Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Movie Review)

Guess which one of these characters gets the most screen time! Go on, guess!

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.

Weirdly enough, the 90’s are my jam.

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.

Godammit, teach me as you taught the Tony Shalhoub-rat!!!

 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…

Shit, how could I?

..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.

Rating: 5/10

As improbable as it is, Megan Fox is actually less impossibly curvy than the original April O’Neil. Go figure, huh?

Razzie Movie Review: The Lone Ranger

Have you ever wondered what would happen if they adapted one of the  Pirates of the Caribbean sequels into a western, and filled it with filler and subtle racism?

Well, look no further, my friends!

The Lone Ranger

Directed By: Gore Verbinski

Produced by: Jerry Bruckheimer and Gore Verbinski

Written by: Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio

Genres: Western, Action, Comedy

Starring: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, William Fichtner, Tom Wilkinson, Ruth Wilson, Barry Pepper, James Badge Dale, Helena Bonham Carter

Other Actors: Oh, who gives a crap?

Razzie Nominations: Worst Prequel, Remake or Sequel, Worst Screenplay (Haythe, Elliott and Rossio) Worst Director (Verbinski) Worst Actor (Depp) Worst Picture

Plot: Dateline: 1933. The Great Depression is in full swing, King Kong premieres at the RKO Roxy Theater,  and Duck Soup inspires future comics everywhere.

Elsewhere: Nazis!

At a sideshow in San Francisco centered around the Wild West, a young boy meets an old Comanche man (Depp, in stupid looking old person makeup) , who is being kept by the sideshow as a living example of a “Noble Savage”, because racism. After mumbling, feeding the bird on his head birdseed, and generally acting like your typical Alzheimer’s case, the old man begins to recount his days as “Tonto”, the sidekick of the legendary outlaw, the Lone Ranger.

Flashback to 1869, in Colby, Texas. where mild-mannered, pacifist lawyer John Reid (Hammer) is returning home, via the still-uncompleted Transcontinental Railroad. However,   the train is also transporting the cartoonishly evil criminal, Butch Cavendish (Fichtner), who is being transported to his hanging, and a rogue Comanche  named Tonto, who is there for plot convenience, basically. Cavendish’s gang attacks the train and busts him out, derailing the train. Reid arrests Tonto, for reasons completely unknown to the audience, which, at this point, has become more than just a minor quibble with the plot. Should we, maybe, know if the guy who we’re supposed to be rooting for isn’t, like, a serial killer, or something? And do lawyers even have the authority to arrest people? I’m pretty damn sure they don’t.

Anyways, John’s Texas Ranger (The law enforcement agency, not the baseball team) brother, Dan (Dale) Ranger buddies together to hunt Cavendish. However, for some boneheaded reason, he decides to bring John with him. I repeat: He brings his timid, naive pacifist brother with him to apprehend a murderer who doesn’t think twice about murdering innocent civilians, as is demonstrated several times during the opening action sequences. Already, we can see that good writing may not have been the priority in making this movie.

Anyways, the posse is betrayed by one of their fellow Rangers, and are attacked by Cavendish and his gang. who murder all of the Rangers, including Dan, and John is shot and knocked unconscious. After Cavendish eats Dan’s heart, which is kind of dark for a movie that was marketed towards little kids.

“You know what these toys are missing? Implied cannibalism.”

Anyways, Tonto escapes from jail,though at no point do they mention how he did this. He buries the Rangers, but is stopped from burying John by a spirit horse, or whatever, who tells him that John is a “spirit walker,” or some such bullshit, who cannot be killed in battle. John wakes him up, and, after Tonto explains what happened, he (reluctantly) dons a domino mask and sets off to find Cavendish and avenge his brother as the Lone Ranger.

This plot, and the writing in general, while not quite as bad as the other Razzie movies I’ve reviewed, is riddled with problems. It’s obvious that the filmmakers were aiming for a feel similar to the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, complete with elaborate action sequences, same writers producers and director, sly humour and Johnny Depp being weird in makeup, but there are several problems with that approach, mainly that a) It’s rarely a good idea to copy your own work, and b) Nobody has actually looked forward to seeing a POTC movie since 2006.

Take the repeated instances in the film where Tonto dodges the question about how and/or why he was in jail in the first place. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it seems to me that they’re trying to copy the (More popular and more funny) recurring joke about how Jack Sparrow escaped from a desert island (“Sea turtles, mate”). The problem is, it just feels like they’re reaching too hard for the whimsical humour that the Pirates movies provided.

To the film’s credit, though, when the characters shut the hell up and the action sequences get going, the movie becomes pretty damn enjoyable. The opening action sequences, the closing sequence, and, to a lesser extent, the action scenes sprinkled throughout the rest of the movie. I’d go so far as to say it ranks up there with some of the better scenes from the Pirates series. Problem is, the characters open their goddamn mouths way too often, and we’re left with a film that runs way too long, and where I lose interest in the stupid characters and the paper-thin writing about ten minutes after that initial action scene.

Acting: Oh, Jesus Christ. Please don’t make me do this.

To be fair, there were a few actors that showed a pulse. I gotta say, even though I didn’t enjoy his performance, William Fichtner looks like he’s having a grand ole’ time as the cartoonishly evil cannibal, Butch Cavendish. And I actually have a few good things to say about Armie Hammer, as the title character. He did the best with the material given to him, which is all that you could really ask for in this movie.

The rest of the actors, however, are all bad at best, and shit-tastic at worst. Tom Wilkinson was hugely disappointing, and completely uninteresting  as railroad tycoon, Latham Cole. Helena Bonham Carter, despite being in a ton of the promotional material, has about five minutes in the movie, at best. And she isn’t very good in those five minutes, either.

As for the star of the movie, Mr. Johnny Depp, he is the biggest disappointment of them all. It’s extremely obvious that he’s just rehashing his Jack Sparrow character in Pirates. And it’s really word that he’s phoning it in the whole damn time, considering that he learned the freakin’ Comanche language in order to play the part.

Speaking of Tonto, the movie doesn’t really do anything to clean up his unfavorable connotation with Aboriginal (Native American) stereotypes. Tonto is just fucking ridiculous, and his character is basically built around the premise that “Oh, those crazy Indians are so eccentric with their spirit talk, and meditation, and weird languages. He thinks the bird’s alive! That’s hilarious!”

It wouldn’t be so bad (Or, well, it might be tolerable) if Tonto was the bad-ass that the trailers promised, but he’s pretty much just a snarky jackass the whole time.

What Razzie Nominations Does it Deserve?

  • Worst Prequel, Remake, or Sequel: Well, it’s no Grown Ups 2, but it was still quite bad, so sure.
  • Worst Screenplay: Honestly, though I didn’t like the screenplay that much, I don’t think it can be ranked as one of the worst of the year, so no.
  • Worst Director (Verbinski): Sure
  • Worst Actor (Depp): Yes. It’s not like a nomination for this will do much to hurt his damn-near spotless resume, anyways.
  • Worst Picture: No. Compares to the other bad movies I’ve watched this year, this one was a stroke of genius. Nobody should mistake this for an Oscar endorsement, however.

Overall Score: 4.5/10