3) TMNT vs Shredder
- All four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who you’ve already had the rundown on twice.
- Splinter, their recently-freed master. He plays a small but critical role here. Voiced by Kevin Clash, who would later go on to be more famous as Sesame Street’s Elmo and also for allegedly having sex with underage teen boys.
- Armed with: He comes with nothing, but he recovers and uses Michelangelo’s one of discarded nunchaku.
- The Shredder, aka Oroku Saki. Master ninja, the leader of the Foot Clan, and former rival to/murderer of Splinter’s former owner Hamato Yoshi. Great taste in clothing. Played by James Saito and voiced by David McCharen.
- Armed with: A “yari,”– a metal staff that’s sharp on both ends (maybe he’s a Lord of the Flies fan). His wrists, shin guards and shoulder pads are covered in scary-looking spikes but those never really come into play.
The Setup: Picking up exactly where we left off last time, the turtles take out the last of the Foot chumps when Shredder leaps out in slow motion, telling them their time has come.
As an aside, I must say I remain impressed even today at this movie’s commitment to translating the Shredder of the comics/cartoon in a way that’s faithful while still remaining relatively believable. The Shredder’s outfit is garish & impractical– in real life if you saw this guy walking down the street, you’d laugh– yet director Steve Barron always shoots him with an air of intimidating theatricality; he’s usually accompanied by pounding drums and a mean guitar riff, and of course McCharen’s booming voice doesn’t hurt. The movie actually does a pretty good job of selling Shredder as the Darth Vader of ninjas.
In another nice touch, the boys still react flippantly to Shredder, because (as it’s easy to forget) they have NO idea who he is, or even of his existence. They’ve had an arch-nemesis this whole time and they didn’t even know it.
The Fight: Of course they clue in pretty quickly that he’s the big cheese, because the first couple passes they make at him (one at a time, inexplicably) end with them being clearly outclassed. There’s a fun little moment before a cutaway where after Raph and Leo have been quickly dispatched, the two less action-thirsty turtles have a quick paper-rock-scissors match to see whose turn it will be to fight him; the mood quickly changes from “who gets to fight him next” to “who HAS to fight him next.”
After a brief scene of Casey, Danny, and Pippi Shortstocking arriving at the streets below with a whole gang of confused proto-Foot hoodlums in tow, when we shift back to the rooftop battle the four turtles are huddling together. Mike jokingly tries to talk tactics (“At exactly what point did we lose control here?”) and all four are panting hard, giving the impression of a drawn-out battle. When they figure out that their opponent must be the main villain and therefore knows what happened to Splinter, they set off after him with renewed determination.
The previously discussed issue of what to do with bladed weapons in a kid’s movie is more acute in this scene, since it’s hard not to notice just how many chances Shredder, considering his many sharp implements, has to kill the turtles which he completely passes up. It’s possible that he’s intentionally dragging out the fight as this is likely the closest thing to a challenge he’s had in years. But there’s only so many times you can see a guy use his double-edged spear to non-lethally flip, trip or bonk his opponents before you stop taking him seriously as a hardened killer.
Another cut back to Casey discovering that Splinter’s disappeared and then finishing off some leftover Foot stragglers (which gets the dump truck into position for later). When we return, the fight is even more intense, and Leo’s latest round in particular makes Shredder work for it: the villain ends up downing him just as before, but is visibly pained at the arm slice he received in the process. Perhaps realizing he can’t string these kids out for much longer, Shredder sinisterly implies that he killed their adoptive rat dad (neither he nor the turtles realize that Splinter is within spitting distance), and takes advantage of Leonardo’s blind rage to floor the poor kid and hold him at spear point. He gets the rest of the boys to toss their weapons over the roof (we see Mike’s chain sticks inadvertently catch on a ladder), but then he goes back on his unstated promise to release Leo in exchange for their disarming. Bad form!
Fortunately, the unexpected arrival of Splinter grants Leo a stay of execution. The rodent master unnerves Shredder with a monologue full of information the audience already knows: this old rat who resisted Shredder’s torture for interrogation for weeks is the same creature who scarred Oroku Saki for life many years ago. Removing his face plate to reveal the permanent claw marks, Shredder charges at Splinter in a blind fury, which the rat calmly turns aside using Mike’s discarded nunchaku. He briefly keeps Shredder from succumbing to the multi-story drop but Shredder, ever treacherous, throws a knife at Splinter… which only makes the latter lose his grip on Saki as he effortlessly catches the blade. The villain takes a painful-looking fall into the back of the garbage truck, and even if it wasn’t fatal Casey ensures it is, by “accidentally” pulling the lever that activates the hydraulic press (Koteas’ purposefully hammy “OOPS!” is one of the all-time great Single Word Line Deliveries, right up there with Bill Murray’s baptism scene in Ed Wood). There’s blood stains and everything. Death without honor, indeed.
A lot to like here. For once in the movie the heroes aren’t facing off against a bunch of punching bags whose only advantage is numbers; they fight a losing battle here because the Shredder is just that good, and believably so. Good, but not invincible, as his penultimate tussle with Leo proves. And I hate to sound like a broken record about how difficult it must have been to do martial arts in those Muppet suits, but anybody who can make four guys in giant foam turtle outfits fighting a spiky glittering supervillain actually look more thrilling than silly… well, that guy’s a miracle worker, far as I’m concerned.
It may be slightly disappointing that when Shredder is finished, the turtles end up as spectators in their own fight scene, but when you think about it, it’s really Splinter’s score to settle– he’s the one who permanently lost family to the Shredder’s evil, not to mention those weeks he spent being chained up and beaten. Still, kinda silly that Shredder takes such a furious running charge at a guy standing on the edge of a roof– is he really THAT mad about his old mouth scratch? Ninja please, get over it.
In conclusion: Cowabunga.
Recommended Links: Ooh, I really shouldn’t have said “ninja” all those times. It’s not MY word.
Coming Attractions: What’s the word for something that’s not credible?