When the Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV series first premiered on Netflix in 2018, many believed that the newest rehashing of this franchise could be a successful addition to the modern era of TMNT media. While the TV series steps away from its predecessors in terms of its format and development, Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie completely takes the weaknesses of the show it built itself on and uses its time to develop the Turtles into a more mature and balanced team while creating terrifying stakes.
The movie’s plot centers around the imminent events of the Krang invasion after Casey Jones (Haley Joel Osment), a stranger from the future, returns to warn Leonardo (Ben Schwartz), Raphael (Omar Benson Miller), Michelangelo (Brandon Mychal Smith), and Donatello (Josh Brenner) of the impending future. While this plot may sound simple for a movie under a franchise such as the TMNT, the execution that this movie takes to tell its story is surprisingly that good considering the circumstances of the show left this iteration in a mixed place.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie completely reconstructs the team we’ve come to know and love in a mostly fresh and intense way. When you think of the Turtles, you already know that, while they have different personalities and traits, they’re still able to work together to defeat the villains and at the end of the day, celebrate with a pizza party. This movie takes a different route, using the team’s failure to stop the Foot Clan from Leonardo’s arrogance and pride as a base to create a needed emotional conflict. This conflict of the team dynamics and unity certainly has that feeling of depth in each scene this issue is brought up with the usual conversations of self-responsibility and peer-loathing, which is accompanied by the good, if a bit forceful, voice acting. You can certainly feel the tension building up over time and when those moments hit, it’s all the more heart-breaking (in a good way) to watch.
However, while this may be presented as a TMNT story, Rise is more of a Leonardo story. From the beginning, we’re focused on Leonardo’s point of view as the Krang invasion decimates the Earth and in most of the “present” scenes, this movie has its lens on growing Leonardo out of his contemptuousness and into relying on others instead of himself. Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello are somewhat sidelined in this film since the film relies on Leonardo’s development, though out of the three of them, Raphael contributes the most to this aspect as he believes that he has to make sure all of them are prepared for the worst or else it’ll be like he failed them. There’s a clear sense of caring that Leonardo and Raphael have for the rest of the team and it looks like the writers used this idea to establish that pravity.
Continuing on, this movie also does a good job with balancing its serious moments with its bits of comedy in between. A couple of quips are dropped in between the intensity of these action scenes, though it tones down near the end of the movie as it uses bits of meta comedy to counter the seriousness of the finale. One scene I’ll mention is the unification of the Turtles against the main Krang (Jim Pirri) where Leonardo mentions a poster shot after they’ve landed, though they’re interrupted by the big bad Krang. However, the overall comedy in this film fits well with the character dynamics and development here and doesn’t linger for too long as it is used for both action and non-action scenes. This aspect is greatly bolstered by the quickness of the comic-y animation styles in combination with other visual styles, which this movie benefits from a lot.
Besides these main aspects, Rise is still an amazing spectacle in regards to its visual styles in its characters, its setting, and its overall presentation. Each scene has its own magnitude, utilizing many different art styles to create diverse tones in this movie. One such scene, the backstory of the Key, does a good job using a combination of anime and east-Asian art styles to push the story forward while also providing a good visualization that left me in awe (props to Matías Bergara for working on this scene!) The final half of the movie, in addition to the beginning portion, is especially great in terms with its animation as the Krang invasion actually felt like a genuine threat to humanity, using multiple aspects from different areas of the city to show the chaos the Krang are causing. The final fight between Leonardo and the big Krang took the star for me though with each exchange having that amount of power behind each and every blow and as the fight continued into the prison dimension, it really blew me away.
However, while Rise does have its high points, it also has its lows, albeit not as bad. While Master Splinter’s (Eric Bauza) personality is lifted back from the show, the movie did a good job with reforming his character into something similar to his iteration from the 2012 TV series even if his character feels like the version we were given in 2018. This is definitely an upgrade to the character that some have been waiting for in this iteration of this universe and hopefully this can continue if this iteration does continue as well. Another aspect that felt weak was April (Kat Graham); while the voice performance was great, it feels like the movie didn’t do a lot with her and felt like it reserved her character for the last third for the movie, leaving her character only for that university portion, which didn’t feel like a lot. Together, both of these characters felt sidelined and didn’t have much to do and it would’ve been alright to give these two more time, but I’m alright with what was given since it is focused a lot on the main four.
Overall, this film does a great job with revitalizing what was left from the original Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Netflix show and brings a new life to “Turtle Power.” Hopefully, the team behind this movie can continue bringing good content from this version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles while also allowing its main cast to develop instead of limiting what can be done.