I attended the premiere of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles last night. I may or may not have been wearing a Ninja Turtle shirt, and that may or may not have been accompanied by matching boxers…and wallet. Sure, I’m a fan. But I did check my expectations at the door to watch this movie. Read on!
The turtles, explained as outsiders really trying to grasp the little pop culture they could get their hands on, were fun. Teenagers “who can have adult conversations”, the behemoth 6 foot giants had the most fun of the movie. More wrecking balls than ninjas, they were very overpowered. And how does a 6 foot turtle creature be stealthy? Nevertheless they have a lot of acrobatic moves (but can still tear through cars and break pavement just by landing Hulk-style. They did use their weapons more than in previous movies. Spoiler alert: knowledge is power! The reason they are all ninjitsu masters are because Splinter found a “How to Ninja” book in the sewers, with pictures! And no, they are not aliens; even making a joke in the film “that would be stupid”. Their origin was more akin to IDW’s version of the Turtles than anything else…test tube turtles. This did not bother me considering the rumored alternatives seemed much, much worse.
The designs were, well, to be expected. Thankfully, I did not always notice the lips or the human eyes or the nostrils. But when the turtles are flipping around, their shells and various accessories were flipping around, too! This includes sunglasses, pins, necklaces, armor, gadgetry.... At least Splinter had the decency to take off his sandals (with his tail!) before his one action scene. Shredder was more Swiss army knife than formidable foe. Billed Samurai meets modern military technology, he looked like Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark’s Swiss Miss, just a thrown together assortment of blades. The Foot, named because they step over people without concern to their well being, were paramilitary…guns and flashlights replaced ninja swords and cool ninja fights. The dialog was not very strong, instead of letting the audience make connections, the characters beat obvious with a stick. Thankfully, there was not a lot of plot and a lot of in-your-face action to distract.
The movie seems a bit confused as what roles it wants to establish. Verne Fenwick, played by Will Arnett, was more creepy-coworker than leading man. He was as unlikeable in the original cartoon, but this way felt more skin-crawly. Bernadette Thompson (Whoopi Goldberg) is the no bull boss of April, remaining antagonistically unsympathetic throughout with little redeeming qualities other than it’s Whoopi Goldberg with her Sister Act hair. Shredder, played by Tohoru Masamune, spoke ominous Japanese until he met the turtles where he was filled with typical bad guy banter. Businessman Eric Sachs (William Fichtner), new to the franchise, grew up in Japan as an army brat, so now he works on genetic experiments and as an amazing mansion upstate. Shredder, his (predictable) accomplice, and Karai (Minae Noji) lacked any motivation or back story. Their connection was feeble at best. Karai, a strong and intriguing character in most incarnations, was stuck being the angry girl, her purpose never explained, shaking in her boots at these mutant vigilantes.
Speaking of vigilantes, in the TMNT world, when I think of vigilantes, I think of one guy: Casey Jones. He isn’t around in this movie but the word vigilante is thrown around for the first quarter of the movie. The turtles are thwarting the plans of the Foot just because it is the right thing to do. But when they meet the spitfire fledgling reporter, April O’Neil, they steal her phone and threaten her multiple times that they will find her…because they like her? Her interactions with Mikey and Splinter are the most heartfelt and genuine, but by the end of the movie, they are all family. Not enough time was spent showing how they were family. Splinter was the teacher-rat, who scolded his pupils throughout but felt less fatherly. The brothers did not have a lot of individual growth. Raph was mad, Leo was the guilty “leader”, Donny the geek, apparently doing machines by hacking computers and making a hover board, and Mikey was the fun one- in love with April (who isn’t?).The movie should have been called “April and her Turtle Friends”.
The film was pretty self aware. They made plenty of jokes at their expense, everything from Raphael’s “Batman voice” to shredder being a “robot samurai”. For every cowabunga and pizza reference (outfitted by Pizza Hut, who else?), there was a reference to camera phones, and hacking, and things of today. It was not trying to be timeless as much as it was trying to be entertaining for the summer or 2014. If anything, the movie was fun. Will you fall in love with Donatello? Probably not. Will you see multiple ass shots of Megan Fox as well as explosions and high octane scenes? Definitely .
Am I bitter with a chip in my shell or do I make some valid points? Go see the movie and get back to me! It’s sure to be a cash cow…or a turtle.
Until the sequel, I will be happy watching the Nick cartoon and reading the IDW book. They might just “get it” a bit more than Megan Fox.