As if TMNT wasn’t an unwieldy enough acronym, now we have ROTTMNT:TM, which does not translate to Rotten Mint Time: The Movie, although that might be fun, but rather, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie, now on Netflix. Inventory: Rise was the fourth animated TMNT TV series that ran from 2018-2020, and updated the anthropomorphic reptiles for “today’s kids,” who, judging from the series, want things to be louder and faster than the loud, fast things previous generations enjoyed. It’s the first TMNT film since 2016’s live-action crudfest TMNT: Out of the Shadows, and the first animated film since 2007’s Movie We Forgot Existed, TMNT. Rise: The Movie is a continuation of the series’ story, tone and angular, anime-inspired 2-D visual style, hotly anticipated by, uh, the apparently too-small-to-keep-the-show-from-being-axed audience who watched it in not-big-enough droves. Now let’s see if it can justify its own existence.
The Gist: DATELINE: THE FUTURE. It’s 2044. Hell is on Earth so that means the Republicans won rimshot! Or, slightly less worse, aliens from another dimension showed up and turned the planet into a bubblegum-pink wasteland, I assume only habitable only by microscopic parasites and Ted Cruz clones, assuming you can tell them apart. The aliens are called Krangs and our intrepid Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, presumably no longer teenagers, assuming the passage of time affects them, and it might not, who knows, their being mutants and all, are trying to stop them. It’s not working. Leonardo (Ben Schwartz) is the “world’s greatest ninja,” which isn’t saying much considering the state of the world’s population, and Michelangelo (Brandon Mychal Smith), once a blibbering dorkwad, is now a grand mystical wizard with a skullet. The only hope for saving the world is, obviously, opening a time portal and sending their buddy Casey Jones (Haley Joel Osment!), a fighter-guy with a hockey mask and stick adorned with a chainsaw, 20 years into the past to find a doohickey and prevent the Krangs from getting that doohickey, and therefore stopping the whole Krang thing from happening.
So that’s the main plot. In 2022, it’s been two years since Nickelodeon canceled Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, because that’s how math works. The turtle boys now have mystical powers, and god please don’t ask me what they are, because it requires making sense of one of the movie’s many manically hyperventilating action sequences. So they’re different, is what I’m saying, but not so different that you won’t recognize them as the pizza-scarfing goof warriors we’ve known and loved since, like, 1986? It’s called integrity – brand integrity. Such integrity, the whole mystical-powers thing is dropped so we don’t see them doing anything too differently either. Namely, their actions, which are as violent as ever. Always with the violence. No Ninja Turtle-related conflict will ever be resolved with diplomacy. No compromising. No agreeing to disagree. Just kicking, punching, slashing, walloping, blasting, stabbing, crashing, explodifying and yelling. Loud, violent yelling. You’ll be riding the kids to ride that damn volume knob, but you’d be foolish to expect anything else.
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: The plot cribs heavily from The Terminator, so go ahead, call it The Turtleminator, I don’t mind at all. It boasts shades of Marvel stuff and Ghostbusters, too. But if ROTTMNT:TM robs anything shamelessly, it’s the rapid-fire snarkwit tone of Teen Titans Go!.
Performance Worth Watching: The turtles’ rat father figure Master Splinter (Eric Bauza) wants those damn jabbering kids to quiet down so he can watch his stories, and we’re all there for him, aren’t we? (And he gets the best one-liners.)
Memorable Dialogue: Splinter gets critical of the big bad evil bad guy who acts bad for its own sake: “This psycho routine is wearing thin. Where’s the character development?”
Sex and Skin: None.
Our Take: This right here is 82 minutes of WHATEVS. Vividly colorful, more-than-occasionally but less-than-frequently funny, reasonably entertaining WHATEVS, but it’s WHATEVS nonetheless. There’s a villain who looks like SpongeBob antagonist Plankton with a Trump wig, mutants who mutate atop their already established mutations, and endlessly bloviating tentacled-brain creatures who look like Kang and Kodos on acid, and I mean, like, literal acid, as in hydrochloric, dumped on top of them until they’re all pink and melty. The general aesthetic of the movie makes normal hyperbole sound like a mouse farting under a pillowtop mattress, and sometimes made me wish I was under a general anesthetic.
I can’t say it’s uninspired, but I can say it feels like it never ever f—ing stops. It’s an endless pummeling. Gags and action, gags and action, gags and action, lasers and color and explosions and movement. (I forgot to put a verb in that sentence.) (Do I need a verb?) (I probably don’t need a verb.) At one point, a turtle says, “Shouldn’t we talk about this before we run off all half-cocked willy-nilly pell-mell?” and that’s the movie’s most egregiously self-aware joke. Heck, that’s the movie’s hardcore baked-in philosophy – and maybe we should appreciate the irony here, that bringing such a lunatic philosophy to life ain’t easy to do, and is a notable technical achievement, even if it’ll never win an Emmy or Oscar. Still can barely make heads or tails of it all, though. Did I mention the other two turtles, Donatello (Josh Brener) and Raphael (Omar Benson Miller)? Does it matter? Hell and jesus cheese on a cracker god no, it doesn’t. But I have to fit it in somewhere.
Our Call: It’s no Secret of the Ooze but what is? Go ahead, STREAM IT, knock yourself out, if it doesn’t do it first.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com.
Stream Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie on Netflix