Sunday, August 10, 2014

Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman.
Written by: Josh Appelbaum & André Nemec and Evan Daugherty based on the characters created by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman.
Starring: Megan Fox (April O'Neil), Will Arnett (Vernon Fenwick), William Fichtner (Eric Sacks), Alan Ritchson (Raphael), Noel Fisher (Michelangelo), Pete Ploszek (Leonardo), Johnny Knoxville (Leonardo - voice), Jeremy Howard (Donatello), Danny Woodburn (Splinter), Tony Shalhoub (Splinter - voice), Tohoru Masamune (Shredder), Whoopi Goldberg (Bernadette Thompson), Minae Noji (Karai), Abby Elliott (Taylor).

I was the perfect age to be caught up in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle craze when it was at its peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s. For a few years, I loved nothing as much as I love the Ninja Turtles. It remains one of those things from my childhood that I still love – not so much because it was great, but because I remembered how much I loved it then. Unlike other childhood TV shows, movies and toys – like Transformers, He-Man or G.I. Joe – I still feel some sort of attachment to the Turtles. Yes, I’m one of those people who posted an enraged Facebook status update when it was announced that in the new movie, produced by Michael Bay, the Turtles would be aliens. That’s just stupid – they’re not called Teenage Alien Ninja Turtles after all. I was prepared to hate the latest movie – and most of the reviews I saw before I saw the film seemed to confirm my fears that the film was horrendous. So, I must say I was somewhat pleasantly surprised by how not-awful the film ended up being. It’s not what the 32 year old me would call a good movie – and perhaps had I not grown up loving the Turtles so much, I would have hated it – but it’s not one of the worst films of the year either. It’s nowhere near as bad as the other summer blockbuster with Bay’s name attached – Transformers: Age of Extinction – for example. It’s not a good movie by any means – but the 10 year old me would have thought it was the greatest movie ever made.

The main character in the latest movie is not the Turtles themselves – but rather it’s April O’Neil (Megan Fox) – a reporter for Channel 6 news in New York, who wants to be a serious reporter, but is instead sent out to do “feel-good” stories while jumping on a trampoline (calm down perverts, the scene is nowhere near as Baywatch-esque as the words Megan Fox and trampoline would suggest). She wants to cover the rising gang activity by something called the “Foot Clan” – and while investigating, she thinks she catches a glimpse of a vigilante who thwarts their plans. She digs deeper, and finds out that it’s not one vigilante, but four. And there are all giant turtles, who are ninjas, mutants and teenagers. And when she explains this to her boss – she is fired. But the Turtles – and their sensei/father Splinter – a giant rat – know she’s in danger, and want to protect her. But the Foot Clan, led by Shredder, and who has a powerful ally in the rich scientist Eric Sacks (William Fichtner). And, of course, they have an evil plot to destroy the city.

All the characters in the movie are drawn in broad strokes – which is how they are always drawn in the Turtles. The filmmakers have seemingly decided that everyone who will be watching the movie will already be familiar with the franchise – yes, they breeze through their origin story (changing it somewhat, but not totally) – but as far as the individual turtles themselves, they don’t do much interesting with them. Mikey will be everyone’s favorite of course, as he’s the biggest goofball, and gets most of the film’s joke. And, unfortunately, my favorite, Donatello, is given the short straw – he’s the “brain” – mainly because they make him wear glasses. Splinter’s on hand just to explain the origin, and then disappear for most of the rest of the movie. Shredder is almost literally a faceless villain – a non-stop killing machine, with a crazy, metal Samurai suit who looks to be unbeatable, right up until he is, of course. As Sacks, Fichtner is the type of villain who would twirl his mustache if he had one. Strangely, April O’Neal herself is given the most screen time – alongside her cameraman, Will Arnett, who spends most of the time hitting on April.

But who goes to a movie about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for storytelling or characters? It’s all about the action and special effects. To me, these CGI turtles, while ugly, actually do feel real – they fit in with their surroundings and the human characters more naturally than I thought they would. The action sequences are mainly well handled – especially a snowbound, downhill car chase that works amazingly well.

I’m not suggesting that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a good movie. It isn’t – and if you’re not already a fan of them, then it may play even worse for you. It’s dumb, poorly plotted, and not very well acted. The special effects are good, and the action sequences are decent. The 32 year old me mainly shrugged his shoulders walking out of the movie – thinking it wasn’t the guilty pleasure he had hoped, but it wasn’t the colossal failure I feared. But I cannot totally silence that 10 year old me – who loved it. Nor would I want to.

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