Published on August 7th, 2014 | by Colin Ballsmonkey Hill2
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014): Turtle Power is Back…Kind Of
I really wish nostalgia glasses were an actual thing so I could break every pair.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m fond of the stuff I used to like as a kid too, but most people romanticize the crap out of their childhoods as being a time where every cartoon and movie was perfect nothing will ever top it. “Destroying my childhood” is a phrase that pops up every time a reboot of some 80’s or 90’s movie or show comes up; a phrase I absolutely loathe (not as much as “raping my childhood”, but still). Look. We just have to accept the fact that a lot of the stuff we liked as kid mostly sucked. I grew up in the 90’s, and as much as I like to think 90’s cartoons were better, well….they were, I can’t lie. I’ve gone back and watched all the shows I grew up with, 90% still hold up but that’s a topic for another article.
All that being said, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comes out (as of this writing) in 2 days. Once this movie was announced it’s had the sever misfortune of being skewered every which way from both critics who have every reason to be wary of a movie Michael Bay’s name is attached to, and butt-hurt fans who are fond of their nostalgia glasses. From the “Turtles are aliens now” aspect that has long since been removed, to Megan Fox being cast as legendary figure of all females in fiction and feminist icon April O’Neil, to the redesigned Turtles themselves, to the new tie-in rap “Shell Shocked” (which I’m with you is terrible, but infuriatingly catchy). This movie could make no right step in the eyes of the fans, and it’s not surprising, seeing as how everyone has already made up in their minds to hate it. They’ve seen how Transformers played out, they know the damage Michael Bay can do, and even though it’s been repeatedly stated he DIDN’T DIRECT THIS, his name is critical poison. This movie couldn’t have lower expectations, in fact, there are even those idiots claiming this would kill the franchise dead (a franchise that survived Turtles 3, Next Mutation, We Wish you a Turtle Christmas, and TMNT 2007). This movie could be no-less than Citizen Kane if it was gonna hope to sway the naysayers.
So how does it fair?
Well….It’s okay. Not great, but far from terrible.
It’s sad, because I really wish I could have been jumping for joy and telling you it’s better Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America 2 and you absolutely have to see it above anything else, but I can’t. It’s just a okay movie, a good movie. Nothing more, nothing less. And truth be told, that’s exactly what I was expecting given the creative team. Look, this was never gonna be a masterpiece, nor was it going to be the movie that killed 30 years of a franchise that started as a parody. All this movie had to be was a fun, 2-hour, distraction that made money. And that’s pretty much what it aspires to be.
FROM THIS POINT ON, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS…
The story is simple…really simple. April O’Neil (played by Megan Fox) is a journalist mostly assigned to fluff pieces who longs to cover real news. She begins investigating crimes committed around the city by the villainous Foot Clan, and ends up stumbling across mysterious vigilantes fighting them who are actually four, six-foot, talking, mutant Turtles who are trained as ninjas. As the movie goes on we learn more about the Turtles origins, April’s past connection to them, and together they battle the Foot’s armored leader The Shredder and his partner, the shady businessman Eric Sachs (played by William Ficthner).
There are no side plots here, or any real character arcs, it sets up a very basic story and stays with it through the end. It’s about as deep as an episode from the cartoon series; The Turtles and April save the city and foil Shredder’s diabolical scheme. It really does feel like the people who wrote this movie really were fans of the original cartoon because that’s exactly what it feels like. It’s pretty corny and is shallow as a kiddie pool, but it’s still fun and entertaining enough. Also, it moves pretty quickly. Once it starts, it doesn’t really slow down. I was actually surprised on how quickly this movie seemed to go by. I was kind of disappointed, but after sitting through 3 hours of the mind-numbing nothing that made up the latest Transformers movie, this was a breath of fresh air. The villains motivation goes no further than “money and power”. The classic vengeance backstory between Hamato Yoshi, Shredder, and Splinter that’s driven the plot of most TMNT incarnations has been replaced here by nothing more than “bad guy out for money”. Hamato Yoshi has been removed from the equation, instead the Splinter learns ninjitsu through…and I’m not kidding..a book he finds in the sewer (still no more ridiculous than a rat mimicking ninja movements from its cage). It’s an odd choice, but if you remember the original cartoon, the vengeance plot line was there either. Like I said before, it feels like an episode of the cartoon. Sachs and Shredder’s plan of unleashing a deadly toxin and selling the mutagen as an antidote is about as complex as putting a mesmorizer device atop the highest tower in the city to control people’s minds. There are a couple of side plots about April trying to find her big story to cover, and Splinter being afraid of letting his sons grow, but later is poorly set up and the former has no satisfying resolution. Once the main plot gets going, everything just gets swept up into it.
Contrary to what some people were predicting, Megan Fox is not the Anti-Christ. This is arguably her best performance, although that’s not saying much. She’s clearly trying, and to her credit, she’s not bad. But still, her talent level is up there enough to make the role more captivating than what is there. She hits her cues fine, but there’s not much she adds beyond “surprised face”. Will Arnett plays her cameraman sidekick Vernon, whose role has been changed from being a cowardly and pompous rival of April that he was in the cartoon, to being a lot more wisecracking and helpful. He’s amusing. He doesn’t steal the show like I hoped he would, but he gets a few good one-liners in there, and serves as a good foil for April. Whoopi Goldberg has a cameo as Bernadette Thompson, the rule 63 version of Burne Thompson, April’s boss from the cartoon. She’s….there.
William Ficthner, as usual, plays the villain. Eric Sachs is a brand new character to TMNT lore. And rest assured he is, at no point in this movie, The Shredder. Ultimately he’s kind of wasted here, as he has no real motivation and never gets any good moments to shine. One has to wonder why he was even created when the character could have been replaced by a character like Baxter Stockman, who is already an established TMNT villain with a lot more potential. I wish he would have been more over-the-top, or had better lines, but he’s just there, as is Minae Noji who plays Karai, who has so little impact on the story I forgot she was even in the movie. Shredder is still the main villain, and for the most part, he’s pretty cool. The armor he’s in looks cumbersome, but he moves like a ninja master should. He’s so shadowy and overly-diabolical it’s kind of funny, but still pretty badass. He even delivers a classic line from the cartoon that absolutely floored me with the delivery. If he had more of a story-arc, he’d be the best movie villain of the year. They may have gone overboard with the design, but when you beef up the Turtles it’s only natural that Shredder gets the same treatment.
Speaking of the Turtles, they are where this movie shines. The Turtles are all perfectly in character. When they’re on screen they quip, the bicker, and the absolutely command the spotlight. They’re never juvenile, or obnoxious, or vulgar like a group of certain giant robots from another Bay-attached film, they’re the same characters we all remember growing up. Leo is the straight-man of the group and the commanding leader. Donnie is the nerdy tech genius spouting technobabble and gets a few good “adorkable” moments. Raph is the snarky and sarcastic tough guy who thankfully doesn’t end up taking over the entire film. He’s not as emo as he was in the original movie, but the seeds are still there. Mikey comes out the best here, as they thankfully make him closer to his Mirage comics counterpart. He’s not hyperactive and spouting surfer slang, instead being more laid-back and actually funny. There’s a running gag with him attempting to woo April that surprisingly doesn’t feel forced and get old, and actually manages to stay both charming and humorous. All the best bits of humor come from the Turtles banter and interactions both amongst themselves and other characters. The actors and animators both deserve a lot of credit for how much emotion they’re able to convey. The designs for the Turtles caught a lot of flack, especially with all the added flair, but not only is it not distracting, they actually work here. They serve as quick visual indicators of each Turtles personalities and give this movie’s Turtles a unique look of their own. Splinter is also on point here, and the movie shows him as both stern and humorous when he wants to be. He’s portrayed as both a caring father and a badass warrior, and the best fight scene in the movie his clash with Shredder midway thorough.
The action scenes are good. My biggest disappointment here is that unlike the previous movies, the “Ninja” part of the title takes more of a backseat to the “Mutant” part. There aren’t really any intricate, well-choreographed martial arts fight scenes, the Turtles kind of plow through the Foot soldiers with sheer strength alone a lot of times. There are some kicks and weapons play thrown in here and there, but these Turtles are so strong it’s a wonder why they even need them. That said, the centerpiece of the movie is a giant chase scene through a snowy mountain as the Turtles, April, and Vernon try to escape a squad of Foot. It’s here where you can see where the budget mostly went. The Turtles are sliding through the snow at high speeds on their shells dodging attacks, flipping around, and bantering all the while. It’s fast-paced, it’s exciting, it’s where both the director and visual effects team sunk their hearts into and it pays off. If there’s any reason to see this movie in 3D, this is it. This movie also does something the original two movies never accomplished; it gives the Turtles an active role in Shredder’s defeat. Unlike the first movie where Splinter had to save them and the second where a pier falls on him, The Turtles, while getting their asses kicked through most of the fight, manage to get the upper hand on the Shredder in the end. I love this because it makes the Turtles look like actual competent fighters who can take care of themselves.
So overall, how does this rank? If Guardians of the Galaxy didn’t come out a week ago, I would have said this was the perfect summer movie, but it’s not bad. It may not have the same depth as Guardians, but has the same level of fun and charm. You can go to this movie with your brain off, and for two hours be entertained. It’s not gonna blow your mind, but it won’t offend you, it’s harmless. Kids especially will love it, and it’s clear they are the target audience here. But there’s enough humor that adults wont mind it either. In terms of other Ninja Turtles movies, it’s actually on par with the first one. Look, remember what I said before about romanticizing our childhoods? Well, time to face facts. The first movie isn’t a great movie either. It throws a lot of stuff at you at doesn’t really bother explain the rationale behind any of its choices, Shredder has less motivation there than he does here, and Turtles themselves are very underutilized. The best storyline in that movie is hands down April and Casey’s relationship as Judith Hoag and Elias Koteas are really charismatic in their respective roles. If your new to TMNT or just not a fan, it’s a very weird movie, but us, the kids back then, we ate it up. That’s ultimately what this movie will be for kids now. It’s weird and goofy, but fun non-threating. People who complain about the CGI over rubber suits need to get over it. Those original rubber suits were clunkly and broke apart a lot. The actors didn’t like being in them. They looked spot-on, but they were a hassle. Plus, this is 20-freaking-14 and movies like Avatar and Rise of the Planet of the Apes exists. Motion capture technology has advanced and this movie uses it to the best of its abilities. If that isn’t good enough for your childhood, well, to hell with your childhood. It probably sucked more than you realize, anyway. If you liked the old cartoon, you’ll like this. If not, the IDW comic and Nick cartoon exist and they’re much better written.
So get some popcorn (or pizza if you’re a purist), sit back, quit your bitching, and enjoy it for what it is.
6 ½ Shells (see what I did there) out of 10.