I’ve probably seen the original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” more than any other movie (granted, most of those viewings were from 1990-92). That film is a perfect blend of respect for the source material with mass appeal, and the three sequels – although they have their moments — don’t match its quality or heart. In a perfect world, Nickelodeon’s return to the saga – 2014’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (referred to here as “TMNT ’14”) – would tap into what worked in 1990, while adding untapped villains in cinematic debuts.
Sometimes comic-book yarns are just comic-book yarns, and can’t be molded into something bigger and better through technical mastery. We know this because of director Ang Lee’s “Hulk” (2003). Never before or since has such a basic, wide-audience screenplay been treated with such languid care in the performances, the special effects and the editing. Lee’s craftsmanship would’ve worked wonderfully on a thematically rich, complex narrative like, say, “Watchmen,” but when applied to the origin story of Bruce Banner/Hulk (Eric Bana), the result is slow and boring.
It’s hard to believe now, but in 1990, director Sam Raimi (the “Evil Dead” trilogy) couldn’t get any superhero property to let him make it into a movie, so he did something that’s largely foreign by today’s standards: He invented his own character. The titular hero of “Darkman” (1990) is inspired by the Invisible Man in look and attitude, but there’s a lot of originality and a do-it-yourself attitude to admire about this entry from the superhero genre’s pre-boom era.
Ilike the first three “Crows” probably more than I should based on their quality, but the fourth and last entry, “The Crow: Wicked Prayer” (2005) is indefensible. It goes wrong in nearly every way a movie can go wrong, despite starting from a strong foundation. A team of three writers (including Lance Mungia, who also directs) draws from Norman Partridge’s graphic novel, bringing the action from the city to the country. The desert Southwest imagery is good and Jamie Christopherson delivers a fitting woodwind-driven score.
The Crow: Salvation” (2000) is the third straight “Crow” film where I see objective filmmaking and storytelling problems, yet I still kind of like it. In fact, this one has the most coherent narrative so far, and for the first time it makes it clear – “clear” being a relative term – that the crow (as in the bird) is a familiar of the human Crow, and that the human Crow can also turn into a crow if need be.
Chronicle” (2012) is the only “found-footage” superhero movie, and it’s cool that it makes the attempt, but I can’t help but think it would’ve been better without the conceit. In “The Blair Witch Project” (1999), which popularized the style, kids document an investigation with a camera. In writer Max Landis’ and director Josh Trank’s “Chronicle,” I get the sense that Andrew (Dane DeHaan) and Casey (Ashley Hinshaw) videotape things because we wouldn’t have a movie otherwise.
Special” (2006) has the simplest of stories – Les (Michael Rapaport) participates in a clinical trial and finds that the pills give him superpowers – but has loads of great subtext. It’s 81 minutes long and couldn’t be a minute longer without running out of things to say, but in its short run time it touches on the everyday heroism of living, the individualized nature of reality, and perhaps mental illness — but perhaps societal illness too.
As a “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” fan in the 1990s, “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” annoyed me. My younger cousins shifted their allegiance from the suddenly uncool Turtles to the suddenly cool Power Rangers, apparently attracted by the colors and crystals. Being older and wiser, I recognized the more mature depth of “TMNT” and the fact that the Turtles likewise had color designations.
In retrospect, “The Dark Knight” (2008) perhaps didn’t need much of a promotional boost; it was one of those movies that came out at the right time, en route to box-office records. Nonetheless, it did have a neat little tie-in “movie,” the Eastern-style animated “Batman: Gotham Knight.” Much like “The Animatrix,” this is a series of short segments – six of them, totaling 75 minutes – that purports to flesh out the larger universe.
The origin story of Zorro (Antonio Banderas) is told in “The Mask of Zorro” (1998), and in sequel “The Legend of Zorro” (2005) wife Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones) wants him to hang up his sword, mask and hat for good. It seems like there should’ve been a series of films in between, but there weren’t. As Bruce at Hero Movie Podcast correctly points out, seven years is an awkward gap between original and sequel – you should ideally strike while the iron is hot (a couple years later) or wait till it heats up again (about 20 years later).