Paige Turco - April O'Neil
Elias Koteas - Casey Jones/ Whit
Mark Caso/ Brian Tochi - Leonardo
David Fraser/ Robbie Rist - Michelangelo
Jim Raposa/ Corey Feldman - Donatello
Matt Hill/ Tim Kellher - Raphael
Vivian Wu - Mitsu
Stuart Wilson - Walker
John Aylward - Niles
Sab Shimono - Lord Norinaga
Travis A. Moon - Yoshi
Henry Hayashi - Kenshin
Genre - Action/Adventure/Fantasy/Family/Martial Arts/Comic Books
Running Time - 96 Minutes
With the new Michael Bay produced TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (2014) being released in theaters in a few weeks, whether you like it or not, I decided to revisit the previous films as a way to catch up with these Heroes in a Half Shell. I've already reviewed the original 1990 film adaptation [still one of my favorites] and its first sequel [cheesy, but fun]. But I was really dreading reviewing today's subject: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES III from 1993.
Ugh, I think I may have seen this film only twice - the last time being in the mid-1990s. It's a film whose plot I barely remember other than it involved time travel to ancient Japan. It didn't grab, or appeal, to me like the previous two films had. Like many of my friends who had also seen it, we weren't really impressed by TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES III.
But I like to be a completist, so I decided to rewatch this sequel after about 18 years. I wanted to see if the film was as bad as I had remembered, or my thoughts were flawed due to me maturing away from the Turtles at the time and not seeing it for the fun film it actually is. Unfortunately, the film's quality wasn't due to my age, or how I felt about the franchise at the time. To be honest, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES III is a bad film that could have been decent if the producers actually gave a damn about their fanbase.
Before going on vacation, April O'Neil (Paige Turco) gives the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles gifts, while saving one for Splinter - a strange scepter. Back in 1603 Feudal Japan, a young son of a Japanese emperor (Henry Hayashi) reads an incantation on the same scepter, sending April back in time while sending him to the present. When the Turtles and Splinter realize what happened, the Turtles send themselves back to 1603 Japan to save April. Unfortunately, they find themselves considered demons within a civil war, as they must save a group of villagers against the Japanese Emperor Norinaga (Sab Shimono) and a British weapons dealer named Walker (Stuart Wilson).
Yeah, this is much better than having Dimension X, Krang, Slash, Rat King, or anything else from the franchise that made the Turtles popular!
I have three words for TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES III:
WHAT THE FUCK!?
It really pains me to put anything Turtles related into the WTF? Vault. But TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES III is a bad flick that could have been great if the right people were producing it. It's worse when the film actually has positive qualities that are slightly better than the second film in the series. But when you ignore the series' history and all of its characters to randomly do a cliche time travel story that doesn't add much to the franchise, what's the point? Why take this direction instead of giving fans something they're familiar with? I don't get it.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES III really fails in terms of its narrative. Now let me just say that I respect that writer-director Stuart Gillard wanted to do something really different from the previous two films. The first film was gritty and felt like a vigilante movie. The second film was more silly and colorful, reflecting more of the cartoon series. The third film is a bit darker than the second film, but feels more cartoonish than that same movie. And with no more Shredder around and the popularity of the Turtles In Time arcade game, that's still a favorite amongst Turtle fans, at the time, I can see why he and New Line would want to do a film like this. It's kind of ambitious and separates itself from anything before it. However, the execution is lazy and flawed, making it pointless at the end.
Instead of going to stories and characters that have already been established in the cartoon and comic book franchise, Gillard decided to send the Turtles back to Feudal Japan for whatever reason. Maybe the budget couldn't allow Gillard to bring Dimension X to life, or afford thousands of rats to make the Rat King epic. And did a pier falling on Super Shredder really kill him? You could have brought him back easily with Krang or something. Hell, judging by the automations of the Ninja Turtles in this installment, the limited budget probably was the reason why fans didn't get the film they wanted. And it's a shame because we're left with a really dumb time travel film that just makes itself look more stupid as the film rolls towards its conclusion.
I think my main issue with the story is that it's in-sequential. What's the point of this movie? Why are the Turtles going back in time? How does this effect their future? Will the events of the story lead into something potentially interesting in a future installment? TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES III is a pointless cash-in sequel for New Line Cinema to hold on to the rights of the franchise. It doesn't really tie into anything that has come before it, or will come after it. Even Casey Jones, who makes a nice return from the first film, does NOTHING here but babysit a bunch of time displaced Japanese warriors. That's the best you can do with the character? Having the same actor play a British dude in the past isn't the same as having him play an important role as Casey Jones. Jones was a highlight of the first film, and a favorite within the franchise. Treating him like he means nothing but fan service is lazy and a missed opportunity.
The Feudal Japan stuff has potential, but ends up feeling like a 90 minute television episode. It's nice to see the Turtles is a new situation, but the film never really does much with it besides the usual slapstick. The Yoshi kid is there for the younger fans to relate to, but he doesn't really do anything of note but make sure the film is longer than 30 minutes by keeping a key component away from the Turtles the entire time. The Mitsu character is the opposite of April O'Neil, in that she can battle and protect herself. But then, she suddenly becomes a damsel-in-distress herself towards the end to give the Turtles something to do. Kenshin is the villain's son, but we never really get time to establish their beef with each other and why Kenshin would use the sceptre. He's just there to change places with April - who by the way is kinda annoying and bitchy here. I guess this was supposed to be a tough April, like in the first film. But she was kind of grating at points.
And the villains are so lame, it's not even funny. Lord Norinaga is supposed to be a bad ass Japanese Emperor, considering how his citizens want to rebel against him. But he's pretty much the supporting character to the other villain, Walker, who's more in control in terms of the situation with the sceptre and the Turtles. By the film's end, Norinaga is just used as a comic relief villain who's nothing more than Walker's bitch. What a waste. As for Walker, he's a much better character. He wants to sell guns to the Japanese so they can win their wars, in order to gain some sort of influence over the nation in the form of commercial imperialism. He has certain spies in the form of heroes in the film that are revealed in the final act. Walker seems to have a plan and just commands a presence that makes him unlikeable. Is he as good as Shredder? No, not even close. But at least I found him as some sort of threat unlike Norinaga. But he's honestly no match for the Turtles, who he considers demons - and he's afraid of them.
As for the Turtles, I do like how they're used in the film. They get to use their trademark weapons again, which was an issue in the second film [parents had complained about the violence in the first], so that was nice to see. Leonardo gets to have a decent sword clash with Norinaga in the final act, which I dug. Him being knowledgeable about swords and weapons was pretty great too. Donatello is still the genius, which he greatly puts to use in the film. He understands the time travel stuff, making him the anchor amongst the protagonists. Raphael grows up a bit here, still displaying his temper at times, but softens when it comes to Yoshi. He grows fond of this kid, telling him to keep his anger in check and just have fun, which shows how much he has matured since the first. Michelangelo is still the silly one, but shows how lonely he is when he wants to stay in the past because he feels more accepted there. Even though the Turtles were loved in the second film, this character shift is a bit strange here. But at least it made Michelangelo more dimensional, which was nice.
But in the end, the narrative is pretty pointless because it doesn't change anything. Nothing is really added and nothing is really subtracted. Sure, there's a happy ending, but we don't know if the same ending would have happened even if the Turtles hadn't went back in time. And why these characters? Sure, I'm glad the producers want to move away from Shredder and the Foot Clan. That's great. But you have so many great antagonists already established within the franchise. Where's Baxter Stockman? Rat King? Krang? Leatherhead? Hell, Usagi Yojimbo would have been cool. It's pretty disapponting because there are so many storylines that could have been adapted to the big screen that would have pleased fans of the series. Yet, they went with a typical time travel story that doesn't do much for anything that has been established before, nor will it change anything that will happen after. What a shame.
The bad one liners, that refer to pop culture, do the film no favors as well. Not only do they date the film tremendously, but they aren't funny either.
The special effects in TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES III are iffy at best. Unlike the last two films, the automations of the Turtles and Splinter were not done by the Jim Henson's Creature Company. And you can definitely tell the difference. It's not to say the mechanisms are terrible. I think they're a lot better than that Next Mutation show from the late 1990s. But their mouths moves out of sync most of time, and their eyes look like they belong to a Furby than a Turtle. And what happened with Splinter's lower half of his body? I don't think he even had one. He was always hiding behind objects the entire time. It's a shame because the first two films had such high quality automations. The third film has decent ones, but the difference is jarring at times.
The direction by Stuart Gillard is pretty mixed. The cinematography is really the film's saving grace, visually. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES III is a great looking film, with some nice period costumes that look legit, and scenery that really makes you think they're in Feudal Japan. The colors are nice and the framing is crisp. Other than that, the film doesn't have much style or substance going for it. Even the fight scenes seem dull and uninspiring at times. It's a shame because a time travel story should feel and look more epic. Gillard doesn't do that.
The acting is the best part of this sequel. The voice actors are all great, including a returning Corey Feldman [who skipped the second film] as Donatello. Paige Turco, while annoying at times in terms of how her character is written, does better this go around as April O'Neil, bringing back the spunk that Judith Hoag has given us in the first film. Elias Koteas is the best actor as both Casey Jones [which he's there for fan service] and the British Whit. Koteas has always been one of my favorite character actors, and he's giving it his all here. I also liked Stuart Wilson as Walker as well, playing a slimy villain well. The rest are fine in their roles. It's a shame they weren't in a better film than this.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE TIME TRAVELING TO 1993 TO STOP THIS FILM FROM BEING PRODUCED
- When she teleported through the ancient Japanese scepter, April O'Neil had switched with Kenshin, who had read an inscription in his time. 1993 was real progressive and ahead of its time when it came to sex changes.
- Walker wanted April to shrink him to prove that she was a witch. Cold water usually does the trick.
- "Dung is used as a fuel source." Must explain how this film was produced.
- April was stuck to a tree when her sleeve was stuck via arrow. Hopefully she uses birth control, since it's obvious she doesn't understand the concept of "pulling out".
- Michelangelo had to save Yoshi from a burning shack. Mario and Luigi are great plumbers, but terrible babysitters.
- "Turtles - it's not just a job. It's an adventure." Blogging about this film is just a job. Oy.
- Witt is paid to lie, cheat, and steal. Viva la raza?
THE FINAL HOWL
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES III is a total disappointment of a sequel. The story is just lazy and eventually pointless, as our heroes go back in time to face characters hardcore fans will not recognize. I respect wanting to do something new, but it's disappointing not seeing a villain fans would have been anticipating other than Shredder. The one-liners are terrible. The fight sequences are uninspired. And the automations for the Turtles and eventually Splinter are just jarring and inferior to anything that came before it. I get the producers wanted to cater this film for the widest possible audience. But it just turns the audience away. If it wasn't for the beautiful picture quality and the acting, this film would be a complete bomb. Fans have, or will, check this out regardless. But they, and everyone else, should just stick with the first two and skip the third. It's just not worth the trouble going back in time for.