Whilst in Indiana, I took advantage of the fact that the Ninja Turtles movie was already theatrically released in the United States and endeavoured to see it before I had to fly back to ol’ Blighty. For those not in the know: I am a huge Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan. Always have been, always will be. I couldn’t wait to watch those four lean, mean, green, ninja machines light up the silver screen. But, like most, people I had that little niggling voice shouting out in the back of my head; like most, I had my doubts.
The history of the film already has an interesting background (changing the Turtles origin so they would be aliens, etc, etc, etc, yada, yada, yada) and one that is well documented across the TMNT fandom. So, armed with a ‘medium’ (read: super large) Coke, and a box of mini Butterfinger pieces, I settled in for the latest big screen outing of those brothers four.
The following is a review I wrote on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie for anime/popular culture website: UK Anifest.
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Theres a lot of things that will bother long time fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the new Michael Bay produced iteration of the four brothers lives; there is, however, plenty in there that will leave fans, both new and old, exclaiming an excited “Cowabunga!”
The movie follows the exploits of April O’Neil, stuck covering menial news stories she believes are categorically beneath her. Wanting to prove her worth as a journalist, she drags her hapless cameraman, Vernon (played with scene stealing finesse by the talented Will Arnett), into a journey that sees them become embroiled with the activity of the Foot Clan, reimagined here as a military-esque mercenary group, rather than, yknow, ninjas.
It’s curious that it takes so long for the movie to even introduce the characters in which it is named. It’s not like their character designs are a surprise at this point, having been fully disclosed in their advertising materials. Still, strap yourself in for Megan Fox looking good, but phoning in an ultimately average performance as Ms O’Neil; the Turtles appearing after April manages to convince everyone around her that she is categorically insane.
When the Turtles are finally introduced, it doesn’t take long for the movies core themes to be addressed, familiar as they are to anyone who has ever experienced the TMNT in any form: family, brotherhood, loyalty, all put against the backdrop of four quarrelling brothers who mess with each other in a loving way, as brothers do.
This version of the TMNT also carves out a whole new origin story for how the Turtles came to train Ninjitsu, and although I am now about to debate the credibility of the concept of mutant ninja turtles, this new origin is just plain bullshit. Splinter, whilst cleaning their sewer home, just happens to find a Ninjitsu manual, and proceeds to teach himself, becoming a master in the art with no guidance or instruction from any outside sensei. He then teaches this haphazard form of Ninjitsu to four impressionable mutant boys, before somehow finding appropriate weapons for each, presumably washed up in the sewer as well. It’s one if the biggest deviations from the original source material, and is also one of the worst creative decisions within the movie.
Graphically the movie is impressive, except for Splinter who, at times, looks less rat and more donkey dog. The Turtles look impressive, despite being hulking behemoths, and there are some nice little details that can be easily overlooked (Raph, for example, seems to have the ‘Family’ kanji tattooed/scarred into his arm). The more glaringly obvious elements to the Turtles also happen to be needless additions, and has been something I’ve discussed previously in my Trailer breakdown: the different coloured bandanas, coupled with the different weapons, are more than enough to differentiate the Turtles. Hell, have each Turtle have a slightly different colour of green to their skin tone too, but the extreme opposite end of the spectrum is where they have decided to go. Having each Turtle overladen with characteristic tells is just too much, and makes their character designs look way too busy, cluttered and importantly, unneeded. Characterisation is done through action; through dialogue, and there’s actually a good amount of growth via these means, without the need for sci fi goggles, or rattan body armour.
The movie is fun summer fodder and should do a good job of attracting a new wave of fans to the franchise, whilst placating long time Turtle fans. As a Shellhead, I can say that although I didn’t love this movie, I certainly didn’t hate it in the way I thought I would. With some awesome action sequences (the snow mountain escape being an obvious highlight) the only thing that detracts from any action sequence is how over powered the Turtles are against any, and every, opponent. Each one stands at over six foot (really?!) and are hulking, roided up, testosterone monkeys (Turtles), using their shells to harmlessly deflect bullets. At no point did the Turtles really feel as though they were in any real danger, and this is a big problem for the stakes of the flick. Why worry, when you know they’ll be fine? At one point they even quip about being “invincible”, whilst hapless Foot mercenaries continue to shoot at the only place that they can’t damage. No headshots, or shots aimed at limbs, nope, just the shell. Always the shell. They must have been trained at a Stormtrooper academy.
Despite the oversized, over powered nature of the Turtles, you still find yourself invested in their journey; they are the Turtles, after all. They joke, they rough house, fight and annoy one another (by the fifth “Brah” Mikey utters, I dare you not to hate him), and that’s what makes the Turtles so endlessly appealing. Family and brotherhood. For all the missteps this movie makes, it gets the core themes of what makes the Turtles still relevant (in a way that Transformers simply isn’t) and gets it right, presenting them in a modern, contemporary way.
Family, brotherhood, pizza, Mutant Ninja Turtles, and even the odd “Cowabunga”, there’s just enough to generate a satisfying experience for those familiar with the brothers, despite the simplistic story and frankly weird crush angle they play between Mikey and April. Kids will love it without a doubt, the lack of substance replaced with plenty of action, catch phrases and toy plugging opportunities, with product placement in place for the grown ups in the audience.
Fun, but ultimately not as good as it could have, or should have been, especially with the ability to truly modernise the Turtles with perhaps darker themes and situations, riding the wave of modern comic book movies. Instead it falls back on light hearted situations and predictability. Still, it could have been a lot worse. Brah.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is released across the United Kingdom on the 17th October 2014