Kitten Calendar

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is what happens when Michael Bay goes overboard. He makes the highest grossing movie of all time to win the Razzie for Worst Picture. Yet the teenage boy in me can’t bring myself to hate it. I was 14 in 2009, so I still wasn’t willing to listen to all the critics saying it was bad. Transformers made Hasbro’s “Robots in disguise” cool again on the big screen, but Revenge of the Fallen was doomed from the start. The biggest hurdle was the 2007-2008 writers strike. That would explain the almost non-existent plot. Along with a jarring juxtaposition that has giant CGI fighting robots intercut with Animal House antics.

Bay was adamant about going bigger with every piece missing from the first movie. That meant way more Transformers, a ton of explosions, and an obnoxious amount of comic relief. I was definitely excited to see the sequel. Especially if it meant seeing more elements from the cartoon that my brother made me watch. My whole family went to see Revenge of the Fallen and it’s probably the most uncomfortable movie I’ve ever seen with my parents. The crude sexual moments don’t let up for a second. The action is still pretty awesome, but Revenge of the Fallen is very much a guilty pleasure…

3. Transformers Revenge of the Fallen

Optimus Prime prepares for battle

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is still a CGI spectacle, but Michael Bay somehow made metal robots look ugly. The heavily detailed alien look of the Autobots and Decepticons was acceptable in the first movie. In the sequel, Transformers spit, fart, and have faces with way too much detail. The action was sort of incomprehensible before, but now there are so many robots on screen, you can barely tell them apart. The only Oscar nomination it managed to nab was for Best Sound Mixing. Revenge of the Fallen was much more of a Razzie darling. Winning Worst Director and Worst Screenplay on top of Worst Picture. Script problems begin in early human civilization. Peter Cullen’s booming Optimus Prime voice narrates again, but it’s not till the third act that we actually get some kind of plot. Until then we see an almost unconnected mission in Shanghai. Lennox and Epps of the military have teamed up with the Autobots and formed the task force NEST.

It’s still a General Motors commercial with heavy military involvement. But at least the Transformers get more equal screen time with the humans. Thanks to the message Prime sent out, now fan favorites like Sideswipe, Arcee, Soundwave, and Ravage finally get to appear. Sideswipe is cool and has a badass moment. The female Autobot Arcee appears as a motorcycle alongside two others, but they barely have time to stand out. The Shanghai battle sees the first of several one-off Decepticons face the Autobots. Demolisher is a giant wheel bot that Optimus makes short work of before getting a message about the Fallen. An obscure Decepticon villain that most casual fans won’t recognize. It’s cool to finally see Soundwave, but he’s just a satellite left out of the action. Thanks to an annoying government suit, the Decepticons now know how to find the piece of the Allspark they’re looking for.

Soundwave deploys the jaguar-like Ravage like a cassette tape into the secure base. He vomits a million microbeads that form one of many random Transformers in the movie. They retrieve the shard with hopes of reviving Megatron. Several random Decepticons succeed and Megatron now transforms into a Cybertron tank. This is probably Hugo Weaving’s best portrayal since he actually gets a chance to show off Megatron’s ruthlessness. He flies back to Cybertron where Starscream is attempting to regrow more troops. The Fallen is revealed to be Megatron’s master who was once a Prime hellbent on returning to Earth. Another cube sliver is with the continued main character Sam Witwicky. You still get what you expect from Shia Labeouf. Sam’s off to college and they make the mistake of giving his family way too much screen time. His father is worried about him growing up and his mother is overly inappropriate with an out of place pot brownie joke. They know all about Bumblebee and even get roped into the climax for some reason.

Sam’s still dating the gorgeous Mikaela who’s of course reintroduced with a revealing motorcycle butt shot. With Megan Fox still being the bland eye candy she was before. Her car expertise is given some attention, but only when another Decepticon shows up to take the cube silver. The extent of their unlikely relationship is neither of them saying the L word. Sam finds the cube sliver in his jacket and it brings an entire kitchen to life. The kitchen bots range from random to strangely perverted (intercut with Mojo humping another dog). Bumblebee blows them up, but Sam decides not to take him to college. Leaving the obnoxious RC Decepticon Wheelie to break into Mikaela’s safe. Wheelie is pretty bad, but he’s nothing compared to new Autobots Mudflap & Skids. A pair of painful black stereotypes that use slang, can’t read, and have a gold tooth. Their easily the Jar Jar Binks of Transformers who appear in way too much of the movie. But the unnecessary tag along characters don’t stop at them.

Sam’s horny, conspiracy theorizing, kitten calendar selling latino roommate Leo is present for the entire movie too! I get a chuckle out of the kitten calendar thing, but Bay is way too comfortable with random jokes like that. Same goes for the plethora of sexy college girls sprinkled throughout the beginning. Not that I’m complaining, but supermodel Isabel Lucas is responsible for most of the sexual innuendos. Alice comes onto Sam before Bumblebee arrives with a message from Optimus. They want Sam as an ambassador, but he’d much rather stay in College. Until the alien symbols in the cube infect his brain with comical results. Mikaela apprehends Wheelie, but catches Alice with Sam. Until it’s shockingly revealed that Alice is a Pretender Decepticon with a long robotic tongue. The rest of the Decepticons track them and Megatron threatens to extract Sam’s mind. Optimus and the rest of the Autobots sort of come to the rescue. Prime still ends up alone, but it leads to the most kickass fight of the movie. When a dual bladed energon-thirsty Optimus Prime fights a horde of Decepticons in the woods.

Unfortunately it results in Prime’s second big screen death. Giving Megatron time to take over the planet with the Fallen on his way. Yet we still don’t know the plot until former Sector 7 agent Simmons is dragged back into the franchise. Giving John Turturro way more undignified things to do. Like showing his butt for no good reason. Wheelie decodes the Cybertronian symbols and points them in the direction of an ancient Transformer at the Smithsonian Museum. After more juvenile jokes, they discover former Decepticon airplane Jetfire. Between his elderly ramblings lies the plot we’ve still yet to receive. After Wheelie switches sides and humps Mikaela’s leg, Jetfire teleports them to Egypt. In a painful way that’s only their to explain Shia’s broken hand. The basic gist of the complicated plot is to find the tomb of the Seven Primes, find the Matrix of Leadership to revive Optimus, and stop the Decepticons before they unleash a weapon that destroys suns to collect energon.

Meanwhile Lennox, Epps, Ironhide, Ratchet, and the rest of the Autobots arrive in Egypt with Prime’s body. After Bumblebee finally tosses Mudflap & Skids away, they find the tomb with the Matrix. They collect the dust, but another warzone breaks out. One with a ton of Transformers fighting left and right with even Scorponok returning. Sam & Mikaela try to survive, while Simmons & Leo deal with the biggest Decepticon to date. A much more gorilla-like Devastator made up of several construction vehicles. If you think it doesn’t have wrecking balls for testicles, then you underestimate Bay’s perverted mind. The military shoots it down after it reveals the weapon hidden under a pyramid.

Sam is nearly killed, but revived in time to resurrect Optimus. Who’s given a badass jetpack upgrade courtesy of Jetfire. Prime violently takes down Megatron and brutally kills the Fallen. Starscream retreats with the injured Megatron and peace finally comes out of the nearly 3 hour long chaos. Ending with another satisfying Optimus Prime speech followed by another cool Linkin Park song “New Divide.” Revenge of the Fallen may be PG-13, but it really does push the limit with all its explosions, babes, and crassness. Yet audiences like myself practically doubled its box-office returns anyway. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen takes dumb fun to the next level.

4. Transformers Revenge of the Fallen

Mikaela works on a motorcycle

Preceded by: Transformers & Followed by: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

More Than Meets the Eye

Transformers is the most successful toy to screen adaptation of all time. As one of Hasbro’s best selling toy lines, the Transformers were a huge part of the 80’s. Launching an equally popular 1984 animated series, several spin-offs, and an animated feature film. Yet I somehow missed out on the craze for most of my childhood. Apart from having a toy robot that may or may not have been a Transformer. My brother and I didn’t become fans until after the hype surrounding a live-action movie started to grow. The Mars teaser peaked my interest, but the official trailer had me hooked.

Our entire family went to see Transformers and we became instant fans of the “Robots in Disguise.” Rewatching it many times, learning the extensive backstory of the Autobots and Decepticons, playing the video game, and buying smaller versions of the movie themed toys. Since I was 12 in 2007, I was still young enough to accept the mindless action without question. I wasn’t familiar with director Michael Bay, but I quickly learned. Endless explosions, eye candy, large scale visuals, Bay knows how to make summer blockbusters. Even with the tonal shifts, product placement, and Bay’s initial lack of interest in making a toy movie. Regardless of what anyone says, the first Transformers is just as awesome as the first time I saw it…

1. Transformers

Optimus Prime prepares for battle

Transformers was unlike anything I’d seen on the big screen before. A vehicle transforming into a giant fighting robot hadn’t really been done before. The original toys were tricky, but simple enough to figure out. The animated series was equally simple, if a bit loose with the size of each Transformer. Every movie transformation is stunning with each part of the vehicle fitting in a logical place. The more Japanese alien designs of the Transformers may have divided fans, but you can’t deny the thrill of seeing each familiar character for the first time. The complex CGI is so good that I still can’t believe it lost Best Visual Effects. Like The Fast and the Furious, I’m not a car expert, but this is definitely product placement that works. Michael Bay teamed up with General Motors and the U.S. Armed Forces. The “Boy and his car” story was Steven Spielberg’s idea, but the strong military involvement was of course Bay’s idea.

Bay’s usual tonal shifts are thanks to the perspective of multiple radically different characters. First is a small military unit that encounters the first on screen Transformer. Josh Duhamel makes a name for himself as sympathetic Army Captain Lennox and Tyrese Gibson establishes himself in another car franchise as TSgt. Epps. They deal with the threat of Decepticons Blackout and Scorponok in the desert. Seeing a military helicopter transform into Blackout was indescribable. The thrilling Qatar attack is followed by an equally harrowing fight with the scorpion like Scorponok. The second perspective follows the true main character Sam Witwicky. The name may be changed, but the surname is a clever nod to Spike Witwicky from the cartoon. Sam represents the target demographic. An awkward horny teenager in desperate need of a car. Played by ever growing “It boy” Shia Labeouf. Although I grew up watching Shia, it was still weird to see him in a blockbuster like this.

All Sam wants is a new car from his father played by Kevin Dunn. As if the glaring similarities to Small Soldiers weren’t obvious enough already. They’re both DreamWorks movies about a teenage boy trying to impress a popular girl, caught in a conflict with warring factions, befriending a member of the heroic faction, and fighting against the evil faction. The main difference is Sam’s wackier mother and chihauna that he has for some reason. Sam buys a yellow striped Camaro from a hilarious (if somewhat stereotypical) Bernie Mac. I’ve wanted the car ever since. Even though Bumblebee is supposed to be the Volkswagen Beetle that he destroys. Sam uses the car to impress the unbelievably attractive Mikaela Banes. Megan Fox became an instant sex symbol the moment she leaned over a car hood. Even though her performance is a bit cringy and her extensive car knowledge/ending up with Sam is a suspension of disbelief. It’s Michael Bay, so the supermodel good looks don’t stop at Fox.

The third perspective is from the Pentagon attempting to track the source of Blackout’s initial data hack. Jon Voight is the Secretary of Defensive, but really its gorgeous data analyst Maggie played by Rachael Taylor who gets the attention. She tracks the next hack on Air Force One. Perpetrated by the creepy little boombox Decepticon Frenzy. Maggie is somehow friends with immature hacker Glen. Anthony Anderson is probably the funniest actor, but really most of the juvenile humor still makes me laugh. Everyone is after the same information which brings Sam into the conflict. Sam is confronted by the police car Decepticon Barricade before getting rescued by Bumblebee. Bumblebee’s winged redesign, guardian role, and speaking through the radio quickly made him a favorite amongst newer fans. The rest of the Autobots finally arrive via alien pods. Rather than crash land on a spaceship, each robot chooses a disguise from whatever vehicle is nearby. Seeing Optimus Prime and the rest of his fellow Autobots transform right in front of Sam & Mikaela was beyond cool. Even better with Peter Cullen’s booming voice remaining intact.

There are many important Autobots, but they chose Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Ratchet, Ironhide, and Jazz. With the cartoon accurate personalities to match. Prime recounts their war filled history on Cybertron and reveals what they’re looking for. Both the Autobots and Decepticons are after the glasses that belonged to Sam’s great great grandfather. An arctic explorer who discovered Megatron frozen in ice. His glasses reveal the coordinates of the cube McGuffin known as the Allspark. Something that can transform all of Earth’s technology. Optimus and company hide in the backyard while Sam looks for the glasses. Until the final collection of characters show up in the form of John Turturro as Sector 7 cover up agent Simmons. He seems threatening, but all that goes away the second Bumblebee pees on him. Agents capture Bumblebee and every important character comes together at Hoover Dam. They’re holding both a frozen Megatron (called N.B.E. 1) and the giant Allspark that they use to transform a Nokia phone.

They eventually listen to Sam and let Bumblebee shrink down the AllSpark. Unfortunately, Megatron is unfrozen and the rest of the Decepticons reconvene. Like the Autobots, the number of Decepticons is limited to key figures like Megatron and Starscream. Along with the lesser known Bonecrusher and Brawl. Despite Frank Welker being an option, Hugo Weaving continues his nerd cred as the always menacing Megatron. Fortunately, Optimus Prime is just as well represent as the heroic Autobot leader. Prime remains a semi truck, but Megatron is a Cybertron aircraft instead of a gun. The highway fight is just as awesome as the Mission City battle that follows. Highlights include Jazz standing up to Megatron, Mikaela driving around an injured Bumblebee, Starscream shooting down jets, the soldiers finishing off Blackout, and Sam attempting to carry the AllSpark to safety.

Not to mention the more obvious product placement of Chevy wheel, Xbox 360, and Mountain Dew vending machine transformers. The biggest highlight will always be Optimus Prime vs. Megatron. A fight full of familiar quotes and a history that longtime fans will appreciate. But Sam is the hero in the end after using  the Allspark against Megatron. Bumblebee somehow speaks in the end, but I’m glad that wasn’t the voice they used. Autobots unite with the humans, Sam & Mikaela makeout on Bumblebee, and Optimus Prime delivers his first of many inspiring movie speeches. Which is even better when followed by Linkin Park singing “What I’ve Done.” Transformers is everything a prepubescent boy could ask for. I’ll remember it fondly as one of my last childhood obsessions. The major box-office gross gave the Transformers a new generation of fans. Influencing special effects heavy blockbusters for years to come. Transformers is a dumb fun extravaganza that’s “More than Meets the Eye.”

2. Transformers

Mikaela fixes Sam’s car

Followed by: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

You’ve Got the Touch

The Transformers: The Movie is the awkwardly titled feature film debut for everybody’s favorite “Robots in disguise.” Transformers are the very definition of successfully turning Japanese toys from the 80’s into an exciting story for kids. So it was only a matter of time before I became a fan, but really it was my brother who became obsessed with it. After the live-action movie was released, we backtracked to the show that started it all. Although we foolishly saw the movie before watching the 1984 animated series. It makes way more sense after we watched seasons 1 & 2. Since every Autobot, Decepticon, Dinobot, Insecticon, and Constructicon appears with no explanation for non-fans.

How awesome it must have been to be a young fan in 1986 seeing the Transformers on the big screen with highly detailed animation. In the distant future of 2005, Decepticons have taken Cybertron for themselves. With Autobots ready to mount an offensive from one of their moon bases. You might expect a standard war between factions, but The Transformers: The Movie is a total energon-bath. Beloved Autobots and Decepticons are killed left and right. Fortunately Bumblebee is safe with an older Spike. Starscream isn’t so lucky after one too many betrayals. A heated early battle between Optimus Prime and Megatron actually results in both icons being mortally wounded. Killing Optimus Prime was a major child traumatizing mistake that Hasbro should’ve thought twice about.

It gets so intense that Spike actually says “Sh*t” in this animated kids movie. Eventually you realize every death was just to make room for new toys. As well as high profile voice actors. Judd Nelson is next generation Autobot Hot Rod, Leonard Nimoy is Megatron reborn as the Decepticon Galvatron, and Orson Welles himself is the massive planet sized main antagonist Unicron. It’s a desperate struggle for the all important “Matrix of Leadership” where “One shall stand, one shall fall.” The transformative action is seriously intense, but the fun is never lost. The 80’s anthem “The Touch” ensures The Transformers: The Movie as an 80’s benchmark for generations to come.

The Transformers: The Movie

Optimus Prime vs. Megatron

Turtle Power!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is what happens when fans get everything they wanted, yet still end up disappointed. I was only sort of on board with the 2014 Michael Bay reboot, but couldn’t deny my excitement. Even if I didn’t grow up with the animated series, I still knew the importance of well known cartoon villains on the big screen. The Turtles are still ugly CGI roid monsters, but it’s not as distracting as before. Despite Out of the Shadows clearly being made for fans, they once again spell out their names and character traits TMNT style. More characters means an endless amount of plot threads that only sort of come together. Leonardo is still a lousy leader making poor decisions, Raphael is still at odds with him, Donatello is still spouting techno babble, and Michelangelo is still eating a ton of pizza. Only now they deal with the titular problem of wanting to fight out of the shadows.

They go to a New York basketball game for some reason, where we get the ridiculous information that Will Arnett’s annoying comic relief Vern has taken credit for defeating Shredder. Brian Tee now plays an unrecognizable Shredder who’s constantly helmetless and ridiculously frozen before seeing any action. Karai is also recast, but at least the Foot Clan are ninja again. Shredder is given a purple mutagen by the actual antagonist Krang. He looks just like the cartoon with his pink tentacle brain appearance and somewhat accurate robot body, but Krang comes completely out of nowhere. His complicated plan is to build his Technodrome from Dimension X with Shredders help. So Tyler Perry as TCRI scientist Baxter Stockman (who also appears for the first time) gives the mutagen to dimwitted thugs Bebop & Rocksteady.

Although overly crude, it is great to finally see the CGI warthog and rhino fight the Turtles. Even if their reason for becoming animals is convoluted and their Turtle plane fight is one scene in the entire movie. The souped up Turtle van is cool, but also used once. Splinter is still around, if a little less important. Megan Fox returns to play April O’Neil, but it’s like she’s not even trying anymore. Naturally ending up in a sexy school girl outfit for a very forced reason. With all these well known Turtles characters, that just leaves Casey Jones. Arrow himself Stephen Amell sounds good on paper, but he’s easily the most botched character. Apart from his vigilante hockey mask and sports weapons, Casey is not a whiny clean cut police officer. He only wears the mask once and is the one who faces Bebop & Rocksteady in the end. Meanwhile, the Turtles tie up the pointless shadows subplot by teaming up with the police to stop Krang. It’s more fun than the previous movie, but Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows only earns my “Cowabunga!” with fanservice alone.

8. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Out of the Shadows

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles interrupt April O’Neil and Casey Jones

Preceded by: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Heroes in a Half Shell

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) is what happens when Michael Bay gets his hands on another beloved 80’s toy line/Saturday-morning cartoon. In the 7 years since the last theatrical film TMNT released, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles kept themselves relevant. Eventually leading to Nickelodeon buying the rights from the original comic book creator. I was too old for the 2012 computer animated Nick series, but I did look forward to the new movie that was announced. With the increased popularity of superheroes, another live-action movie with CGI Turtles was inevitable. I knew it was doomed the second Michael Bay was attached.

No one will ever remember who directed it since Bay’s explosive DNA is all over it. Like Transformers, I expected excessive CGI, sexy women, product placement, and explosions galore. It sounded worse when he mentioned turning the Turtles into an alien race with the shortened title Ninja Turtles. So Bay felt the wraith of a thousand devoted fans. Leading to several much needed rewrites that only did so much. My opinion of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) is roughly the same as my opinion of the first Transformers. It’s a guilty pleasure that’s entertaining and has geek worthy moments. But since I was 19 at the time, I couldn’t ignore its dumber decisions…

6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in an elevator

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) looked like a Michael Bay movie the moment I saw the trailer. Which is why I forget it’s a Nickelodeon movie. Odd since they made such a fuss about their previous PG-13 movie Fun Size having too much adult content. Although the Bayisims aren’t as aggressive as they were in the Transformers franchise. The opening pays partial homage to the comics with Master Splinter explaining the origin that every fan knows by heart. Followed by a recreation of Fruit Ninja. Anybody can watch Transformers without knowing the history, but the Turtles will forever be for people who already love it. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) is basically an April O’Neil movie. Since CGI is hard, they take an obnoxious amount of time before fully focusing on the Turtles.

Despite her vocal criticism of Bay, Megan Fox returns to play April O’Neil. Although she’s the hottest actress to play the knockout reporter and is sort of trying with her performance, Fox is just as bad as ever. With a gratuitous butt shot and aerobics scene for old time sake. April has the redish hair, reporter position, and even a yellow jacket. The main problem is all the side characters in April’s life that they linger on. She has a forgettable roommate, a boss played by Whoopi Goldberg for some reason, and the biggest offender, April’s cameraman Vern Fenwick. Will Arnett hijacks the movie with his unbearable standup that didn’t make me laugh once. Including a cringy joke about the whole alien fiasco. The ninja Foot Clan are changed into a Black Ops group that carries guns. The only accuracy there is Karai making her live-action debut. The Turtles save the day from the shadows, but April catches them on a rooftop. The most obvious Bay influence are the ugly roided out CGI Turtles. They’re as realistic as humanoid ninja mutant turtle teenagers could look, but they’re faces needed some work.

Although I prefer simplicity, I do like the idea of each Turtle having a look that reflects their personality. Leonardo is still the generic leader with his semi-samurai look reflecting his strong devotion to martial arts. Leo is somewhat humorous, but I still don’t get Johnny Knoxville voicing him. Raphael is tough, so he makes it more obvious with a do-rag bandanna, shades, and a much more muscular build. Of course Leo and Raph fight like they always do. Donatello is the tech guy, so expect him to be covered in technology and have a thinner build complete with dorky glasses. Although Donnie’s intelligence is a bit over-the-top. Michelangelo is the comic relief he always is, so that means easy going sunglasses, a party necklace, and a high tech skateboard. Mikey’s crush on April is also creepier than it usually is. The comedic banter is hit or miss with a ton of pop culture references and product placement. Namely Orange Crush and a delicious looking Pizza Hut pizza. Master Splinter is still a caring sensai, but much more aggressive with the voice of Tony Shalhoub. A giant CGI rat is off putting, but equally convincing.

When April is taken to the sewer, Splinter explains their origin once more. Except they’re now lab experiments that were exposed to TCRI mutagen thanks to April’s scientist father. April gave them their Renaissance names and love of pizza, then saved her pets after a fire broke out. Learning pop culture from Time Square makes sense, but the dumbest decision was Splinter learning Ninjutsu from a book flushed down the sewer. Shredder is always the de facto antagonist in any iteration. They just made another mistake by intending an original industrialist named Eric Sacks to be the Japanese Shredder. William Fichtner is a great antagonistic actor, but the last minute change to stay faithful to the source material is distracting. The reshot scenes with a shadowy Shredder make Sacks’ inclusion seem pointless. Together they plan to contaminate New York with the mutagen, cure everyone, and become stupid rich.

Shredder attacks the Turtle hideout in a Transformer-like mech suit equipped with giant shooting blades. Splinter is badly injured, the Turtles are captured, and Raph is of course on his own. Raph, April, (and Vern) rescue Leo, Mikey, and Donnie at a snowy base. It’s comedicaly violent, but the action is actually pretty entertaining. They slide down the snow with their shells and effectively use all their weapons. While April (and Vern) deal with the pointless Eric Sacks, the Turtles fight mechanized Shredder on a much more CGI building rooftop. But not before the best scene in the movie. When the Turtles simply goof off in the elevator with an impromptu song. The never before seen nod to the cartoon is the Turtle van at the end that naturally blows something up. Along with some homages to the original live-action movies. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) earns my “Cowabunga!” seal of approval, but that’s mostly the fan in me talking.

7. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Splinter meet with April O’Neil

Followed by: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

The Nightwatcher

TMNT is the abbreviated computer animated theatrical movie that gave the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles their edge back. Similar to what the 2003 animated series did on TV. Apart from the divisive Ninja Turtles: The Next Mutation and some truly awful specials, it was 14 years since the live-action trilogy ended. Although the Turtles are synonymous with animation, I wasn’t expecting a CGI film. The humanless teaser trailer didn’t really make that clear though. I was intrigued by the idea, but I didn’t want to see TMNT in theaters. Although it can be interpreted as a continuation, TMNT is mostly its own thing. The obscure Imagi Animation company did a great job of stylizing New York and the fast paced action of the Turtles.

TMNT sums up the origin of the Turtles in narration, but still has to spell out their names and personality traits for the non-fans. You’d think an animated movie would be the most comedic (and pizza filled), but TMNT is really the most moody Turtles movie ever made. Which works well for the sibling rivalry of Leonardo and Raphael, but it reduces Michelangelo and Donatello to glorified extras. The Turtles are suddenly split up. Leo is off learning to be a better leader fighting bandits in Central America. Donnie is doing IT tech support in the sewers and Mikey is performing at kids birthday parties. Leaving Raph to pick up the crime-fighting slack as the dark armor clad vigilante the Nightwatcher. Each Turtle is portrayed by a voice actor that does a good job at imitating the usual voices we expect.

The rest of the cast is filled with big name actors. This was sadly Mako’s last performance as a traditional Master Splinter. Chris Evans once again stretches his superhero muscles as the hockey masked Casey Jones. Sarah Michelle Gellar has a lot to do as an April O’Neil who now owns a shipping company. She’s also dating Casey, goes on adventures, and knows how to fight in a yellow bodysuit. Although Shredder is always preferable, he’s already defeated with well known comic ninja Karai leading the Foot Clan. The real threat is an immortal businessman voiced by Patrick Stewart who unleashed monsters on the world. It’s needlessly complicated, but an okay change of pace. When they finally get back together, the Turtles end up fighting the monsters and saving the world together. But the most well executed fight is the tense rooftop duel between Leo and Raph. TMNT isn’t a very fun “Cowabunga!,” but it is the most underrated adventure.

5. TMNT

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stand with Splinter

Pizza Time

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III is the awful Turtles flick nobody asked for. The “violent” weapons are back in use, but everything else has gotten worse. After Jim Henson’s unfortunate passing, another creature effects shop took over. While not as horrendous as later live-action projects, the suits are still goofy looking with cheap mouth movements. Most actors remain, but you’d have a hard time comparing it to the previous films. Most of New York is limited to the sewer hideout, pizza is barely present, Shredder is gone, and so is the Foot.

Elias Koteas is back as Casey Jones (and another character) doing absolutely nothing. While April O’Neil is only concerned with going on vacation before being taken on a trip through time. No fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics or cartoon wants a story about time travel to Feudal Japan. This was seriously all they could come up with? The very uninteresting premise sees a Japanese prince replace April thanks to a magical time spector. The Turtles go to rescue April and are replaced by Japanese guards.

While Casey and Splinter keep them company, Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello pose as guards mistaken for Kappa. They ally with a beautiful warrior woman, save a village, and fight the woefully uninteresting warmongering Japanese Lord and British tradesman. The comedic banter is just cringy at this point. Leo still leads, Raph is still tough, but soft on a kid, Donnie is still smart, and Mikey is still joke heavy. Although Mikey does have an unexpected arc where he wants to stay in Japan. None of it helps to redeem this weak franchise killing effort. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III doesn’t deserve a “Cowabunga!”

4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles time travel

Preceded by: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze

Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze cleaned itself up for the kids. After the perfectly faithful Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles released in 1990, several whiny parents complained about the supposed violence. A mere 1 year later, The Secret of the Ooze toned its action down to a juvenile level. Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello still have their signature weapons, but they barely use them. Instead they fight with toys, combat cold cuts, and their fists. It’s annoying, but the sequel was still a major guilty pleasure when I was a kid. Despite the small gap, two of the Turtles have new voices, Casey Jones is gone, and April O’Neil is recast. Paige Turco is even less convincing as the intrepid reporter friend to the Turtles.

We enter a pizza obsessed New York where the Turtles easily best a gang of criminals. Unfortunately, another annoying kid tags along in the form of martial arts pizza deliverer Keno. The Turtles and Master Splinter look even better the second time around. Thanks to the late Jim Henson’s flawless creature work. The Turtles are staying with April thanks to the remaining Foot Clan knowing their hideout in the sewer. Their banter may be sillier, but it’s just as funny as the first movie. Leo is still the determined leader, Raph of course does things his way, Mikey is a joke machine, and Donnie actually shows off his intelligence this time around. He hacks a computer and is eager to know the origin of the ooze. Splinter reveals the TGRI (TCRI in the comics) canister to them and a generic professor is shown to be responsible for the ooze.

Shredder emerges from the junkyard with plans to take revenge on his Turtle foes. He kidnaps the professor and uses his ooze to mutant a set of vicious animals. You’d think they’d be cartoon favorites Bebop & Rocksteady, but instead they’re the extremely lame snapping turtle and wolf Tokka & Rahzar. Keno is only important when Raph has him infiltrate the Foot Clan before being kidnapped himself. The climax is ridiculous for a number of reasons. First for the embarrassing use of the catchy Vanilla Ice song “Ninja Rap” and second for the mutated Super Shredder. What should have been an awesome final fight, ended with Shredder going out like a punk crushed by a bridge. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze earns its “Cowabunga!,” but only for it’s few enjoyable highlights.

3. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II Secret of the Ooze

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles deliver a package

Preceded by: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Followed by: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III

Cowabunga!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the most bodacious big screen outing for the Heroes in a Half Shell. Nothing embodies the 80’s more than the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Starting their lives as a joke comic book created by Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird of the lesser known Mirage Studios. Then growing into a phenomenon that mutated into an insanely popular Saturday-morning cartoon, a vast collection of toys, sugary breakfast cereal, video games, specials, and of course a live-action movie. I wasn’t born in the 80’s, but that didn’t stop me from becoming a huge fan of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. How could I not be a fan of something that shouldn’t work, yet has somehow endeared for generations.

Though I am more of a casual fan who knows every detail, quirk, and backstory despite only seeing the movies and a handful of episodes from each cartoon. Despite being released one year shy of the 80’s, the 1990 film became the highest grossing independent movie made at the time. Thanks to a way more faithful adaptation than Masters of the Universe before it. Although your enjoyment of the movie depends on how much you love these unconventional superheroes named after Renaissance men. You can’t deny the effort put into the comedy, performances, martial arts fighting, and some of Jim Henson’s best creature effects before his untimely death. Turtle power never looked so good…

1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael hang out

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles blends the comic with the cartoon. The original 1984 comic book series is nearly unrecognizable from how we know them today. It was first drawn in black & white with more serious and intense Turtles that had almost no individuality. Later colorized with matching red bandannas. The most obvious superhero homage is Daredevil. What with the New York setting, origin related to toxic waste, ninja clan named after a body part, and trusted martial arts master. The 1987 animated series is really to thank for their more quirky trademarks. Specifically their love of pizza, individual bandanna colors, unique personalities, and signature weapons. Each brother is a muscular anthropomorphic turtle with light hearted teenage catchphrases. It’s not easy to pull that off in live-action, but they managed to make it work. Sure they have awkward mouth movements (that suddenly swear infrequently), but Jim Henson’s Creature Shop really brought the Turtles to life.

Like the cartoon, Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines. Raphael is cool, but crude, Michelangelo is a party dude. Of course they are more complicated than their theme song description. Leo is always the level headed leader equipped with 2 katana and sporting a blue bandanna. Brian Tochi is the sole Asian of the group whose perfectly non-descript as Leo. Always clashing with his younger brother Raph. Raph is always the hot head equipped with twin sai and sporting a red bandanna. More likely to go off on his own and wear an obvious trench coat disguise. Josh Pais nails Raph’s thick Brooklyn accent and easily makes him the most multi-layered Turtle. Mikey is always the comic relief equipped with dual nunchucks and sporting an orange bandanna. Robbie Rist manages to recreate Mikey’s radical surfer lingo and hilarious one-liners. Donnie is always the tech guy equipped with a bo staff and sporting a purple bandanna. Corey Feldman was a great cast, but Donnie is the least accurate Turtle. He’s more often portrayed as Mikey’s comedic sidekick who doesn’t really show any smarts. They fight with great Ninjutsu skill and love a slice of disgusting look Domino’s pizza. Odd that they didn’t use Pizza Hut considering their marketing campaign.

Master Splinter has always been their wise father figure who raised and trained them. More like the comic, Splinter is just a rat who learned karate from his deceased master Hamato Yoshi. Then discovered four turtles in the sewer that are mutated by a mysterious canister of ooze. Their most important human ally is April O’Neil. Most often portrayed as a hot news reporter dressed in an impractical yellow jumpsuit. Judith Hoag is not the knockout she should be and the only yellow she wears is a raincoat. She gets roped into the conflict thanks to her discovering the Foot Clan is behind a recent crime spree. Raph brings her to the sewers and they become fast friends after the shock wears off. Another recurring human ally is street vigilante Casey Jones. Leaping off the page with Elias Koteas’ long hair, hockey mask, and sports weapons. Raph has a heated confrontation with Casey, but he becomes a noble ally and relatively believable love interest for April.

The archenemy of the Turtles has always been the blade wielding Shredder. Formerly Hamato Yoshi’s rival Oroku Saki and currently the ruthless leader of the Foot. Though mostly a Darth Vader clone, James Saito plays it completely straight. His second-in-command Tatsu is just as entertaining. The Foot are a ninja gang of troubled youths lead by pre-fame Sam Rockwell. Though early superhero movie conventions are kept to a minimum, they still have some unnecessary original characters. Specifically the troubled son of April’s boss and an angry police captain. The biggest conflict for the Turtles is Splinter’s capture and a rooftop ambush by the Foot. Every fight scene is a perfect blend of martial arts action and humor. It strengthens the bound felt by the brothers and a loving message from Splinter gives them the confidence to rescue him. Shredder is a formidable foe for the Turtles, but Splinter easily bests him (and Casey technically murders him with a garbage compactor). I have many fond memories of seeing the 1990 movie on VHS. Although it seems silly, grainy, and dated on the surface, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has honestly aged very well. What more is there to say than, “Cowabunga!”

2. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles vs. Shredder

Followed by: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze

In Your World, I Have Another Name

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader rightfully restored the whimsy that the franchise needed back. Prince Caspian was a fine action filled return, but the dark realism from the book couldn’t be avoided. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader was one of C. S. Lewis’ more popular books. Even I heard of it before knowing anything about The Chronicles of Narnia. Sadly, that wasn’t enough to keep Narnia adaptations alive. Major fans like myself remained faithful, but a simple seafaring adventure just wasn’t enough. Michael Apted became the new director and Walt Disney Pictures made the ill advised decision to give the rights to 20th Century Fox (how ironic). With the older Pevensie children too old for Narnia, the younger Edmund and Lucy are still able to go. They’re staying with their obnoxious bookworm cousin Eustace Scrubb. Back in 2010, I thought Eustace was pretty annoying, but he’s far more entertaining when you know him as a young Will Poulter.

Edmund, Lucy, and Eustace are whisked into Narnia when a painting floods the room. They’re picked up by King Caspian, who invites them on a titular voyage of the Dawn Treader. Since only 3 years have passed in Narnia, brave swashbuckling mouse Reepicheep is back too. As someone who doesn’t believe in fairy tales, Eustace does nothing but complain and clash with Reepicheep. Whose voice is now Simon Pegg replacing Eddie Izzard. The decision was due to the greater importance Reepicheep has in the story. In fact, the Christian theme is Reepicheep living a spiritual life as he desires to see Aslan’s Country at the end of the world. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is unique for having no specific villain. Just a group of slave traders who are quickly disposed of. Really it’s an evil green mist that takes over the seas. So Caspian and his loyal shipmates seek to find seven swords belonging to the seven lost Lords of Telmar. They encounter harsh waters and meet a magician on an island inhabited by invisible Dufflepuds. Very bizarre looking dwarves with one giant foot.

They learn about their quest and the tempting nature of the mist. Lucy is first tempted by a desire to be as beautiful as Susan. Even though the actress is far from plain. Peter appears only in a vision where Aslan snaps Lucy out of her obsession. Apart from that, Lucy has become far more of a fighter. Edmund is still a hero worth rooting for, but his past comes back to haunt him. In the form of the White Witch. Edmund and Caspian are like brothers, but they briefly clash as well. King Caspian is far more interesting in his second appearance. With his temptation being the disapproving voice of his father. Eustace is more so tempted by gold that surprisingly turns him into a golden dragon. Which helps make him a better person. The ship is guided by a beautiful blue star that leads them to the final sword. A sea monster is slayed, Aslan restores Eustace, and the end of the world is finally reached. This is sadly another goodbye, but Aslan is indeed known by another name here on Earth. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is good fun, but it feels incomplete without The Silver Chair, The Horse and His Boy, The Magician’s Nephew, and The Last Battle.

4. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

King Caspian and the Pevensies reach their destination

Preceded by: The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian