The Art of Fighting Without Fighting

Enter the Dragon is the greatest martial arts movie I’ve ever seen. A fitting end to Bruce Lee’s tragically short career. Enter the Dragon was released only a month after Lee’s death in 1973. It became one of the most successful movies of all time and a major influence on pop culture. Elements of the plot inspired TV shows, comic books, video games, and anime. Unlike his previous movies, I did see pieces of Enter the Dragon when I was younger thanks to my parents watching it a lot. Enter the Dragon is the ultimate combination of everything awesome about the 70’s. More than just the Kung Fu craze, Enter the Dragon has elements of a Bond style spy flick and Blaxploitation.

Bruce Lee became such an icon in America that Enter the Dragon was co-produced in Hong Kong as well as the U.S. It was finally my chance to hear his un-dubbed English speaking voice. Bruce Lee plays a Shaolin Temple instructor simply known as Lee. Like Lee himself, he brought his own martial arts philosophy to the role. Lee uses emotional content in the art of “fighting without fighting.” A British Intelligence agent brings him in for a mission on a private island. Like Mortal Kombat, the best fighters in the world are brought together for a martial arts competition. Lee goes to avenge his sister who was inadvertently killed by the American O’Harra. Most of the cast is ethnically diverse with horror legend John Saxon as wealthy gambler Roper and afro sporting African American martial artist Jim Kelly as Williams. They’re a precursor to Power Man and Iron Fist who join Lee in his fight.

The competition is an exciting display of everyone’s individual skill. Even bodybuilding martial artist Bolo plays a part. The drug trafficking villain Han is literally right out of a comic book with a deadly series of iron clawed hands. There’s a distinct amount of blood and steel in the movie. Along with nudity in the form of ladies keeping the competitors company. Lee is only interested in fellow undercover spy Mei Ling. Bruce Lee delivers his most passionate performance yet. His high flying fight with O’Harra is a personal one. An underground fight against henchmen makes perfect use of his bo staff, baton, and nunchuck skills. You may even spot a young Jackie Chan. When an epic martial arts battle breaks out, Lee has an iconic brutal encounter with Han in an impressively shot hall of mirrors. You know it’s serious when Lee tastes his own blood. Enter the Dragon is the culmination of everything groundbreaking about Bruce Lee.

4. Enter the Dragon

Lee readies for battle

Return of the Dragon

The Way of the Dragon is the martial arts extravaganza that brought us the epic fight between Bruce Lee & Chuck Norris. Apart from that, Way of the Dragon is probably my fourth favorite Bruce Lee film by default. There’s definitely a stronger lean towards comedy different from Fist of Fury or The Big Boss. Not that Bruce Lee’s accomplished martial arts action doesn’t shine through. He also wrote, produced, and directed the film himself. Tang is much more of a fish out of water getting himself into awkward situations since he doesn’t speak much English. The movie’s only nude scene involves him accidentally picking up a prostitute.

Tang travels to Rome where he meets the lovely restaurant owner Chen and her Uncle Wang. Tang is used for his martial arts skills when their restaurant is threatened by gangsters led by their big boss Ho. Bruce Lee’s knowledge of different fighting techniques is displayed when he uses karate and Chinese boxing all while continuing to dance around. He teaches this to the restaurant staff so that they can defend themselves. Another highlight is Tang’s use of a bo staff and two nunchucks at once. Way of the Dragon was retitled Return of the Dragon after Bruce Lee’s tragic death.

It’s far more international since martial arts were still so popular in America. That’s where Chuck Norris comes in. Before he became a living legend, Norris was just a humble martial artist playing Colt opposite his Chinese counterpart. Their 10 minute Coliseum fight more than lives up to the legend. Norris’ hairy chest couldn’t be more different than Lee’s bare chest, but they are very evenly matched. They adopt each other’s style all while a cat watches. In the end, Tang shows respect for his opponent when forced to take him out. Way of the Dragon is more lightweight, but it knows when to leave an impact.

3. The Way of the Dragon

Tang vs. Colt

The Chinese Connection

Fist of Fury is truly the martial arts flick that unleashed Bruce Lee. Although The Big Boss got his foot in the door, Fist of Fury made him an international phenomenon. Despite mixing up its American title The Chinese Connection, the film was an even more successful Hong Kong production. There wasn’t a person alive in the 70’s who didn’t want to learn martial arts or hurt themselves swinging nunchucks. Fist of Fury is easily my second favorite Bruce Lee movie. This is the film that finally shows his fist fighting furoristy in full force. While still having an unexpectedly complex story backing it up. Fist of Fury takes place in the 30’s and explores tension between the Chinese and Japanese. Specifically the honorable Jingwu School and the dishonorable Hongkou dojo.

Bruce Lee is the man in the middle playing instant Kung Fu icon Chen Zhen. Although he comes to Shanghai for his fianceé, he’s devastated to learn of his master’s mysterious death. Chen suspects Hongkou dojo when they taunt his death with the disrespectful sign “Sick Man of East Asia.” I knew I was watching something special when Chen arrives at their doorstep and makes the entire dojo eat their words. You feel the strength of Bruce Lee’s every punch, kick, and jab. Followed by his awesome use of nunchucks. Lee’s trademark scream only enhances the experience.

When tensions rise after a discriminatory park incident, Chen becomes a fugitive seeking revenge when he learns the truth. Although not as bloody as The Big Boss, there is still a nude scene involving a dancer. Chen infiltrates the Japanese dojo just to get to their big boss Suzuki. Despite the all-Asian cast, there is a non-dubbed white Russian played by real life Bruce Lee student Robert Baker. He displays his martial arts skills in an intense fight with Chen that leaves him hypnotized. Since the fighting will never be over, Fist of Fury ends on an appropriately ambiguous note. Fist of Fury strikes a balance between social commentary and high flying action.

2. Fist of Fury

Chen Zhen hypnotizes his enemy

The Big Brother from Tangshan

The Big Boss is my introduction to the greatest martial artist who ever lived. Thanks to my parents, I’ve known the legend of Bruce Lee my entire life. I just haven’t seen any of his movies until very recently. Although it’s part of the experience, I saw them all with subtitles instead of awkward dubbing. After the cancellation of The Green Hornet, Bruce Lee struggled to find work for years. Despite having to leave his family and work in terrible conditions, filming a low budget movie in Hong Kong was the best decision he could’ve made.

Although confusingly titled Fists of Fury in America, The Big Boss became the most successful Hong Kong production at the time. Bruce Lee is cool because he broke free from Asian stereotypes and delivered intensely complex martial arts heroes. The Big Boss is definitely his most raw and bloody film. The 70’s were rife with R rated exploitation style violence. One scene involving a saw-to-the-head was so gory that it had to be cut. There’s also an expected nude scene involving a prostitute. The Big Boss is probably my third favorite of Bruce Lee’s four completed films.

Lee plays Cheng Chao-an, a big brother visiting his cousins in Thailand. Although I expected more, Cheng doesn’t fight thanks to a promise he made to his mother. When his jade necklace comes off, Bruce Lee lets loose with his signature fast-paced furosity. The Big Boss refers to the owner of his local ice factory who uses the business as a front to smuggle cocaine. When friends & relatives turn up missing, Cheng seeks bloody revenge. Despite the intense nature of his fights, there’s still room for humor like the big boss throwing a birdcage onto a hanger. The Big Boss isn’t flashy, but it is a powerful introduction to a martial arts legend.

1. The Big Boss

Cheng strikes

Skadoosh

Kung Fu Panda 3 is the perfect conclusion to the awesome journey of Master Po. Unlike Kung Fu Panda 2, the third installment is a bit more comedic with a strong supernatural element. The exaggerated fantasy element of martial arts was always present, but they go full chi this time around. Kung Fu Panda 3 was unique for being a co-production between DreamWorks Animation and their Oriental division. Giving China a greater say in the success of the project. I didn’t rewatched DreamWorks animated movies that often after I turned 20, but I should because I forgot just how epic Kung Fu Panda 3 is. After a physical threat like Tai Lung and a mental threat like Lord Shen, the next ruthless villain became the supernatural Kai. A yak spirit warrior with the typically comedic voice of J. K. Simmons. If Tai Lung had a personal connection to Master Shifu and Lord Shen had a personal connection to Po, then Kai has to have a personal connection to Master Oogway. The wise tortoise was absent in Kung Fu Panda 2, but this was a chance for Randall Duk Kim to return. The colorful computer animation used in the spirit world is breathtaking.

Kai uses a set of jade swords and his own power to extract the chi from the great kung fu masters. Turning them into his own jade zombie (jombie) minions. Such animal masters include Master Croc, Master Bear, and Master Chicken. Meanwhile, every other major voice actor from the first & second movies return to finish Po’s story. Although envisioned as a 6 part saga, a trilogy is really the way to go. Jack Black fully understands Po as the beloved Dragon Warrior. The Furious Five are his greatest allies & best friends. An aging Dustin Hoffman is even given more to do as Master Shifu plans to retire. Giving Po the disastrous task of becoming a teacher in the Jade Palace. The previous movie’s cliffhanger is addressed by having Po’s biological panda father find him. Bryan Cranston replaces the previous actor as Li Shan. He’s a big hungry panda most concerned with connecting with his son. The other father gives Mr. Ping a much bigger role as the goose in the middle, but the valley is attacked by Kai’s jombies before anything can come of it. They learn of Oogway’s past with Kai as they both discovered a village of pandas that possessed chi.

It’s enough to bridge both stories together and an excuse to have an entire cast of marketable panda characters. Each panda delivers their own comedic banter, but the most interesting case is the ribbon twirling Mei Mei. Although she was clearly modeled after Rebel Wilson, Kate Hudson replaced her in post-production due to scheduling conflicts. Li shows his son what it means to be a real panda, but he never knew chi to begin with. Something Po desperately needs to learn in order to beat Kai. The Furious Five are split up with the more comedic Mantis and Crane scouting ahead. Then the Jade Palace falls as Monkey and Viper are also turned to jade. I always expect Angelina Jolie to have the biggest role as Master Tigress. This time she goes to warn Po and also ends up being loved by a female panda cub. Much like Seven Samurai, the only logical solution is for Po to train the village how to fight like pandas. All the martial arts action is on par with the entire series, but the visually dazzling spirit world fight is a major highlight. It’s enough to make Po a true Dragon Warrior. Ending with a satisfying kung fu demonstration set to “Kung Fu Fighting” and uniting everyone. Kung Fu Panda 3 is an other worldly way to end a trilogy of awesomeness.

30. Kung Fu Panda 3

Po trains a village of pandas

Preceded by: Kung Fu Panda 2

The Dragon Warrior

Kung Fu Panda 2 succeeds by going deeper with the legend of a panda of pure awesomeness. Turns out DreamWorks Animation is really good at making sequels. Since Kung Fu Panda 2 more than lives up to the standard set by the original. Po’s path to become the Dragon Warrior was so awesome that it led to an equally awesome Nickelodeon series called Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness. Despite being 15 at the time, Kung Fu Panda was an action-packed martial arts tale for everyone. I definitely wasn’t expecting the sequel to be as dark as it ended up being. Kung Fu Panda 2 deals with heavy themes such as adoption, genocide, and death. All while retaining the hilarious sense of humor of before. Since it was directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson, Kung Fu Panda 2 became the unlikely highest grossing movie with a female director. DreamWorks studied Chinese culture a lot closer and the opening reflects that by using another unique animation style. Chinese puppetry is used to tell the story of our newest villain.

After a physical threat like Tai Lung, Lord Shen ended up being a peacock. An evil peacock who uses bladed weapons, a deadly fireworks cannon, and wiped out a village of pandas when a soothsayer foretold his defeat. The brilliant Gary Oldman brings a sinister gravitas to a personal threat like Shen. Michelle Yeoh voices the old goat Soothsayer due to her strong connection with martial arts films. The same applies to one member of the legendary masters of Lord Shen’s former palace in Gongmen City. Jean-Claude Van Damme manages a computer animated split as Master Croc, Dennis Haysbert keeps you in good hands as Master Storming Ox, and Victor Garber gets some time in as Master Thundering Rhino. Learn more about them in their short Secrets of the Masters. Meanwhile, every other major voice actor from the first movie returns to save China from Shen’s kung fu ending weapon. Jack Black explores the deeper side of Po as he discovers he’s adopted. Mr. Ping being a goose was originally played for laughs, but they really take it seriously this time. Po was an adorable panda cub that Ping discovered in a radish crate and raised as his own. You might assume the comedy would be lost as soon as Master Po became a skilled kung fu panda, but his fighting style can still be hilarious.

Po is fully accepted by the Furious Five as they fight side by side. Angelina Jolie gives Master Tigress the most surprising character development as she participates in Po’s antics and becomes a genuine friend. Some say romantic, but I’m not sure that was their intention. Crane, Mantis, Monkey, and Viper have their moments of action, comedy, and companionship as well. It’s actually Master Shifu who’s left out since he has achieved inner peace and no longer needs to train the Dragon Warrior. A more withered Dustin Hoffman still shines no matter how small the part. The martial arts fighting is even more of a spectacle with the improved computer animation. Po and the Furious Five face a pack of wolves and gorillas in several creatively epic sequences. Po continues to be haunted by flashbacks associated with Shen’s symbol until he learns the terrible truth. That his mother was killed saving his life. With inner peace mastered, Po takes down Shen’s army with the help of his friends and a final “Skadoosh.” In the end, the lesson is to not let your past define who you are. Making Po’s acceptance of his adoptive father truly emotional. I just wasn’t expecting a cliffhanger where Po’s birth father is alive amongst other pandas. Kung Fu Panda 2 brought depth to a warrior of black & white.

20. Kung Fu Panda 2

Po fights with the Furious Five

Preceded by: Kung Fu Panda & Followed by: Kung Fu Panda 3

Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting

Kung Fu Panda set DreamWorks Animation on a path of legendary awesomeness. After something as bizarre as Bee Movie, DreamWorks needed a sure fire hit to fully earn back their lost appreciation as a computer animation studio. Kung Fu Panda sounded like a joke the second you heard the title. Yet just like our unlikely panda hero, the success of Kung Fu Panda was no accident. The original intention was to make a parody of martial arts films with anthropomorphic animals. Like the great masters before him, the director saw the potential to tell a genuine wuxia hero’s journey that honored Chinese tradition.

It just happened to star animals. Unlike some anthropomorphic animal movies, Kung Fu Panda is totally warranted in using an all animal world. I’ve always been a big fan of martial arts, but I hadn’t seen many movies centered on the subject. Kung Fu Panda is the perfect gateway for children to become entranced by kung fu. I was 13 years old in 2008 and there was no way my brother and I would miss out on what was sure to be a blast. Kung Fu Panda was so awesome that it received an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature and became the highest grossing non-sequel for DreamWorks at the time…

12. Kung Fu Panda

Po trains with Master Shifu

Kung Fu Panda is the best of both worlds for DreamWorks. It was comedic, but there are no pop culture references or Disney jabs. Martial arts movies were an influence, but this level of dedication to action hadn’t been done before. The breathtaking computer animation and respect for ancient tradition even earned Kung Fu Panda acclaim in China. Not bad for a predominantly American production with primarily American voice actors. The animation wasn’t just limited to CGI, because the opening establishes the mood with a beautiful traditionally animated sequence meant to resemble a Chinese painting. The Valley of Peace is a peaceful Ancient Chinese setting mostly inhabited by Chinese animals such as rabbits, pigs, and geese. Each of them wearing appropriate Chinese attire.

Our hero is the most unlikely warrior imaginable. Po is a big fat panda with an intense fanboy appreciation for kung fu. After his less than inspired role in Shark Tale, Kung Fu Panda was exactly what Jack Black needed in his 2008 career resurgence. Jack Black’s hilarious enthusiasm was just right for Po, but he also gave the panda more depth than you’d expect from a comedian like him. Po dreams about being the legendary Dragon Warrior even though his father wants him to run the family business. They trick you into thinking he’s a panda, but Po’s father is actually a cheerful goose named Mr. Ping. Ping loves his son as much as he loves making his secret ingredient noodles. The funny and criminally underappreciated James Hong is one of at least four Oriental actors in the movie.

The center of all kung fu action is the Jade Palace. A sacred hall where the greatest warriors in all the land come to train under Master Shifu. A role filled by the critically acclaimed Dustin Hoffman. Hoffman isn’t someone I’d immediately associate with kung fu, but his experience brought great complexity to the stern Shifu. Despite his anti-panda sentiment, most people forget Shifu is actually a red panda. The wisest member of the Jade Palace is the elderly tortoise Master Oogway. Randall Duk Kim voices the ancient mentor who envisions the return of a deadly foe. Leading to a ceremony where the Dragon Warrior is chosen. Everyone including Po is shocked when he’s the one chosen. Shifu doesn’t believe a flabby panda can become the greatest warrior in history, but Ooway knows what he’s doing.

The Furious Five are the most clever use of anthropomorphic animals in the movie. Since each of them embody a different animal style of kung fu. The Furious Five are easily the coolest characters with all their high energy martial arts experience. Like Jack Black, Angelina Jolie got her Shark Tale redemption as the fierce and highly dedicated Master Tigress. Next to Shifu, Tigress is the most vocally against Po training among them. Jolie really captures her warrior spirit and longing to prove herself. The rest of the Furious Five are made up of 2 Chinese actors and 2 comedians. Jackie Chan himself is the high energy humor loving Master Monkey. He’s a monkey of a few words, but a great fighter on the team. Lucy Liu brings slithery sweetness to Master Viper. She’s probably the least hostile team member towards Po. David Cross uses his trademark sarcasm for the flighty Master Crane. The first team member to directly interact with Po, but it doesn’t go too well. The least likely Furious Five member is Seth Rogen as the small Master Mantis. You get what you expect from the laugh prone Rogen, but every warrior is beneficial to the team.

The Furious Five was so interesting that they got a short film detailing their unique origin stories called Secrets of the Furious Five. The slapstick that comes from Po’s training is hilarious, but a real warrior never quits. Not even when the main villain escapes his inescapable prison. Ian McShane is excellent as the extremely intimidating snow leopard Tai Lung. He was once raised by Shifu like a son, but his heart turned to black when Oogway rejected him as Dragon Warrior. His prison is heavily fortified with thousands of rhino guards and Tai Lung as the only prisoner. The late Michael Clarke Duncan makes the most of his small role as a guard who shows a Dan Folger voiced messenger goose every precaution. Kung Fu Panda is very funny, but action is the real highlight of the movie. The stylised, fast paced, yet cartoon friendly kung fu sequences are edge of your seat excitement.

He may be the villain, but Tai Lung’s escape is a pure spectacle. The Furious Five vs. Tai Lung is an epic bridge showdown that practically defies the laws of physics. Meanwhile, Shifu makes a breakthrough with Po when he realizes food is a great source of motivation. You really come to believe Po’s journey as he fights for his dumpling and masters panda style. When Tai Lung nerve strikes the Five, it’s finally time for Po to unlock the secrets of the Dragon Warrior scroll. It appears to be blank, but Po’s father helps him to realize there is no secret ingredient. You need only to believe you’re special. Master Shifu vs. Tai Lung is a brutal fight between mentor and mentee that only ends when Po eventually climbs up the stairs.

You wouldn’t expect a fierce snow leopard to be a match for a lazy panda, but Po vs. Tai Lung is a hilariously unconventional fight that’s very evenly matched. Po proves himself by mastering the Wuxi Finger Hold and conquers his enemy with a final “Skadoosh.” In the end, Po’s dream comes true as he’s honored by the Furious Five and accepted by a much more light hearted Shifu. An after-credit scene (that I often forget about) shows them bonding over a meal and reveals a symbolic peach tree that begins to sprout. Of course I’d be sad if they didn’t use the always catchy song “Kung Fu Fighting” at the end. A song normally used as a punchline, is given an honorable cover by CeeLo Green. Kung Fu Panda is more awesome than DreamWorks could’ve expected.

13. Kung Fu Panda

The Furious Five

Followed by: Kung Fu Panda 2

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