Comic property reviews: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movies

In the first quarter 2011 of Gaming Insurrection’s The Strip, we took a look at all three Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies. Read on to see how we feel about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III.

Before we start, a little bit of explaining:

How we grade
We score the properties in three categories: Casting (or voice acting in case of animated), plot and similarities to its source material. Each category receives points out of the maximum of 10 per category and 30 overall. The percentage is the final score.

A screenshot from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The Turtles make an interesting discovery in their lair in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles./Photo courtesy of TMNT.com

TMNT movie origins great way to start franchise

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”

New Line Cinema, 1990

Pulling from the comics to tell its origin story, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles does the franchise proud in its first stab at the movie business. With a few changes to some key elements, the movie Turtles still manage to convey the never-say-die attitude of the teen amphibians. Crucial fights and subtle humor are thrown in with great character development.

The casting is superb mostly. Judith Hoag was excellent as the plucky April O’Neil, and her pairing with Elias Koteas’ Casey Jones was enjoyable and believable. Shredder was menacing and imposing as well as his bodyguard, Tatsu (a movie only addition). The costuming looked great and so did the Turtles. Jim Henson’s Creature Factory pulled out the stops to make the suits for the Turtles, and it shows. Our only quibble with the characterization was the inclusion and creation of April’s boss and his son. They weren’t wholly necessary to the story, and while they set up interesting subplots for the core group, they didn’t really add to the movie. In fact, it seems they dragged it down in parts.

We particularly enjoyed the fact that by the time the first movie was released, the cartoon was in full swing, thus making the movie possible. While the movie works to distance itself from the cartoon quite a bit, it still retains elements from it to draw in the younger crowd. Subtle nods to the franchise’s two origins (comics and cartoon) are featured throughout, helping the movie firmly ground itself as a sci-fi kung-fu flick. This is a must-own for the children of the ’80s crowd who remembers the days when Turtles fought with honor.

Like the comics: 7/10

Casting: 9.5/10

Plot: 9/10

Overall rating: 8.5

New character Keno joins the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in their quest to take on Shredder again in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze./Photo courtesy of TMNT.com

One liners’ add hilarity to Turtles’ movie sequel

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze”

New Line Cinema, 1991

What’s not to like about the sequel to one of the most successful independent movies of all time? Not much. Everything that made the first film a year earlier successful is back, though with a few changes. First, there’s no Casey Jones. And the actress playing April was changed. And there’s the addition of Ernie Reyes Jr. as the Turtles’ friend Keno and villains Tokka and Razhar. But other than that, the Turtles are still the Turtles.

There’s more action and more one-liners. And the return of Shredder makes it a little bit more believable that he’s a major villain for the Turtles than the comics would have you believe. It’s not very plausible that Shredder would be a one-note villain who only appears in a movie to try to kill the heroes, so it’s obvious that his role was increased here, tying in the various games AND cartoon.

Character development was handled in the first movie and not too much is dwelled on here. We wish more was written about Keno and why he was so proficient in martial arts and insistent upon helping the Turtles. His lack of explanation sticks out like a sore thumb in an otherwise excellent tale for the Turtles. Also, is it too much to ask that Vanilla Ice should have been toned down? True, he doesn’t show up until the end, but really, Ninja Rap? It was odd and disconcerting as a child seeing him and that hasn’t changed in the 20 years since movie’s release. He does absolutely nothing for the film, and his cameo is beyond stupid. But, at least the Turtles got to dance.

Overall, watch the sequel if not for a laugh at the now-ancient fashions of the day, but for the ramped up humor that comes from creating a sequel for a TMNT movie.

Like the comics?: 5/10

Casting: 8/10

Plot: 7/10

Overall rating: 6.5

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles try to return home to their time in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III./Photo courtesy of TMNT.com

Boldly go where no Turtle should really ever go

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III”

New Line Cinema, 1992

A hackneyed plot and poor special effects make the third TMNT film the worst in the bunch. There isn’t much that could save the franchise from going downhill with the third movie. The plot of the Turtles time traveling literally doesn’t make much sense, and the first time that Lyndsey saw it in the theaters, she claims to have spent 20 minutes trying to make sure she was in the right movie.

The acting is garbage, the story is utter nonsense and has nothing to do with the TMNT universe, and there’s no mention of previous villains or characters that made an impact on the Turtles’ adventures. The bright spot in it all is the casting and return of Elias Koteas as Casey Jones. He, despite some ham-fisted acting, is a beacon of hope in a movie that is far from shimmering.

There is nothing here that really resembles the TMNT universe save the abandoned train system home that the Turtles found in Secret of the Ooze and Jones. We had trouble understanding the point of adding the scepter and why even some of the strange plots from the cartoon universe weren’t expanded on, such as the Utroms or Rocksteady and Bebop. If the movie can introduce samurai that we’ve never heard of, the least the writers could do is include mutants that we have heard of. This is one sewer tale that should have stayed underground.

Like the comics?: 0/10

Casting: 2/10

Plot: 2/10

Overall rating: 1.5

Comic property review: “Punisher War Zone”

Photo courtesy of ComicBookResource.com

Third time’s a charm for Punisher

“Punisher War Zone”
Marvel Knights, 2008

If you can ignore the fact that this is the third attempt at bringing Frank Castle’s tale to big screen, you will love Punisher: War Zone. This is really what every Punisher film so far should have been: Gory, over-the-top action punctuated by the loss that Castle suffers.

With his family and humanity lost to senseless gang violence, Castle has to go the route of the Punisher. There is no other way and Lexi Alexander does an excellent job digging into the motif of Castle’s desire to lose himself in death. Using quick action shots, detailed costumes and a penchant for showing the worst ways to kill a man, War Zone achieves the effect that should have already been achieved by two previous actors: Death by Punisher.

War Zone’s Castle, Ray Stevenson, has the look of a man consumed with rage and revenge. He wears Castle’s raw emotions on his face well, and he makes an excellent dark anti-hero mired in a cesspool of a city.

Dominic West (who was also in last quarter’s review subject 300) is also excellent. Villains have become his strong suit and Jigsaw is a testament to his ability to take a character, immerse and make himself unrecognizable. Doug Hutchinson is a surprise standout as well. Having impressed us in his previous soap opera roles, he plays mentally insane well here. The other characters are rather stereotypical but they don’t necessarily get in the way of the story.

Overall Punisher: War Zone should have had a better draw in the movie industry. It received a bad rap because of its late-to-the-party status and drama surrounding production, but it really is a good adaptation of a comic book franchise and deserves to put ahead of the other attempts to bring the Punisher to the big screen.

How we grade
We score the properties in three categories: Casting (or voice acting in case of animated), plot and similarities to its source material. Each category receives points out of the maximum of 10 per category and 30 overall. The percentage is the final score.

Casting: 9/10
Plot: 8/10
Like the comics?: 10/10
Overall rating: 9

Comic property review: ‘300’

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

Hot, sweaty, loud: ‘300’ gets it right

‘300’

Warner Bros., 2007

You don’t have to know much about the ancient Greek Battle of Thermopylae to enjoy what Frank Miller’s 300 has to offer. You also don’t have to have a lot of testosterone or Y chromosomes to enjoy the slick visuals, fight scenes or lack of clothing that the Spartan faithful wear. This isn’t a particularly deep film but it doesn’t aim to be. It aims to be loud, cool and sweaty. And that’s exactly what you get in the comic book adaptation directed by Zack Snyder.

300 has been faithfully recreated frame by frame by Snyder, the illustrious comic book screen master who has brought forth visions such as The Spirit and Watchmen. 300 was one of his first attempts to bring a comic to life and it’s well done. Because Snyder doesn’t stray too far from the source material, everything has a grimy comic sheen draped all over it. The comic book goop the film is mired in doesn’t betray the direct lift of material; it actually enhances the beauty of the visuals. This film is undeniably gorgeous and it knows it. Even the green screen material doesn’t detract from the beauty of the film. Usually it’s obvious that folks are employing it in a scene but 300 more than covers its tracks and has a grand time doing it.

Also gorgeous are the various actors that make up the principal cast. The abs are fabulous, hair is perfectly coiffed and no one is out of shape or unable to fight. The beautiful people of the world apparently all fought in the Spartan army against the god king Xerxes and only one lived to tell the tale. That previous comic book sheen comes full circle in many of the visual elements, and the folks who kill the Persian army in stylized sequences featuring no less than six gruesome deaths are no exception. The History Channel was actually heavily involved in the costuming phase of the production and that attention to detail is evident throughout.

The actors themselves aren’t bad. While I’d not believe them as Greeks, the enthusiasm that comes across on the screen is infectious. No one phoned it in here and the dramatic portions are appropriately heartbreaking.

There isn’t much to dislike about 300. A small quibble is that the pacing makes it drags near the end. While the end battle is appropriately melodramatic and wrought with tension, it was a little too drawn out. As Elvis once recommended, a little less conversation would have been nice.

We’re action buffs and 300 definitely satisfied that need. Besides, the many quotable scenes such as “This is Sparta!” more than make up for the dragging of feet at the conclusion. 300 has earned its rank among great comic adaptations and action movies alike.

How we grade
We score the properties in three categories: Casting (or voice acting in the case of animated), plot and similarities to its source material. Each category receives points out of maximum of 10 per category, and 30 overall. The percentage is the final score.

Casting: 8/10
Plot: 8/10
Like the comics?: 10/10
Overall rating: 8.6

Comic property review: ‘Superman Returns’

Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. | Brandon Routh stars as Clark Kent/Superman in "Superman Returns."

Attempted reboot of Superman franchise an admirable effort

Superman Returns
Warner Bros., 2006

The reboot of the Superman movie franchise was long in coming. Let’s face facts: Superman IV was a disgrace to the franchise’s name, Christopher Reeve was rolling over in his grave at the lasting legacy, and the movie had spent at least a decade in development hell with various directors and actors attached to the project. Superman, himself, needed a hero.

Set after the events of Superman II, Returns brings a measure of credibility back to the DC stalwart. Firstly, Kevin Spacey was a prime choice for Lex Luthor. That’s not to say that Gene Hackman wasn’t a good choice, but Spacey is Lex. Second, Brandon Routh had the look of Reeve as Superman and he handled the role well despite the inevitable comparisons. Kate Bosworth was rather throwaway as Lois Lane but she didn’t necessarily detract from the film; she just doesn’t necessarily add anything.

Plot-wise, it’s the same old fare from the comics: Lex throws his acquired money around, tries to kill Superman, Lois needs rescuing, wash, rinse, repeat. It’s nothing you haven’t already seen but at least no one stands around chewing scenery. And the addition of Lois’ son is an interesting twist even if you can see it coming from a mile away.

Spacey is appropriately melodramatic as Luthor should be and Routh does an excellent job with emoting Superman’s dislike of the former multi-billionaire. One of the better aspects of the movie is the costume design. Characters really look like they would have existed in the 1950s and the décor matches well. Whoever designed the movie should have won some accolades for their work.

So what’s there not to love about the reboot? While director Bryan Singer does excellent work (as he does with most of his properties), it’s a little too long for some of us in the GI crew. While its fans point out that all Superman movies are around this length, it’s a little too dry in some areas. The beginning starts slowly and there are some odd plot points such Lois trying to quit smoking. Where did that come from, we ask.

Overall, the movie isn’t bad. It’s got great casting, the plot works and it’s Superman. You can’t go wrong there, well, unless you’re Superman III or IV. We believe that, contrary to popular criticism of the film, Routh was not acting as Reeve acting as Superman. We’ve read that bit of information in multiple places, and we really don’t get that. He worked with what he had and he channeled his predecessor pretty well, in our opinion. It’s a shame that there hasn’t been another movie since 2006 because the world really does need Superman.

How we grade
We score the properties in three categories: Casting (or voice acting in the case of animated), plot and similarities to its source material. Each category receives points out of maximum of 10 per category, and 30 overall. The percentage is the final score.

Casting: 9/10
Plot: 9/10
Like the comics?: 7/10
Overall rating: 8

Comic property review: ‘X-Men’

Photo courtesy of XMenFilms.net | From left,  Patrick Stewart, Famke Jensen, Halle Berry, James Marsden and Hugh Jackman star in  “X-Men.”

Photo courtesy of XMenFilms.net | From left, Patrick Stewart, Famke Jensen, Halle Berry, James Marsden and Hugh Jackman star in “X-Men.”

X-Men

Twentieth Century Fox, 2000

Mutant peaceseekers find success in first of trilogy

If you get around some of the changes to the silver screen adaptation of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s merry band of mutants, you’re bound to find enjoyment in this film. If you can’t, expect to be frustrated.

The first film in the trilogy of films about Marvel’s homo sapien superiors deals with their fight for equality and peace. Thrown into the maelstrom is Charles Xavier and his self-named X-Men: Wolverine, Jean Grey, Cyclops, Storm, Rogue and Iceman. Hoping to thwart their cause is the other side of the mutant coin: The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Where Xavier and his merry band hope to instill peace and order, Magneto, Mystique, Sabretooth and Toad hope to bring chaos.

Now, all of this fighting between groups makes for excellent cinema and storytelling. Director Bryan Singer does a great job working with the source material and introducing the various powers of the mutants. With such a large cast, however, not everyone got their fair share of screen time. Halle Berry’s well-known quibble about Storm not having enough prominence (she is Gold Team leader after all, or was) carries weight when it boils down to it.

While we enjoyed the movie greatly, we do have a bone to pick with it. Iceman is the same age as Rogue? That’s really unbelievable. Neither were teenagers when they encountered each other in their stints with the X-Men, nor were they romantically involved at any time. Because there’s no Gambit, Rogue would be left dangling but it is more than a little weird trying to imagine that they would be in a relationship. Also, while Iceman was a teenager when he joined the crew, he was also one of the original X-Men. Technically, that would make him the same age as Jean and Scott, who are clearly adults in charge at Xavier’s Institute for Gifted Youngsters.

Aside from the head-scratching changes, the film is paced well and tells its story really well. The casting is superb and the acting is believable. We can picture these folks as X-Men from the comic if we had to go that far. And as a side note, Rebecca Romijn managed to make Mystique hot.

How we grade

We score the properties in three categories: Casting (or voice acting in the case of animated), plot and similarities to its source material. Each category receives points out of maximum of 10 per category, and 30 overall. The percentage is the final score.

Casting: 9

Plot: 8

Like the comics?: 7

Final score: 8