I am, for the most part, completely bereft of 80’s nostalgia. Set aside Nintendo games, the Dead Kennedys, and The Empire Strikes Back and there aren’t much things from the Reagan era that I really attach myself to. That’s not all that surprising, considering I was born in 1996.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of the things from that decade that kind of falls by the wayside in my mind. I’ve never seen a full episode of the 80’s cartoon show, read an issue of the comic book, or even seen an episode of the most recent Nickelodeon series (Although I did enjoy the 2003 show, even if it never hooked me) and there are so, so many movies I’d rather watch than the goddamn Turtles movies.
Except for this one, apparently.
Having literally nothing better to do, I decided to grace the South Edmonton Common Cineplex Odeon with my illustrious presence to catch a matinee showing of the Michael Bay-produced critical failure (Albeit, resounding box office success), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I had pretty low expectations for this movie (Michael Bay notwithstanding) but I thought that maybe some of the negative feedback had more to do with nostalgia than anything else. I didn’t think the movie would be great, by any stretch of the imagination, but I was hoping for a good time, at the very least. Hell, maybe it could have surprised me! Maybe it could have gone down as one of the most underrated movies of the summer of 2014!
But nah, the fanboys are right. This movie kinda blows.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman
Produced by: Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Bradley Fuller, Galen Walker, Scott Mednick, Ian Bryce
Screenplay by: Josh Applebaum, André Nemec, Evan Daugherty
Based on: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman
Genres: Superhero, Action, Comedy
Starring: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, Pete Ploszek, Danny Woodburn, Tohoru Masamune, Whoopi Goldberg, Minae Noji
Voices of: Johnny Knoxville, Tony Shalhoub
Music by: Brian Tyler
Plot: In New York City, crime is on the rise as the Foot Clan, a group of people that are apparently ninjas, but act more like the bad guys from Die Hard, are running rampant. April O’Neil (Megan Fox) researches the Foot Clan in depth, but is discouraged from doing so by her partner (Will Arnett) and her boss (Whoopi Goldberg), who want her to stick to her stupid puff pieces. One night, she happens upon a Foot Clan heist, which is stopped by a group of vigilantes, barely visible in the shadows. After doing some more digging, she discovers that these vigilantes are not human, but are, in fact, a quartet of adolescent, genetically modified turtles (Moody Raphael (Alan Ritchson), leader-y Leonardo (Pete Ploszek, voiced by Johnny Knoxville), carefree Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) and nerdy Donatello (Jeremy Howard)) who are trained in the art of ninjitsu by their sensei/father figure, an elderly genetically modified rat known as Splinter (Danny Woodburn, voiced by Tony Shalhoub), who live in the New York City sewer system, and are secretly fighting against the Foot Clan, unbeknownst to the general public.
If you had absolutely no prior knowledge of the existence of this franchise, that last sentence would seem pretty damn stupid, wouldn’t it? Until it rakes in millions of dollars, I guess.
One of the few positive points of this movie has to do with the supposed protagonists of the movie, the Turtles themselves. I’m happy to say that, for the most part, when the Turtles are on screen, the movie becomes ten times better than it is when the human characters (More on them later) are. The motion-capture was done very well (Although there were moments when it seemed distractingly CGI’d), they’re surprisingly well-written (Albeit very occasionally stupidly immature) and the voice acting didn’t take me out of it either. I never once thought “Oh, that’s obviously a voice actor doing the voice, merely, “Oh, that’s a turtle talking” (As insane as that seems out of context). Even having a bona-fide star (Sorta) like Johnny Knoxville voice a character didn’t distract me, as he did a pretty fine job. That said, it might also be because Leonardo has the least screen time out of any of the characters. Weird, right?
As for their appearance, I’m a little iffier on that, just because their faces look kinda hideous. True, it’s hard to make giant, genetically altered reptiles look appealing, but they could’ve done better than the combination of Shrek and the Abomination from The Incredible Hulk that they ended up with.
Also, as much good as I have to say about the turtles, Master Splinter looks like complete shit. I think he’s more likely to inspire nightmares in children than Mr. Miyagi style wisdom. Also, and there may be unimportant spoilers coming up here, they alter the backstories of the turtles and Master Splinter quite a bit in this movie, making Splinter not Japanese at all. He is not Hamato Yoshi, he is not Hamato Yoshi’s pet, he is just an ordinary lab rat who happened to learn ninjutsu from a book, which seems incredibly improbable, by the way, but I don’t think anybody int the movie theatre gave a shit by the time this was revealed.
Anyways, if he was never in Japan, how the fuck did he get a Japanese accent? This is a relatively minor point, but would it really be terrible if he had an American accent, considering that Tony Shalhoub, An American actor (A damn good American actor) is voicing him? Did he really have to use such a cartoonish Japanese accent when the only real connections to Japan that this movie has are Shredder, Karai and William Fichtner’s collection of Japanese art or some such bullshit?
Actually, to hell with my “not a minor point” remark. This is actually a pretty big freaking deal. I may not know much about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but I do know about Wikipedia, and something smelt kinda fishy about sensei’s origin story, specifically his relationship with the film’s supposed antagonist, the Shredder. In the comics, Splinter was the pet rat of a ninja master, Hamato Yoshi, who was exiled to New York for some reason or another. Splinter learned ninjutsu from copying Yoshi’s moves, which is pretty fucking silly, but y’know, so is this whole franchise. Anyways, Shredder tracks down Yoshi and murders him, leaving Splinter to wander the streets of New York, where he is eventually mutated along with the turtles.
In the original show, they toned it down a bit to make it more kid-friendly, so in this case, Splinter was Hamato Yoshi, and he was framed by Shredder for attempted murder, so he went to the Big Apple and lived as a transient until he was mutated, along with the turtles. Anyways, both origin stories work, because they connected Splinter to the main antagonist of the franchise, the Shredder, which makes for a pretty cool rivalry between Splinter and Shredder.
However, when that backstory is eliminated from the movie, not only does it eliminate the need for Tony Shalhoub’s strange accent, it also deflates any and all of the potential dramatic tension in the fight scene between Splinter and Shredder, as the potentially great scene has become a run-of-the mill fight between two cartoon characters, one of whom is a weak villain that might as well have been a robot (Shredder in general was a total Bay-gasm), and one of whom is an abusive, disgusting giant rat who we’d only be cheering for because the plot told us to, I guess. The only emotional investment in the scene I had came in the form of the Turtles’ reactions to the fight, as I actually kinda liked them, whereas Splinter was just an old, creepy weirdo. It’s kinda sad when the only somewhat real emotional response comes from the supporting characters isn’t it?
By the way, you didn’t misread that last sentence. In a movie named Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the title characters take a backseat to April O’Neil and her pet driver.
Now, I don’t want to make it sound like I have an anti-Megan Fox agenda…
..But do the filmmakers really expect me to believe that she was the best actress to play a character such as April O’Neil? Granted, she isn’t exactly a damsel in distress in this movie, and at least they tried to give her some sort of backstory and importance to the plot rather than just an object for the teenage boys in the audience to drool at until their overactive hormones balance out.
However, she’s SUCH a boring character, and I was already tired of her five minutes into the movie. I don’t wanna see Megan Fox interview a fucking dockworker, I want to see bipedal reptiles beat up ninjas!!! IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK!?!?!?!?
And I love Will Arnett, but to really let an actor as funny and charming as him to excel, he needs to be given funny lines, and I think Michael Bay got too much input into dialogue for the human characters because Arnett just comes across as dull, awkward, and an unnecessary character. I really feel like a dick saying it, because it looks like he and Megan Fox are doing their very best to make something out of their boring-as-shit characters, but no dice.
On the plus side, William Fichtner is having a blast His character sucks, and his lines are cheesy crap (“Drain all of their blood! Even if it kills them!”) but he just doesn’t give a damn. Man did I love him.
One moderately common complaint I’ve hear about the movie is that it could have used more input from Michael Bay, or would have been better as a Bay-directed film. First of all, the action scenes are already pretty damn enjoyable and solidly directed (At the expense of the rest of the movie), and second of all, have you SEEN Revenge of the Fallen??? I’d be up for not letting him come near a movie ever again.
Overall: The turtles are pretty damn cool, the action is great and that one elevator scene is fantastic, but overall, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is purely a way for Michael Bay to finance his cocaine habit by becoming even more rich (Some would say “stupid rich”). You’re better off seeing Guardians of the Galaxy for the tenth time.