!” He also lives in Switzerland, which in this movie is conveniently adjacent to New York City. But it is at least aware of the fact that it’s ridiculous, without being campy, and doesn’t expect us to take it seriously.
Is it goofy and somewhat crass? Absolutely, and the opening is the weakest part of the film as it tries to obscure the Turtles for some reason. But once the shaky cam and strobe tricks go away, and the film settles into a vibe, it becomes a surprisingly solid goofy action flick for kids, and it actually manages to stick to the Turtles you remember without trying to fellate your sense of nostalgia.
It’s no classic, but as these things go, and especially considering how bad the marketing made it look, it’s pretty good. If you’re a parent, this won’t be an ungodly hell to sit through, and your kid will probably enjoy it.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III
It’s a goofy movie right from the plot all the way down to the execution, but as rushed and as cheap as it is, there’s a certain appeal to this one. The plot of the Turtles going to feudal Japan is perhaps a bit obvious, but it’s still fun, and Elias Koteas makes a surprising difference; these movies are far more watchable thanks to him.
This might actually be the most technically accomplished Turtles movie, but, well, it’s a kiddie flick through and through, and the results come off as a bit condescending. Look, I don’t pretend I wasn’t dumb at nine years old, but this movie thinks kids are drooling morons. Pretty to look at, but vacant even by this franchise’s standards.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II
Honest Trailers nails it; easily the worst of the Turtles movies.
So, there you have it: The new Turtles movie is surprisingly good, despite the trailers. And the theme song. And the posters. And the character design. Come to think of it, maybe considering those challenges we should have made it #1.