(Photoshop credit to Francisco Pena)
Well, given how many remakes and reboots we keep seeing in the cinema these days, I figured it’s time to do some comparing. Welcome to Remake Showdown, where I compare two films, one the original and the other a remake or reboot, and see which is truly the superior film. Today’s entries are the two Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies that each start a different series.
Keep in mind, the categories I choose and the results are based on my opinion, and you can debate in the comments. That said, let’s begin! Warning: there will be spoilers ahead.
The Ninja Turtles:
Both films take interesting approaches to the Turtles themselves, and both films keep the basics of the four brothers while putting a unique spin on it. Design-wise, both movies approach each Turtle differently. In the 1990 film, the practical suits don’t stray far from the original Mirage Comics and classic cartoon look, but they each have a unique face and body (Leo’s being the most balanced in face and body, Raph having a semi-permanent scowl and more buff, Donnie with the more inquisitive face and taller design, and Mikey with the wide eyes and short build). The new film, however, chooses to really change it up. Not only are the now-CG’d Turtles now much bigger and muscular, each one has unique clothing and gear that says a lot about their personalities. Speaking of personalities, it varies for each one from film-to-film. Donatello is the smart one, but that doesn’t get as much play in the 90’s film, while the 2014 one uses the fact that he’s the smart a lot, especially in its climax. Michelangelo is hilarious in both movies, but in the new one the humor comes from him being a complete idiot, while the original not only had him make bad jokes, but also good jokes. We even get a moment where he blatantly uses his sense of humor to deflect from the concerns Donnie has about them one day losing Splinter. Raphael gets a lot of focus in both films, showing not only his constant anger and frustration at the world but also the fact that he deeply cares about all the members of his family. However, this feels more natural in the original, where the new one makes him come across like a thug at times. As for my favorite Turtle, Leonardo has his moments to shine in both films, but I find it more engaging in the 1990 version. There, while he does assume a leadership role, it’s obvious that it’s not by choice as much as necessity, whereas the new one just says “he’s the leader, so there.” In the original, he’s the first to spiritually connect with Splinter during the latter’s incarceration by the Foot, leading his brothers to the same level of spiritual awareness. In the climax, Leo’s the only one to land a hit on the Shredder. But the main thing is them as a group. The original makes good use of its middle part to have the Turtles on the farm while recovering, allowing us to get to know them. The new film, while heavy on action, doesn’t give us as much moments like that. As a result, I really have to give it to the original.
Winner: the 1990 film. Score= 1990:1, 2014:0
Part of what makes the TMNT interesting is their supporting cast, so let’s see how their friends rank in each version. A staple of the series has always been April O’Neil, serving as the first human friend the Turtles ever had. In both films, she serves that role well, but in different capacities. The 1990 film firmly sets her up as a support character, a way for the audience to get introduced to the Turtles and their story, and she does a great job at that, thanks to Judith Hoag’s performance. She maintains just enough presence to keep her interesting, but never steals a lot of focus from the guys and their story. Interestingly, the new film pushes April’s importance up a lot, making her a crucial part of their origin story now. I could have been more critical of that, but Megan Fox’s performance was actually decent, so it gets a pass. In both films April and the Turtles get a human man as an ally. The original gave us Casey Jones (played by Elias Koteas), and he is gloriously awesome in how crazy he can be, bouncing off of April and the Turtles really well. And the new one gives us Vernon Fenwick, played by Will Arnett with really great comedic skill. It’s hard to pick between them, as they both perform their roles in the stories really well. Normally, the deciding point here would be Splinter, but even that seems even. The original is a great use of puppetry and voice acting, giving Splinter both an aged wisdom and fatherly love. However, it doesn’t allow for much motion. The new film’s Splinter, while I question his ability to be a ninja (I don’t care, you can’t learn expert ninja skills from a book), is gloriously funny in how he interacts with his students. And I’m sorry, but the CG rat definitely has much better fight scenes than the original rat’s. This is a really tough one, so I’m going to have to give it a tie.
Winner: Tie. Score= 1990:2, 2014:1
No Ninja Turtle movie would be complete without the Foot Clan, and seriously, there’s no competition here. The 2014 Foot Clan are seriously the worst version I’ve seen in a while. While the original was populated with wayward kids, manipulated and used by the Shredder and giving them a sense of tragedy, the new one has a group of generic guys with no real memorable traits. While the original film’s version were ninjas and thieves, making them seem both fantastic and grounded, the new film’s take is more like a generic terrorist organization wearing stupid face masks and using guns, making them not fit as much as enemies for the Turtles to face. Then we have the lieutenants. The 1990 one has the film original character of Tatsu, who doesn’t talk much, but clearly conveys both a loyalty to the Shredder and a cruel disregard for the teens that he leads into battle. The 2014 one bring Karai from the comics in her live action debut… and I couldn’t tell you anything significant about her that makes her different from the other Foot members other than she’s unmasked, Asian and female. Given how big a deal Karai is in every other version of the Turtles that she’s appeared in, this is disappointing. Then we have William Fichtner’s character of Eric Saks, who probably is the most developed of the 2014 villains, which is surprising given that his main motivation is to get even richer. This is a sign of the rewrites the new film had, since Saks was originally announced as being the new version of the Shredder. Still rather weak as a major villain, but nowhere as disappointing as Shredder himself. In the 1990 film, he’s revealed as the murderer of Splinter’s master and owner, and established that he’s a cruel, evil man from the start. The way he manipulates the teen Foot ninja is both creepy and diabolical, and it just shows that while he doesn’t speak a lot, he still feels like a great villain with a clear motivation of being a crime lord. The new one… wears robotic armor… and wants to conquer the city because… it’s really not clear. Seriously, why was Shredder trying to conquer the city? I mean, I get how he was trying to do it, with the Foot Clan and the virus gas and all that… but what was his motivation? Seriously, for being made in a time where we try to get into every villain’s head and make their motivation make sense, the 2014 film dropped the ball. So the winner here is the original.
Winner: the 1990 film. Score= 1990:3, 2014:1
It’s the age-old question. Which is superior: practical effects or computer ones? The Jim Henson workshop did the effects on the original, combining great costumes, animatronic heads and puppetry for Splinter. The stunt work is amazing to note then, given how a lot of the Turtles’ actors are essentially blind while filming with their heads on. The new film was done by Industrial Light and Magic, utilizing motion-capture performance technology to generate the physical bodies of the Turtles, Splinter, and Shredder in his armored form. And while I always think practical effects have an advantage in that you at least know you’re looking at something that exists, I have to give credit to the 2014 film. Not only does it allow the actors playing the Turtles to move and express themselves clearly (resulting in less moments where it seems like someone missed their mark due to being blind in their costume like the 1990 film), but it allows for some really impressive stunt work and action sequences. So point goes to the new film.
Winner: the 2014 film. Score= 1990:3, 2014:2
Speaking of action, it’s one of the cornerstones of the TMNT franchise. After all, they are ninjas, and it’d help if they had some really good action sequences to showcase that. The original film has some really great action sequences, particularly the battle in April’s apartment building/antique shop, and the climax where the Turtles face the Foot from the sewers to the rooftops, culminating in their showdown with Shredder. The 1990 version also keeps the fighting more grounded in reality. The Turtles, while not human, aren’t super strong. It’s more a showcase of martial skill, and it’s more likely that a trained person could do the same moves as them. However, the aforementioned computer effects allow for some amazing action sequences, and the majority of the 2014 film is action-oriented. This gives us three really well-done sequences. First, the invasion of the Turtles’ lair by the Foot Clan, with the highlight being the first real major fight between Splinter and Shredder to be put on film. As a child, I was always looking forward to the moment Splinter showed off his mastery as a ninja, and the original film kept it short and sweet. But here, we get to see Splinter fight like a rat who knows martial arts as he brings down the Foot and takes on the now-robotically armored Shredder. Second, the chase/fight down the mountain with the Turtles. This an astonishingly well-made sequence, with the Turtles leaping, sliding and fighting against the Foot in their armored cars. It’s the major highlight of the movie and could not have been done before, due to technological limits. And finally, the extended climax with the Turtles facing Shredder. Every time you think it’s over, it ramps up even further, so when the good guys finally win you definitely feel like you got your money’s worth. While I love the original film’s fights, I have to give the new film another point. It definitely excelled in the action category.
Winner: the 2014 film. Score= 1990:3, 2014:3
We’re all tied up, which leads to our last category, and what I consider the most important, which is the story being told. The original movie made a conscious decision to adapt its story from the original Mirage comics that started it all, with little touches like the mask colors and pizza thrown in from the first cartoon series. The new film, perhaps wisely, chose to come up with its own story rather than rehash the plotline of the original. The results are a bit mixed. The 2014 film has some nice ideas, like how the Turtles’ origins tie in to April and the death of her father and the Shredder’s insane/not-well-explained plan, or the idea that Raph wants to leave and head out on his own, it never relents on the action enough to really explore those ideas. This is one of those moments where a lot of action hinders instead of helping the story. It often feels like the new movie is desperately trying to get to each action scene as fast as possible, and they lose a lot of opportunities to develop their characters. By using the comics as its baseline and guide, the original film has a much more focused plot, exploring the ideas of family, loss, and alienation. It knows when to let the plot and characters develop, and when to use its action to help that along. In the 2014 film, the Turtles don’t really change that much in the end from how they are in the beginning. The 1990 film? You see them grow and mature, going from four brothers who happen to be ninjas to a real team. In the end, the original film is a story of a family growing up and coming together in the face of adversity. While the new film is as entertaining as the original, it does not have the same amount of heart. Which is why, in this case, the original is better than the remake.
Winner: the 1990 film. Score= 1990:4, 2014:3
Remake Showdown Winner: The 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Agree? Disagree? Have a showdown to suggest. Leave a comment and we’ll see what shows up in the Showdown next time!