Monday, August 18, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Review

Let's get this right out of the way now. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is not a good movie. It has a ton of flaws in it, the designs of its characters are ridiculous, the aesthetic is all wrong, and on the whole it's just very by the books. There's no real ambition behind it and there's no real reason for it to exist. Instead it's just a movie that was created for God only knows what, but now we have it.

All of that being said though, it's not as awful as everyone is making it out to be.

The production behind this movie has been frantic and controversial to say the least. From the very beginning, people were already spewing bile at this movie just for the sole involvement of Michael Bay. On a side note, Michael Bay is not the anti-Christ and while he may not make that many great movies, he's still made a few movies and is not as bad as everyone is making him out to be. Anyway, everyone has hated this movie from the very beginning, whether it's from the initial premise of the turtles being aliens, Megan Fox as April O'Neil, or the horrible designs (more on those later). Some of the criticism has been legitimate, but most of the time I don't think that the outcry has been fully justifiable. This is a new re-imagining of a franchise and should be allowed to take the necessary liberties it wants to to tell its story.

To try and convey everything that's wrong about this movie and to explain why it took so long for this review to come out, I had to do extensive research into the TMNT franchise. I learned a general plot summary of the 1987 cartoon, saw several of the movies, learned about the characters, the lore, and even the worst parts of the franchise and how it affected it (Coming Out of Their Shells Tour anyone?) Bottom line, I've seen the darkest depths of the turtle franchise, and this doesn't even make it halfway into that despotic trench. Context is key for something of this caliber. So when's all said and done, what is this movie about?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the story of four turtles and their battle against the evil Foot Clan and their leader, the Shredder. You see, when the turtles were babies, they were injected with a substance called mutagen that was originally supposed to be used as a cure for chemical diseases, but the formula was nearly stolen by the Shredder, who wanted to use it for nefarious purposes. With the help of a little girl named April O'Neil, the turtles escaped into the sewers of New York with another mutagen injected animal, a rat named Splinter. As they grow up, they become more and more human, and splinter teaches them the art of Ninjutsu in order to eventually fight against the Shredder and the Foot Clan. April O'Neil inevitably gets involved, now a reporter for Channel 6 News, and they use all of their abilities and strength to fight against Shredder's evil plans to take over the world.

So as someone with a general knowledge of TMNT, I can pretty safely say that in terms of the characters and the plot, there are a couple of details that range from being slight mistakes to giant character changes. Slight changes are the fact that the turtles were scientific test subjects. I'm not too bothered by that since they needed to be mutated somehow and at least being test subjects gives a plausible reason as to why they came into contact with the mutagen. However, having April O'Neil being involved with the turtles since their inception is just wrong on so many different levels. Having April save the turtles, only to eventually grow up to meet them goes against every other installment the franchise has spawned. To give an example, it's like if Superman, after he landed on Earth as an infant, was rescued by Lois Lane and given to an orphanage, yet when they see each other as adults they remember who each other were without any second doubts.

Oh, and I just want to take this moment to say that Splinter in this movie is a pretty big asshole give or take. In the '87 series, Splinter served as a wise and caring sensei/father figure who was always polite and kind to the turtles, who he viewed as sons. Yes he was stern with them, but all so that they could be disciplined and become good ninjas. This is what Splinter is like.  In this movie though, Splinter is an asshole who keeps the turtles in the sewers of New York and punishes them if they disobey him. He barks orders at them and he never shows any really fatherly charm to his actions.

We're also told that he's a great sensei, but that's about it. The movie tells us that Splinter is a martial arts master, but the movie outright admits that he learned everything he knew from a book about Ninjutsu. In most other versions of the series, Splinter was either Hamato Yoshi, a Ninjutsu expert, or the pet of Hamato Yoshi, who in turn learned from his owner Ninjutsu. In other words, Hamato Yoshi is removed completely from the movie, which not only serves to weaken Splinter as a character, but also Shredder as a character, since both of them have a fierce and intense rivalry that defined everyone of their appearances. Now Shredder and Splinter are just two guys who don't like each other becuase the sky is blue. Not only that, but Splinter looks absolutely awful, and I mean awful. I unfortunately don't have any pictures of him since they've kept his appearance hush hush, but instead, he's a picture of Shredder. So now we're going to play a game! Tell me, from a design perspective, what is wrong with Shredder?

You'll poke your eye out on that thing.
If you answered "pointy as all hell", then you re correct. Just for a comparison, here's how Shredder is normally portrayed in the TMNT franchise.

The guy has some armor on him with a few spiky bits, but most of it is in places that make sense. His shoulder pads have spikes, his helmet has spikes, and his ankles have spikes. It is a bit excessive, but it works at giving him a unique identity. In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Shredder is a 7 foot tall refrigerator of a man that grumbles all of his lines and throws knives the size of a person's head at his targets. He beats people mercilessly and without any remorse, and just punches at things until they stop moving. Shredder is usually a lean, agile, yet deadly assassin. After all, he is a ninja. Ninjas have to be quick and effective. Shredder in this movie is just a brute, the same as all of the turtles.

Every character that isn't human is designed to be the size of a freight train and just as strong. All of the turtles are muscle bound and huge, with the except of Donatello, who is the tech expert. Leonardo, Michael Angelo, and especially Raphael, are all muscle bound to the extreme. They would make Chris Redfield feel inadequate in comparison! The designs are so bad that they interfere with even normal perceptions of the characters. The Ninja Turtles are usually never beyond 6 feet, since they have to keep to the art of ninjitsu, which usually involves being quick, nimble, and small enough for quick escapes. Not being massive brutes that can't fit through a standard door frame.

So beyond the terrible, terrible designs, what else is wrong with this movie? So far it's just been stuff that conflicts with the series' standard way of doing things, so can it really be at fault for anything legitimate other than being different? Yes it actually can. For starters, the humor in this movie is non existent and often times annoying. The big funny moment in the movie is when the four turtles are in an elevator making music with their weapons for no apparent reason other than "because they felt like it". The rest of the humor is in jokes to the franchise, and constant jokes and quips from Michael Angelo. Look, I like Mikey just fine, but he's absolutely unbearable in this movie. He talks waaaaaaay too much to be funny, and none of his jokes even hit to begin with, He just talks and tries to be hip, yo. It's almost to the point where I just wanted to yell "SHUT UP MIKEY!" every time he opened his mouth.

The horror... the... horror....
To her credit, Megan Fox actually does a decent job as April O'Neil. Granted she doesn't hit it out of the park, but it was far away from being the disaster that people pegged it to be. She actually turned in a decent performance and could actually be called the best part of the movie. And that is the only time you will ever hear anyone say that Megan Fox was the best part of any movie. However, even that's brought down a bit by having her team up with Vernon, a supporting character from the '87 show that was always useless and snarky there. To put it into perspective, he's a guy that was captured repeatedly by a villain named the Rat King, one of the most pathetic and worthless super villains in history. One of his major accomplishes was stealing a pizza from April. So yeah, Vernon kind of sucks. But at least he's also played rather decently in this movie.

Truth be told, the rest of the movie is exactly that; it's decent. The action is fine, if a bit unspectacular, and some scenes are actually pretty good. All hand to hand combat though is ruined by the fact that these giant lumps of meat beat up each other with little subtlety, cause as we all know, ninjas are know from their ability to punch holes in walls. The plot is okay too once you get used to the new versions of each character, and everything else just seems kind of mediocre. Let's put it this way; people were expect a disaster of major proportions from this movie. Instead, they got a movie that really is inept and poor, but not offensive or tarnishes the legacy of the series.

In fact, I would go so far to say that the movie captures the personalities of each turtle pretty well, much more so than other film versions of the characters. Granted, the movie plays these character like giant exaggerations of who they should be, but each turtle has a definable personality. Leonardo is the loyal and respectful leader, Donatello is the nerd with a frantic personality and a love for tech, Raphael is the aggressive loner that;s always curt with the other turtles, and Michael Angelo is the well spirited goofball. They have their personalities, and the voice acting for each turtle is well done too. Props to all of the voice actors in this movie.

This scene right here does not deserve to exist
So at the end of the day, what do we have? We have a movie that takes several liberties with the franchise, makes some uneccesary changes, give it a horrible makeover, yet does everything else relatively fine. Does it deserve all of the hate it's getting? I would say no. Look, it's its own creature and does its own thing. If people knew about the other Ninja Turtles reimaginings I know of, then they'd be pretty shocked. For example, there's a TMNT anime out there that makes the turtles soooooooo Japanese. There are a lot worse TMNT stuff out there than this movie. Really though, this movie is about on par with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: Secret of the Ooze. It has its ups and downs, but it's not as bad as people make it out to be.

However, there's still a lot about this movie that doesn't work and it still makes this movie a bad one. If you want to see a good Ninja Turtles movie, go see TMNT, a solid animated film with has great action, good voice work, good jokes, and some good character moments for each character. It's not perfect, but it's certainly better than this movie. This movie is just a CGI nightmare to watch. Everything that isn't visual is good to sit through, but as soon as these fridges with shells pop up, then it's hard to sit through. Yes, the designs in this movie are that bad. This movie would probably be much better if it wasn't for the awful, awful, awful designs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles just goes to show that sometimes, practical effects beat out CGI.


Oh wait, here's an action figure of what Splinter looks like! Just so you have a visual of screwed up he looks.

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