I’m marred with a slight embarrassment to still enjoy this film. I’ve considered the idea that it’s because of the nostalgia I feel when I watch it, but I’m convinced it is a good film for many reasons.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) is the first live action film based on the cartoon series. The unique story follows four turtles; Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, and Michelangelo, and a rat called Splinter. They are mutated into human hybrids. The sewer-dwellers are vigilantes who fight Shredder’s foot clan’s criminal control over New York.

The first thing I love is the setting – New York. You can feel the bustle of the city in the opening sequence. The quick-tempo, almost sinister music backgrounds the foot clan’s montage of crime. John Du Prez gets the music perfect throughout the film, especially the use of late-80s funk which provides an abundance of energy.

One of the first scenes show reporter April O’Neil come under attack by foot clan members. The scene is crying out for the introduction of the turtles to save her. Suddenly a Sai sword smashes the street light, causing total darkness, and allowing the ninja heroes to fight back for her. This is as cool as I thought it was when I was young enough to believe the turtles were real.

She is saved from trouble again by Raphael who takes her motionless body to the sewer for help. When she wakes up she thinks she’s dreaming:

April: Okay, those guys in the black pyjamas, they jumped me, and, and that rat… I saw *you* in the parking lot. That explains you. And you guys… [the turtles]
April: Um… I have no idea where you came from.
Splinter: It is really quite simple, Miss O’Neil.
April: And he knows my name… perfect.
Splinter: Fifteen years ago…
April: Why don’t I ever dream of Harrison Ford?

April befriends the turtles. Played by the modestly beautiful, Judith Hoag, she is an independent, career-driven woman, with a glowing warmth for her new friends. Conveying such a relationship with sci-fi characters who were not even present in some scenes reflects her acting ability. Nothing was lost in the translation of April from comic to film, apart from the yellow jumpsuit, regrettably.

Casey Jones is played by Elias Koteas (The Thin Red Line, Shutter Island). Casey did not feature in the cartoon series until his success in this film. He is another vigilante but inflicts punishment on antagonists with an array of sports bats and clubs, concealing his identity with a hockey mask. He would still be a novel character in 2011. I love the way he hides his weaknesses by emphasising how macho he is.

Donatello: You’re a claustrophobic.
Casey Jones: You want a fist in the mouth? I’ve never even looked at another guy.

I love the weight of the story to this film, which its sequels lack. The first element is Raphael’s anger issues, which reflect life for many people, especially as his morals are always in the right place. His reaction to the fact that it was his fault why Splinter gets kidnapped leaves him isolated and vulnerable, and results in April’s home being burnt down.

The turtles struggle with Splinter’s kidnap because their relationship is such an endearing one. This is resolved when they reach enlightenment on the spiritual quest Splinter had set them. Splinter also preaches to the foot clan about what being in a real family is like, appealing to their misled minds. This concept adds a dimension to the plot, appealing to a wider audience of those who value story over action.

The fight scenes do tire out, especially towards the end of the film. Although some fight sequences are funny, reminiscent of Jackie Chan, the annoying convention that the baddies don’t really fight back in PG films kills the suspense. However this is somewhat compromised by the way shredder dies – he gets crushed to an apparent death in a dump truck.

So despite being an action film, there are humour and sub-plots to take the onus off the slightly dubbed-down fight scenes. There’s the battle with anger issues, the sense of love and belonging, and even a romantic element as the love-hate relationship between April and Casey comes to a happily-predictable climax when the pair kiss.

I will continue to defend this film as the best comic-book adaptation ever, and a fine story.

About The Author

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Simon is a journalism tutor in London, who also just happens to be a movie fanatic, with a craving for the darker side of cinema. He has written three books - on the horror films of director Bob Clark (2014), the history of the character Norman Bates (2015) and the work of British exploitation director Pete Walker (2017). He is currently working with director Richard Loncraine to explore all avenues in a bid to orchestrate the re-release of 1978 Mia Farrow chiller Full Circle