24 May 2011

Great film duels - Duel Two

Leonardo vs Raphael (TMNT)

If you’re an 80s kid, and you had the privilege of watching cartoons and reading comics, you'd know about the four mutant ninja turtles of New York. I never really got into the TV series, but Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s comics made quite an impression on my pre-teen mind. I still prefer the more edgy look of the Turtles in the early comics over the ‘cute’ TV versions with their colour coded headbands and pads, alphabet belt buckles and baby eyes.

When the first live-action Turtles movie came out in 1990, I remember being amazed by how real the Turtle costumes looked. Although they kept the coloured headbands (for obvious identification purposes), the Turtles’ character design harked back to the grittier comics I loved. It didn’t hurt that the movie’s plot was partly based on a particular Mirage Studios comic that remains til this day the only Turtle story I remember with any clarity (it’s the one where Raphael gets ambushed by the Foot Clan and is badly beaten up).

Like a lot of other cool cartoons I grew up with, the Turtles eventually fell off the pop culture radar. I know that in the intervening years there was a revamped TV series plus new comics, toys and merchandise. But my propensity for nostalgia kept me from giving the new stuff a lookover.

Then in 2007, a fully computer animated Turtles movie was released. And boy, did it look good.

The Turtles got a design update, looking sleeker and meaner, and they could now pull off moves that were impossible for an actor in a rubber suit to do. It was like the Turtles of my childhood comics had been given the breath of life and were now able to run, leap, backflip, somersault, skate and fight like elite ninja dudes. Awesome.

This duel between Leonardo and Raphael is one of the highlights of the film. What makes it special (apart from the gorgeous animation and rendering) is its emotional aspect – Leo and Raph are arguably the more complex characters out of the four brothers. They are in many ways diametrically opposed; Leo is calm, rational and idealistic, while Raph is hot-tempered and impetuous but also more pragmatic than his older brother. This fight is a demonstration of their differences, perhaps even caused by those very differences.

There’s a lot to analyse about the fight. Raph has greater protection with his armour, and even appears stronger than Leo (I don’t know if it’s in the TMNT canon that Raph is the ‘bruiser’ of the team, but it kinda looks that way here). Leo is lighter on his feet and outmanouvers Raph a few times, though whether that’s down to his superior skill or because Raph is encumbered by his armour is up for speculation. I’ll say it’s due to Leo’s skill and Raph’s lack of discipline, but I’m biased.


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