Japan 1603, a masked man is seen fighting four samurai on horseback. The samurai eventually defeat the masked man by knocking his katana sword out of his hand and capture him. As the samurai ride off with the man he yells “Mitsu!” just as a mysterious woman emerges from the underbrush. As the samurai ride off with the man one of them takes his sword which had gotten jabbed in a tree.
Fast forward to present day Manhattan (1993). As the samurai on horse back takes the sword the scene switches to a speeding subway train. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are dancing to ZZ Top and each shows his fighting style, in the abandoned subway station which they have made their home. As the dance ends, Raphael throws a sai into the speaker, frustrated that no one appreciates the Turtles or sees what they do. He is contradicted by the arrival of April O’Neil, who has been shopping at a flea market in preparation for her upcoming vacation and brings her friends gifts to cheer them up. Michelangelo is given a colorful lampshade, Donatello is given an old radio, Leonardo is given a book on historical swords and Raphael is to receive a new fedora hat. However, having stormed off earlier, he never formally receives it.
For Splinter, April brings an ancient Japanese scepter. This is possibly a reference to the “Sacred Sands of Time Scepter” featured in the original Eastman and Laird’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic series and the crossover story featuring Dave Sim’s Cerebus character.
In feudal Japan, the man who was taken, Kenshin, is reproached for committing disgrace by his father, Daimyo Norinaga. Angry at the latter, Kenshin leaves his father’s presence and drives priests out of a temple. There, he finds the same scepter and reads the inscription on its handle: “Open Wide the Gates of Time”. Before Kenshin leaves, a British weapons-trader called Walker is introduced, along with his thug Niles.
In the twentieth century, April is looking at the scepter when it begins to emit light and a small device inside its lamp-like crown begins to spin. She is then sent to Kenshin’s time and place, and he to hers, exchanging clothes. Upon arrival, April is captured by the Daimyo’s soldiers. Lord Noringa blaming her for Kenshin’s disappearance, imprisons her.
The Turtles become friends with Kenshin and decide to travel back in time to retrieve April. They invite Casey Jones to watch over Splinter, then embark, warned by Donatello’s calculation that they have only 60 hours wherein to complete the rescue before the scepter ceases to enable time travel due to the time-space continuum being out of sync. Having been sent to Japan in exchange for Daimyo Norinaga’s Honor Guards, the Turtles arrive mounted on horses in the midst of a battle. Michelangelo, who is sitting backward on his horse, is separated from his brothers and captured by outlaws. The scepter goes with him and is ultimately seized by an unseen character. The other Turtles search for April. When they reach Norinaga’s fortress, presumably by infiltrating his army, they are quickly mistaken for Honor Guards, though they escape from the prospect of facing the Daimyo. They then follow Walker’s men to the prison and discover April.
There, the Turtles drive out Walker’s assistants, intimidate the jailer, and free April. They leave through a garbage-disposal chute. Escaping behind them is an Englishman called Whit, who is said to have rebelled against Walker, and who bears a strong physical resemblance to Casey (both parts are played by Elias Koteas).
In 20th-century New York, Kenshin is becoming impatient and worried. To placate them, Casey introduces him, and the Honor Guards, to ice hockey. However, this plan comically goes awry when the Guards believe that hockey consists of players beating one another.
An attack on the Turtles, who were again mistaken for the Honor Guards, leads them to Mitsu, leader of the rebellion against Lord Norinaga. Mitsu is a young, beautiful, courageous, and determined woman who intends first to overthrow the Daimyo and later to marry Kenshin so as to prevent another war. It is she who has imprisoned Michelangelo. Mitsu’s village is under attack by Walker and his men, who are searching for the scepter; therefore the Turtles rush to intervene. Michelangelo is released by two of Walker’s men, who think to earn a reward by restoring one of the Honor Guards confirmed as absent. Having seen his face and heard him speak, they plant the rumor among their partners that a demon is in the vicinity. When confronted by Michelangelo, the other Turtles, and Mitsu’s people, Walker flees. Michelangelo saves a boy named Yoshi from a fire, whereupon Leonardo revives the nearly dead child by means of CPR, for which the grateful villagers allow them to stay. Anguished by the loss of the scepter, the Turtles commission a local blacksmith to make a new one.
Walker uses the presence of the Turtles as an excuse to raise the price of guns sold by him to the Daimyo, arguing that the threat posed by demons is greater than the threat posed only by men. Norinaga, during the same conversation, reveals a legend stating that four kappa resembling the Turtles, had vanquished his ancestors, and suggests that they have returned to disgrace him. Although he initially refuses to pay more for the guns than the price originally set, he agrees later. Walker shows himself, in these interactions, to be greedy, manipulative, and without compassion.
Michelangelo tries to teach the village cooks to make pizza, but produces an inedible result. In a later scene, it is shown that he is apparently attracted emotionally to Mitsu; he learns that she wishes to marry Kenshin and reassures her that Kenshin will return when the Turtles have departed. Raphael, meanwhile, fulfills his potential patience and gentleness through the child Yoshi, whose name links him through an unclear means to Splinter’s mentor. He becomes very fond of this child and eventually considers him a younger brother.
A new scepter is completed, only to be broken by Michelangelo and Raphael during an argument over whether or not to stay. Mitsu then informs them that Lord Norinaga has guns and will attack the next day. Yoshi, fearing Raphael’s death, gives him the original scepter, which he (having apparently been its unseen captor earlier in the film) had hidden under the house where he lives. They are overjoyed to see it, but resent Mitsu for concealing it in order to force them to fight in the war. Mitsu is then kidnapped by Whit, who takes Mitsu and the scepter to Walker.
The Turtles set out to rescue Mitsu. In the process, they learn of the legend that has caused the Daimyo to fear them, regain confidence in themselves, and free many of those imprisoned, leading to a massive battle in the courtyard of Norinaga’s palace between the rebels and the daimyo’s army. Leonardo defeats Lord Norinaga in a sword duel, comically finishing him by cutting his hair (a disgrace to his status as a samurai), and then trapping him inside of a bell.
Walker, at the end of the battle captures April and threatens to kill her. His soldiers then take control of the battlefield, armed with guns. He orders the Turtles to be shot, whereupon Leonardo bluffs by drawing upon the belief (held insistently by Walker’s superstitious men) that he and his brothers are demons, saying that any bullets shot at them will ricochet and kill their senders. Baited by Leonardo to take the shot himself, Walker shoots at them with a cannon, but misses when Leonardo instinctively pulls his head into his shell. April and Whit, also targeted by the cannon (Whit having spoken against Walker’s order), duck their own heads to dodge the shot. The cannonball collides with the bell, freeing the shocked but largely unscathed Daimyo.
Walker’s soldiers are routed and he himself runs away. He obtains the scepter and a cage containing pet birds from his room, then climbs over the roof of the palace to a high point overlooking the ocean. He is there cornered by the Turtles. To distract them while escaping himself, Walker throws the scepter overhead and begins climbing down a scaffold. The Turtles form a chain with their bodies, holding onto a wall or fence at one end and catching the scepter at the other. Walker, realizing that he has forgotten his birds again, returns to retrieve them, whereupon Whit, realizing that his name is “lower than scum” in the eyes of the desirable April, uses a catapult to kill Walker by knocking him to his death in the ocean.
The Turtles then debate whether or not to go home, wishing to remain on grounds that they are appreciated and respected in feudal Japan, unlike 20th-century New York City where they must hide underground to avoid being targets of human xenophobia. Mitsu urges them to go, so that she may have Kenshin return to her, and makes a parting well-wish to Michelangelo, of whose soft spot for her she is aware and by which she is flattered. The scepter then activates, making their decision urgent. In New York City of the late twentieth century, Kenshin has activated it in his impatience to go home. Splinter counsels him not to abandon the Honor Guards, on the grounds that such an act would be cowardly. Casey gathers the Honor Guards, who have become infatuated with the trappings of their host society, and organizes their return to feudal Japan.
The Turtles ultimately decide to go home, based on the argument that their presence interferes negatively with the lives of the people of feudal Japan. Raphael bids Yoshi an affectionate farewell. As a result of his procrastination, Michelangelo fails to join April and his brothers. When they have returned to their native time, the Honor Guard who had replaced Michelangelo runs away, carrying the scepter. As he exits the Turtles’ den, the scepter activates, exchanging him for Michelangelo. Simultaneously, its powers of time travel (symbolized by the rotating device at its head) are destroyed. In Japan, Norinaga is taken prisoner and brought before Mitsu and Kenshin. He is surprised to see them both together, and more surprised to see his Honor Guard walk through the corridor, half naked and talking incoherently about anachronisms. When he has gone, having spoken no word but clearly shown his submission, Kenshin seizes Mitsu in imitation of a poster he had seen in the Turtles’ home and kisses her on the lips. Norinaga, presumably is reconciled with his son.
Michelangelo, perhaps thinking on the preceding scene, is depressed until Splinter puts the afore-mentioned lampshade on his (Splinter’s) head as a joke, whereupon both laugh. The film ends with another dance sequence by the Turtles.
I’m not going to beat around the bush here. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III severely disappointed me. There is a level of excellence that the first two films established and this one just trampled all over that legacy, and ended the turtles big screen experience until TMNT.
First of all, I’m a little mixed on the plot. I mean on the one hand, it is something different, in that the first two films were street gangs working for Shredder, whereas this one is feudal Japan warriors and some sci-fi time travelling stuff. However, the story is not written well. I applaud them for coming up with a new concept for the plot, but the writer’s dropped the ball on this one. This seemed like it was a bad episode of the cartoon brought to life.
Character design was atrocious this time around. In all three films, they have been working to get things just right. In my opinion, though, they’ve gotten worse since the first. The turtles have spots? WTF?!? Where did those come from? Also, what as up with the teeth? To make things worse, they all look like rejects from a Chuck E. Cheese show, Splinter more than any of them. How can anyone screw something up this bad? The only worse design would be the nipples on the Bat-Suit!
The turtles personalities are a bit much. In the first film, they were more subdued, the second they let go a bit more, but still subtle. This time, though, it was like they couldn’t shut up. The only one who should be running his mouth that much is Michaelangelo. There is absolutely no need for Raphael, Donatello, and especially Leonardo to be cracking wise with almost every line that comes out of their mouths.
Paige Turco returns as April O’Neal, but the bigger news is the return of Eliaas Koteas as Casey Jones. Where he was in the second film I don’t know. For some reason, they felt he wasn’t important enough to be included in the second, but brought him back for a dual role in the third. Problem with that is that he doesn’t really do anything with either role, so you have to sit back, scratch your head and wonder why?
At least in this one the fighting scenes are actual fighting scenes and not just fancy prop work, like in the previous film. Some critics have said there weren’t enough of them. I’m not sure I agree or disagree with them on that, but one thing is for sure, if you’re going to bother making a movie about the turtles, why would you not want them fighting as much as you could?
The whole time travelling aspect was cool, but at the same time, it was confusing. I mean, you can only go back or forth in time if someone who weighs the same as you is near the scepter. It made no sense! That has to be the stupidest time travelling addendum I’ve ever heard of!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III is a huge letdown from its predecessors. I can’t even fathom how this was even made. As I said, it seems like it was meant to just be an episode of the cartoon, a bad one at that. In good conscience, I can’t recommend this to anyone unless you just want to see all the turtles’ films. Otherwise, you’d do best to skip it and go straight to TMNT.
2 out of 5 stars