Monday, August 11, 2014

On Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I wanted to hate this movie. 

I certainly didn't like it ... I didn't hate it. The weirdest thing happened. Within two hours of seeing it ... I had literally forgotten I'd seen it. I was telling my (aforementioned lesbian) friend about the newest stuff Channel Awesome had posted and it suddenly hit me, "Two hours ago I watched Ninja Turtles for my blog. Oh right." And then, as I sat there trying to remember funny lines that weren't already in the trailers ... all I could remember were lines out of Turtles Forever, the 1990 movie, and the first episode of the 1987 cartoon, "Hero in a Helf Shell" (my roommate and I had a Turtles Day). 
Unlike a lot of movies ... this one had next to no impact on me, but I'm here, so let's dive in.

Most Idiotic Review

"Not much of an effort is made to differentiate the personalities of the turtles, who all frankly look as grotesque as a Terry Gilliam cartoon." — Peter Howell (Toronto Star)

I wholly disagree here. One, the Turtles' personalities are intact ... kinda. It feels like they did at least watch the '87 intro before setting out to write the script. Leonardo leads, Donatello is swathed in tech gadgetry. Raphael is cool but through, and Michelangelo is a party dude. This is intact. 


And there's a rather big but in the room. 

They're oddly mean-spirited. I'd have to see the movie again to really analyze what I mean by that, so understand that's more of a gut intuition reaction. I could be wrong, but that was certainly my take. I'm no fan of teenagers, nor have I ever been (even when I was one, and that wasn't at all long ago), so that might be the source of my discontentment.

The other problem I have with what Peter Howell has to say is this. I love Terry Gillaim's cartoons! And while, yes, the Turtles and Splinter are grotesque, and frankly un-fun to look at for more than a few seconds at a time, I find it an abhorrent comparison (jeeze, look at me whipping out the big words. I don't know where that's coming from). 

Most Accurate Review

"Neither entertaining enough to recommend nor remarkably awful, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may bear the distinction of being the dullest movie ever made about talking bipedal reptiles." — Rotten Tomatoes Site Consensus

Yeah. That. What they said. I'm not normally so damn in line with Rotten Tomatoes, but this time, I feel like they nailed it. I find it so weird how ineffective this movie going experience was. I've talked about 'Paint-By-Numbers Storytelling' but this is f***ing ridiculous. Other than the things they changed, like April being the daughter of the scientist who created the mutagen that transformed the turtles and she ... actually I don't know if she supposedly named them, or just recognized the names. I was half asleep at that point (and I'm not joking ... I really was half asleep for several parts of the film). But other than the things they changed, it just seemed like ... well, the phrase 'designed by committee' certainly comes to mind. They distilled all the elements that made the Turtles recognizable, and then fit them into a distinctly Michael Bay shaped puzzle, and said, "Huzzah! We have pizza and the phrase Cowabunga. Must be a faithful adaptation. Benjamins all around!"

What I Say

Normally I'm a little concerned with spoilers, but today, I really am not invested enough to care. If you're actually concerned that knowing the plot (dare-I-say) twists for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ahead of time will ruin this movie, you're very naive about what kind of movie this is, and I humbly ask you to leave my blog and never return. 

Plot — Rich-Man baddie Sachs (played by William Fichtner) teams up with baddie Shredder, who has been turned into an odd combo of Batman and Iron Man. He's an angry ninja with a raspy voice and Power Armor (covered in blades). He is every 13 year old boy's idea of badass badguy. He's actually less characterized than the Super-Shredder from the end of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Secret of the Ooze. They're plan is unleash a toxin into the air of New York, killing all the people, and using the mutagen in the Turtle's blood to make an antidote, thus allowing them to ... take over New York because they have the antidote, and make lots of money in the process. 

Makes ... perfect ... sense? 

I think Michael Bay is giving Christopher Nolan a run for his money for silliest supervillain plot after what Nolan did with Bane in Dark Knight Rises. 

So the turtles (aaaand Splinter (who, despite walking and talking does not have the proper mutagen that the turtles have in their blood), voiced by a very not Asian Tony Shalhoub ) were supposedly lost in a fire (from which they were saved from by a young April O'Neil ... because ... she was there ... for ... some reason. Her father lit the place on fire ... with his daughter in the immediate area so she could save turtles. He sounds like Father of the Year). 

So Splinter finds a book on ninjitsu and ... learns ninjitsu, from the book ... so he can teach ... the turtles. 

Okay, that's it, I'm done, moving on. 

Characters — I feel like I should go through each character, but, again, the Turtles personalities have all been distilled to their basest elements ... the '87 theme song. They have nothing beyond that. They're ... garish, and generally unlikable. They have few moments of genuine heart or charisma (the elevator scene is a lot of fun, although still felt rushed ... much like the rest of the film). For the most part they came across as obnoxious. 

April is a gung-ho reporter who's going out there to get her story and, for all her whining about not being taken seriously ... there is something fundamentally wrong with her. No one in their right mind walks in and starts spouting off about 6 ft talking ninja turtles with a single, shitty photo of them in the distance, and then acts wronged when everyone thinks she's crazy. I had already seen the Turtles, hell I grew up with the turtles ... and I was on Whoopi Goldberg's side. In the words of the Honorable Sensie, "Throw de bum out!"

Will Arnett was the only person who I actually liked in the movie, and the only one who grasped the real reason Megan Fox was playing April O'Neil. She has dat ass. And I'm not even unhappy with her acting, or her character. I thought she did very well considering her character was written as something akin to a blundering joke (with nice bewbs). 

Spectacle — Meh? CGI action really doesn't do much to rev my engine. As everyone's been saying, the scene on the snow-capped mountain in the highlight of the film, partially because it's just fun, but also, I'd argue, because it's one of the few times in the movie where the turtles really feel like an ensemble? Like they're working together, like family? Which the movie keeps touting as it's theme, but only in the most contrived, shallow instances. 

I know it's a popcorn movie, so I'm not as angry that the script didn't allow for it. I know not all movies are going to be American Beauty, so I forgive the shallowness, but I still can't shake the feeling of soul-crushing corporate heartlessness and lack of sincere enjoyment.

Also, 21st century action scenes need to die. That's a decree. You want to see a great action scene, an impressive action scene? Watch this scene from Ong-Bak. I think even the camera operator had to be an Olympic athlete to pull this shot off.

At the end of the day, I guess the only words I can use to describe this flick are unpleasant and forgettable. It's not the worst that an adaptation can be, but considering the rich history of the characters, it's filler at best. Maybe the announced sequel can do better. As is, this movie is the equivalent of a Jose Canseco Bat.

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