Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison.
In this special Threequel Weekquel Edition, I’ll be looking at the bizarre tendency of film franchises to feature time travel in the third installment, despite the original containing nothing of the sort. Is it a logical next step for each series, or just an attention-grabbing gimmick to draw audiences back in? Do the filmmakers even understand their own rules? And does introducing time travel help the franchise or hurt it?
Warning: As each film this week is part of a series, it’s going to get extra spoiler-y. You’ve been warned.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES III (1993)
PREVIOUSLY ON TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: Turtles. A rat. Some ooze. They fight crime now. Pizza. Foot Clan. April O’Neil. Shredder. Casey Jones. Garbage truck. Techno Global Research Industries. Shredder again. Tokka and Rahzar instead of Bebop and Rocksteady. Vanilla Ice. Super-Shredder. Super-Shredder punching a dock to death in pretty much the dumbest villain defeat ever. Everybody up to speed?
WHAT DOES TIME TRAVEL BRING TO THE TABLE? Out of all the movies on my Threequel Weekquel list, this is the one where I can hear the writers saying, “I dunno… time travel?” the loudest. I guess there’s precedent in one of the games and probably some episodes of the cartoon that I don’t care about looking up, but for the most part, I think they just needed a new setting for the turtles to do more goofy bullshit in.
Hmm, this choreographed dance is missing something… ah! Feudal Japan, of course!
To be fair, if you’re gonna send mutated turtle teenagers through time, you might as well show them the origins of their ninja hobbies instead of, say, the Old West or Prohibition. So good job on that, I guess, movie.
Aaaaand the compliments end there.
Long story short, it’s another “gotta go rescue April” outing, only this time she’s trapped in 1603 instead of, I don’t know, a warehouse? I never watched Ninja Turtles. Is that the one where the dinosaurs transform into the Statue of Liberty?
DO THE FILMMAKERS EVEN UNDERSTAND TIME TRAVEL? Holy balls. This movie is fairly light on the paradoxes, yet still manages to make no goddamned sense. For starters, the method of time travel is this weird scepter-lamp-thing that April finds at a flea market. Now stay with me: if you are holding the scepter-lamp-thing and someone of the same weight was holding the other scepter-lamp-thing at another time, you switch places with them but your clothes stay in the same time. Did we lose anybody in all that nonsense?
Luckily, April goes butch on her days off.
This means that when April O’Neil (Paige Turco) gets swapped with a Japanese prince named Kenshin (Henry Hayashi), he is so totally wearing her bra and panties and the film never explores his reaction to this.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that April was freelipping.
Hold on, it gets dumber from here. You see a scepter-lamp-thing like that and you think “magic bullshit time travel,” right? Wrong. Whichever turtle is the Reed Richards of the group scans it into his wonder computer and figures out exactly how it functions, including the weight requirements and the fact that it only works for 60 hours (???). Also, he learns how to build one. Yeah. No enchanted jewels or ghost farts required. He just… builds one.
Analysis of time travel devices from feudal Japan? Yes. Spellcheck? No.
Oh, also, there’s an old scroll in the temple that tells of a time when the turtles’ ancestors visited once before. “Cute,” I thought, “something will screw up with the time travel at the end and they’ll go back before they initially arrived.” Nope. No fucking explanation. I guess the ooze is just really old.
The prophecy speaks of a flat, cheese-topped bread from Naples…
And to top it off, one of the turtles asks a question that I will never understand any character asking in any time travel story: “Wait, if we die here in the past, does that mean that we don’t get born in the future?” AAAAARRRGGGHHH.
DOES TIME TRAVEL DESTROY THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE? Yeah, this is where the movie really screwed up. If a damn turtle can build a scepter-lamp-thing, what’s to stop any scientist from doing the same? Time travel apparently ain’t no thing in the Turtlesverse. I expect to see an army of fifty Time-Shredders warping to the past and murdering every sewer turtle they can find.
Purple Turtle is the only one who understands the gravity of the situation.
I understand; I’m not the target audience for this movie. Still, ugh. Nothing about it struck me as particularly clever or entertaining. It’s a scienced-up rescue mission, nothing more. Oh, except for Casey Jones (Elias Koteas) hanging out with the four honor guards dropped off in the turtles’ place in the ’90s, which they inexplicably keep cutting back to despite it not being anywhere near as interesting as Ghost Warrior. It’s a classic case of recognizable characters over story, which makes it a perfect fit for Michael Bay!
Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.