Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (A second opinion)
Where do I even begin with this one? People were either REALLY EXCITED for a new TMNT or were preparing for it to be THE WORST MOVIE OF ALL-TIME. Isn’t it funny how drastic opinions seem to be about movies these days? Specifically ones that either reboot or “re-imagine” something that’s near and dear and nostalgic to our hearts? It happens a lot with superhero and comic-book movies where a drastic shift away from the safety of what’s familiar or comfortable is met with hardcore scrutiny and negativity. On one hand you can absolutely see where those views are coming from as we live in a day and age where Hollywood is essentially licensing anything that can bring them money without stopping to think if they should do it first (IAN MALCOLM WAS RIGHT!). On the other hand that’s sort of where we are right now and with our favorite childhood memories coming to life for a new generation of kids then you kind of have to step aside and surrender to the fact that your youth is never coming back (more on that later). I for one was rapidly and venomously against this movie when it was first announced. The Michael Bay involvement was a giant “NO” for me and once he announced the alien “origin” and that Megan Fox of all actresses would be playing April O’Neil I was checked out. However as the TV spots expanded on the characters and their outrageous designs started to grow more and more on me I decided to check it out opening weekend. Due to the nature of it being a mostly mixed bag I figured it would be best to go with a standard pros and cons approach to the title.
– THEY NAILED THE TURTLES – They did.. and that’s really the only thing that truly matters in a movie like this. Your script can have plot holes galore and be completely ridiculous (it was) but if you nail the one thing that matters then you’ll have enough to carry the movie. All 4 Turtles here aren’t just represented appropriately but voiced very well on top of it. Leo is our stoic leader who keeps everyone in check by being the calm voice of reason (Knoxville surprised the hell out of me there), Raph is our “cool but rude guy” with much more depth than some iterations of his character as he truly cares for his brothers. Donatello’s updated technological wizardy mirrors the new show rather well with his voice fitting his persona and Mikey (like always) stole the entire show. He’s the fan-favorite and they really put a lot of effort into making him the one who gets the majority of the laughs (however all 4 get their “moment” to shine). They balanced each turtle quite well to be honest and I was impressed with what they did to make each one seem distinctly different.
For example, the video below is the best part of this movie
– Fight Choreography/Action – Some will complain that there’s moments in the movie where the action is “too cramped” and quick-cutting, and that might be the case in certain areas but for the most part you get a full-scale view. The kung-fu fighting style was fantastic and each one of them utilized their own weapons and their own persona to form a fighting style unique to them. Splinter even uses his tail as a means of weaponry which was a pretty cool touch and something that made his scenes that much more exciting. I don’t know, I mean there’s just something about seeing these characters on the big screen laying waste to foot soldiers in some absurdly “Arkham City” video game style that made me fanboy like a 5 year old.
– Shredder is Shredder – No, William Fichtner is not Shredder – the familiar Oroku Saki is Shredder. They even included Karai which hints at bigger plans for both of these characters in a sequel (if it ever gets to that). As a fan of the original movies/shows I’m glad they kept that aspect intact since it was something I felt they had no right to change.
– Fun Factor/Didn’t take themselves seriously at all – This was something that had to be done in a franchise like this as they had every opportunity to bring some sort of “grounded” or “DARK KNIGHT” vibe to this franchise yet opted against it. It just doesn’t work for the turtles outside of those starkly gritty original comics and if the recent success of the TV show is any indication then you need to embrace the fun and goofy factor. I mean for fuck’s sake they’re TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES. You can’t reasonably bring some credibility to an origin of that nature and you won’t be finding much social commentary on political corruption and modern-day terrorism in there either. The movie takes the time to poke fun at itself A LOT and that kept the smiles going along with an easier way to embrace the absurdity of it all, as well as some glaring and horrible plot holes. I kinda got the vibe from the first trailer that they were going “serious” with this reincarnation but thankfully they left that at the door and went all out “kid-friendly popcorn blockbuster”.
– The Script/Plot Holes – April O’Neil gets fired by her job because she presents a theory that there are Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in NYC yet DOESN’T SHOW THEM THE PICTURE SHE TOOK OF THEM TO PROVE SHE’S RIGHT? This script is absolutely littered with dumb inconsistencies like that which kill the momentum of the story if you happen to think about it for more than five seconds. I know, I know, it’s a summer blockbuster kids movie and it’s not supposed to be as accurate as possible but if they just spent more than a couple days putting together this script than it would’ve done wonders.
– Some really bad humor – “She’s so hot I can feel my shell tightening”… ugh.
– The removal of Splinter’s origin story/birthing the turtles in a lab – Again this is something that others might object to but I found nothing threatening about Shredder at all and his initial showdown with Splinter is completely meaningless. MINOR SPOILER ALERT – In this movie Splinter isn’t Hamato Yoshi (at least they claimed he only remembered being a rat in a lab and never once alluded to his previous human existence), which means his entire history with Shredder (and you know, the driving force behind any real emotional or intriguingly complex relationships for the TMNT stories) doesn’t exist. It’s not there. So when we as an audience get a “showdown” between Splinter and Shredder we don’t give a flying fuck. There’s nothing for us to care about between them, there’s no weight to it, there’s no central dynamic.. it just exists to be an action scene. Why they removed this aspect of the movie I have no idea but it truly hurt not just the characterization of those two characters but the fact that there’s NO HISTORY THERE AT ALL, they’re just fighting Shredder because “he’s a bad guy”. I mean, come on! This is another aspect of that lazy writing I alluded to before and it seems like they just whipped it together without any real care or thought.
– April O’Neil – No, this isn’t directed at Megan Fox who outside of a few horribly clunky moments was fine in this movie, and even excelled in areas to show some real spunk at times. She’s come pretty far from those Transformers days and as someone who expected her to be dead weight in this movie I don’t have too many overly negative things to say about her performance. Was she miscast? I would think yes but when you see how April O’Neil was written (sexy reporter who is sexy) then maybe you’re not so sure anymore. What I did have a massive problem with is how HORRIBLY AWFUL AND SEXIST she was written. Her character solely exists as a way to bridge the turtle’s back-story to present day and provoke sexual jokes out of whatever random supporting male characters they can find. This portrayal of April O’Neil is still the headstrong, risk-taking, demanding reporter we all know and love but she’s given nothing to do outside of finding the Turtles for the audience. Hell she’s even struggling to get past the sexual objectifying of her by her own job (yes that is a real plot point). There’s even a moment where we get a blatant ass shot of her that’s supposed to be – I dunno, funny? – to the audience yet is just a constant reminder of Michael Bay’s Transformers sexism and how it will sadly never die.
.. seriously, fuck off with that.
– Dull villains, lack of characterization – A lot of this has to do with the removal of the Splinter/Shredder relationship and the inclusion of William Fichtner’s character who I understand using as a sort of “political face” to Shredder’s campaign but if that’s the case then just use him as a pawn, don’t spend your time giving him the majority of the story development.
– Bayism – Yes Michael Bay only “produced” this movie but there’s no-way he was a “hands off” kind of guy on this, especially after he was the one on stage releasing the information and directly announcing Megan Fox’s casting. Everything about it stunk of Michael Bay from the blatant sexism to the outrageous product placement to the horribly awkward humor at times to the slick and “shiny” Transformers-style Shredder gear to the way it was filmed. We even get an actual Pizza Hutt commercial IN THE MIDDLE OF THE GODDAMN MOVIE – seriously? If it wasn’t for the lack of explosions throughout the flick I wouldn’t have been able to tell that someone OTHER than Michael Bay directed this movie, and that’s a horrible problem.
– Overall – This was the definition of a mixed bag type of movie (or a HALF SHELL type of flick lololol GET IT? OK I’ll stop now). On one hand it had some incredibly fun moments that by refusing to take itself seriously wound up working better than you’d imagine. Yet on the other hand the story elements and characterization are so poorly thought out that it cripples the structure of the movie. It brought enough of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles we’re familiar with back into the spotlight but still managed to change enough of their origin and personalities to “update” the Turtles for a new generation of kids. That latter scenario is what I wanted to focus on for a second as I’m finishing up this review. It ultimately doesn’t matter what I or anyone else my age really thought about this movie. We all have our old movies/games/shows/toys to hold onto if we choose to and this flick just wasn’t made for us, it really wasn’t (though one specific line towards the end was a nice wink to the people our age). I went to a 6pm showing on Saturday evening and it was PACKED to the brim with kids who were hyped out of their minds to see the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the big screen. I mean these kids were decked out in full turtle gear from t-shirts to backpacks to even a couple in turtle masks and you could tell they were waiting a long time for this. The recent success of the TV show had a lot to do with this movie getting green-lit and these kids were about to see their beloved heroes come to life on the big screen.. and they absolutely loved it. I mean they went crazy when this movie ended and were audibly laughing it up during those 90 minutes and cheering whenever the Turtles would do something fun, and it just warmed my heart. There was one specific kid next to me who was narrating everything that was happening on screen to his Mother in order to fill her in with the details. He was telling her the Turtle’s names, who the Foot Soldiers were and even the name of their car – The Shellraiser. However during a very intense finale he was glued to the screen, his eyes as wide as possible as he let out a massive gasp at the moment of our heroes saving the day.. and that was me 23 years ago in the exact same spot. You can’t help but feel emotionally nostalgic about the past and also where you’re currently positioned in life when it comes to moments like this. Moments where your childhood heroes are passing the torch to a new generation of fans. I’m just happy that instead of snuffing that torch out for something new they’re embracing it and willingly carrying it forward.
In short: It’s a rental at best.