Movie Review - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
First off, it’s not as bad as you’ve heard.
Second…really…it’s not as bad as you’ve heard.
Third, well…I might be overthinking it. I’ll get to that in a bit.
So, here we are. I finally drug my butt to go see the film that internet nerds have had a rage hard-on toward for the better part of what seems to be an eternity, the Michael Bay PRODUCED Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I highlight PRODUCED because he didn’t write it and he didn’t direct it, yet he’s the target for all the nerd rage. I’ll grant you, a producer does play a part in the “creative” process, after all, it was the producers of the original Spider-Man films that demanded that Venom be in the third film, despite objections from the writers and director that already had the story they wanted to tell. But what I’ve said about the Transformers movies (which I should defend on the site sometime) holds true here as well; my childhood was in no way raped during the making or watching of this film. It’s called adaptation; the transference of a story or character from one medium to another. What works in cartoons or comic books doesn’t always translate over well to film. Stories that are phenomenal in a serialized format typically don’t survive unaltered when being condensed to an hour and a half or two hour movie. So, does this newest Ninja Turtles film succeed? Kinda sorta. They got the vibe of it okay and most of the characterizations, but I can assure you, there are some nits to pick. One in particular is pretty damn big and I could see how it would be a deal-breaker for any Turtles fan watching the film.
There is no Hamato Yoshi.
I’ll say that again.
There is no Hamato Yoshi.
Yes, Splinter’s there. You can’t have a Turtles movie without Splinter. But, sadly, Splinter just turns out to be another of the animals that was tested on during the same research that created the Turtles. Then how do they become “ninja” turtles? The post-mutation Splinter, by happenstance, finds a book on Ninjitsu and decides to train himself, then, upon finding the Turtles, decides the martial art would be a good parenting technique. Insert record-scratching noise here.
See…here’s the thing. This movie went to great lengths to provide a logic to things that it didn’t need to. Given past cartoons as well as the current, everyone in the movie’s audience knows that a Japanese man, Hamato Yoshi, came into contact with a mutagen that turned him into an anthropomorphic rat while 4 baby turtles (be they his pets or someone else’s…depending on the version) mutated into humanoid turtles and Yoshi taught them ninjitsu because he was already a master of the art. Then there’s the feud with Oroko Saki, the Shredder…and so on and so on. These are not things this movie has to explain. They just need to incorporate these things into a good story. Instead, we get a logic exercise as well as a melding of past and present iterations. The four turtles and one rat were part of Project Renaissance, with each turtle named after a Renaissance master (as always) and marked on their shell with a color (which ends up coinciding with the headbands the older versions would wear). Who was one of the minds behind this experiment? April’s dad. And, since April visited the lab often, she would feed all five of the test subjects pizza when her father wasn’t looking. And why does it end up being April that chases down the story? Because she finds old footage of the Turtles she took while they were still in the lab…showing her connections to both the main characters AND her desire to be a journalist. So…if the writers took all that time and made all that effort to tie damn near everything together, how, in the name of all that’s holy, could they just gloss over the ninja part??? I mean, it’s in the goddamn title: Teenage Mutant NINJA Turtles. They string out this elaborate web on how everyone’s backstory is connected except for the two things that ACTUALLY have a backstory…Splinter and Shredder! Congrats, writers…here’s your prize:
While we’re talking about plot, I guess now’s as good a time as any to discuss Standard Movie Supervillain Plot #4: I’ma gonna spread a virus/mutagen/harmful particle over the air of New York City because I’m eeeeeeeevil (and I’m gonna sell you an antidote that’ll make me millions…BILLIONS!). Sigh. See, it turns out that Eric Sachs, whom fanboys fretted would be the actual Shredder, was raised as a young boy in Japan by Oroko Saki…dun dun dunnnnnn. So, Sachs, partner to April’s father, was actually developing the mutagen for eeeeeevil purposes (see above SMSVP #4). April’s dad, naturally, catches wind of this and burns the lab down, because, hey, pathos. (Do I even need to say he doesn’t make it?) Somehow through that, the virus or whatever survived but no samples of the mutagen did…because those leaked out to create our heroes. To belabor a point, seems a bit of a reach for writers that were so intent on tying everything together logically. Hang on, it gets worse. The way for the villains to get their plan back on track, of course, means going after the Turtles and extracting remnants of the mutagen from their blood. Ooookay. The movie explains that the mutagen is supposed to grant humans Wolverine-like healing abilities (my words, not the movie). Yet, the movie SHOWS us that the mutagen will mutate the hell out of some turtles and a rat! Again, for writers so intent on tying everything together, we see yet another fumble.
Sure, there are more nits: Why is everyone hitting on April (it’s Megan Fox…okay, never mind, mystery solved), the ‘roided out, creepy looking Turtles, weaker CG on Splinter and during some Turtle scenes, a Shredder with so many blades you’d think he was compensating for other short-comings, why the hell is Johnny Knoxville the voice of Leonardo and so on. And yet, at the beginning of this review, it sounded like I was going to defend this movie. I mean, I did say it’s not as bad as you’ve heard…right? But everything above seems to be tearing this movie apart. The next sentence will clear things up.
Maybe it’s all a parody.
You see, jumping in our W.A.Y.B.A.C. machine, we find that Eastman and Laird had originally conceived the Turtles as a parody of what was happening in comics at the time, the overuse of the “grim and gritty” in 80’s comics, particularly the works of Frank Miller. For example, Miller’s Daredevil had ninjas called The Hand, so the Turtles had The Foot. Certainly, there’s more but let’s keep this brief and just summate that putting four anthropomorphic turtles in the context of 80’s New York City and playing it straight? It’s that kind of parody that won the Turtles the foundation of their fanbase…and it only spread from there.
So, what if this movie is trying to parody the current craze in superhero movies? It’s got all the standard elements. The Turtles new design is overly muscular, coinciding with the ridiculous training any actor playing a title character in a superhero movie seemingly has to go through these days due in equal parts to the appearance of the character on the comic page and the spandex used/needed for the costumes…which, now that I stop and think about it…are pretty much the same thing. Villain with disjointed plan with serious leaps in logic required (AKA Standard Supervillain Plot)? Check. Lens flare, lens flare and more lens flare? Check, check and…OW! Check.
The parody extends to other arenas too…heck, they manage two in one scene. In the film, April is a reporter for Channel 6…but a reporter that covers the “human interest” stuff, even though she aspires to be an investigative journalist. The example in the movie is that April covers this idiotic looking exercise craze based on emulating birds on a trampoline. Now, hey, I’m never going to turn down Megan Fox on a trampoline, that’s for sure. I gotta wonder about the online nerds that were complaining about that scene…I mean…really??? And of course there’s your standard feminist outcry blah blah blah all hail the great earth goddess and all her daughters yadda yadda yadda (that ought to keep the Internet Feminist Enlightenment Special Forces at bay from taking me to yet another session of ‘reconditioning’ [You’re past due – Ed.]). Back on topic. The thing I loved about this scene is that it skewers both the stupid shit people are willing to do these days to shed weight and the fact that this stupid shit ALWAYS gets highlighted on the news because CLEARLY all the problems of the world, you know, the source of ACTUAL news stories…we solved that shit a long time ago.
Does this parody make the movie any better? Well, on some levels, but given that it’s not a consistent feature of the film…or at least it didn’t feel like a consistent feature…I do have to wonder if it’s all in my own head and not something the writers intended at all. Certainly not an impossible thing…but I would say that the fact that this movie even got me to think…well, that’s an accomplishment, whether intended or not. But even with that potential twist, the film itself is simply average. It’s not the best Turtles movie…it’s not the worst. Should you see it? Sure…why not? But I can’t say it’s anything you need to rush to the theatre for. In fact, I’d only recommend it in 3 situations: 1) you’re an open-minded Turtles fan, 2) you’re kinda bored an looking for an action film that doesn’t require much in the way of thought and 3) you’re not going to pay very much, if anything at all, to see it. Then yeah, knock yourself out. If any of the nits I’ve mentioned above are major issues for you resulting INTERNET NERD RAGE…then you should probably steer clear.
And then get some therapy, because seriously dude…you’ve got issues.