Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been around since the late 80s and the series has seen a number of films and TV show iterations over the decades that don't all follow one cohesive story-line. They originated in a somewhat dark comic book series which was later turned into a Saturday morning cartoon show that in hindsight was largely a plot to sell merchandise. The success of the show spawned three live action movies in the 90s. The first of which follows the original darker comic book plot-line and still holds up quite well.
If there is any recurring theme throughout the various shows or movies, it's that the Turtles are anti-heroes. They are not embraced by society, despite the fact that they only have good intentions. Society does not, can not, will not ever understand them. They are much like Batman in the sense that they do their work of cleaning up the city in the shadows. Unlike Batman, they can not remove their disguise and walk among the regular people unrecognized. They are mutants. They are different.
The first film is essentially about a rising crime-wave coinciding with the rise of a local underground street gang known as "The Foot." As the plot unfolds, we discover that the clan primarily consists of local punks and disaffected youth who have been drawn in by the dark influence of it's leader.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1991)
Like the Turtles, the punks and teens drawn into The Foot clan also feel like outsiders who are not accepted by society. They all seem to come from broken homes or possibly have abusive male "father figures" in their lives. These boys seek guidance and lacking that, they end up finding strength in a leader who promises the boys honor and power as he manipulates them into becoming his pawns. A leader who is a walking combination of Darth Vader and a chef at Benihana's, known as "The Shredder." The first film provides an interesting commentary on the dark direction young men can be easily swayed in to when lacking honorable role models, or seeking to escape from a toxic environment.
I haven't seen the Nikelodeon series, or the TMNT animated movie, so I can't speak to those. I primarily grew up watching the cartoon show and the movies in the 90s. The movies were entertaining enough at the time, but they always lacked a few key elements that those of us who grew up watching the cartoons and playing with the action figures wanted most. Who knew that Michael frigging Bay would be the person to give it to us?
I also never saw the first Ninja Turtles movie made by Michael Bay in 2014 and honestly never had any major urge to do so. However, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows found it's way onto my radar in 2016. I'm glad that it did, because it delivered it's way into my heart in under 30 minutes. Worthy of full price!
"I don't know what to do." says Leonardo. "Donny's nose is in his computer, Raph's brains are in his biceps, and Mikey's head's in the clouds. I can't get them all on the same page. To think with one mind." I thought this was a great moment in the film that captures the spirit of what teamwork is all about. "You shouldn't want them all to think the same." Master Splinter replies. "It's their different points of view that make the team strong. A good leader understands this."
"A good brother accepts it."
TMNT2: Out Of The Shadows (2016)
What made the movie so great? Well, mostly fan-service and nostalgia for
fan-boys like myself who loved the toys and the cartoons growing up. Who
knew that we would have to wait as many years as we did to finally see
major characters from the TV series in a live action film.
Yes, I'm talking
about Be-bop and Rocksteady. The Shredder's two primary henchman and
regular antagonists of the Turtles. I'm talking about Krang, the evil
brain warlord from Dimension X who utilizes Shredder as a means to warp
himself into the Earth dimension along with his Technodrome... yes, the mf-ing Techno-drome finally makes an appearance. Finally! FINALLY! I clapped in the movie theater at the end of the film. So did a few others. This film is not exactly an Oscar nominee in any category but for those of us who grew up watching the cartoons this movie finally delivered a true film adaptation of the cartoon series that many of us were so familiar with.
If you're a fan of the old cartoons and action figures, I highly recommend checking out TMNT2: Out Of The Shadows. If you're new to the Ninja Turtles and want to see what they are all about, I recommend either Out Of The Shadows for the cartoon and video game feel, or the original 1991 film for more of a comic book style adventure.