I’ve been going to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies for 24 years now. Some things change every few years, sometimes for the better sometimes for naught. Maybe one year it’s a live action film and the next time it’s full CGI. The next time after that it’s a combination of both. Maybe the Turtles gain fifty pounds of muscle or The Shredder’s armor gains fifty extra blades. Sometimes the Turtles are fighting aliens, other times they are fighting other mutants, but there are few things you can count on staying constant. Raphael will be grumpy before having a change of heart, there will be a skateboarding through the sewers scene, and April will be wearing yellow at some point. After watching the newest TMNT film I have some mixed thoughts, but one thing is still for sure, man I love being a turtle.
Front and center of the new TMNT movie is April O’Neil played by the lovely Megan Fox. The film centers on her character more than you would expect, starting with her struggles as a “fluff” reporter trying to be taken seriously by breaking the story of vigilantes fighting back against the foot clan in NYC. Will Arnett also shows up playing Vernon Fenwick, who is April’s cameraman. Truth be told, he basically is there for Fox to bounce dialogue off of, not really inspiring, but he doesn’t really harm anything either. The story goes full on Episode I later by involving April in the Turtles’ origin story to which the neck beards will surely wail about the “raping of their childhood” but truthfully it doesn’t really matter too much and I thought Fox was pretty sincere with her performance and one of the bright spots of the film.
For everything this film got right though, it also got something wrong starting with the foot clan. This version of the foot clan is probably the movie’s biggest weakness. The foot clan have always been ninjas, usually pretty inept but with at least some mid level officers that present somewhat of a challenge for the Turtles to battle. In this version they are pretty much just para military assholes with assault rifles. Even the leader (who we know is a ninja because she’s Asian and reports directly to Shredder) never gets a chance to throw down any karate with the Turtles, they just carry out their crimes like common thugs shooting and bombing their way through the city. Speaking of The Shredder, he’s been kind of Bayified as well, his armor is borderline ridiculous, half robotic half swiss army knife, and just not very fun to watch in a ninja fight. The 1990 film nailed The Shredder and how he should fight, powerful yet nimble, a Ronin with decades of experience and training, not hulk smashing his way through the Turtles.
Which brings us to the Turtles themselves. When you first see them you’ll probably think what the fuck? They are by far the largest imagining of the Turtles we’ve ever seen, standing well over 6 feet tall with a roided out look that is pretty jarring at first. And then there are the nostrils. It’s pretty distracting to see full on noses instead of the beaks we are used to, but after a bit you kinda forget about it and get used to how they look. They fight with almost super human strength as well, but not really consistently which is weird. Shredder can stand toe to toe with them, yet they have the ability to kick around cargo containers or smash through hummers, maybe it’s just his next-gen armor that allows this, but it’s kinda weird and took me out of the fights at times, a bit similar to the end of Man of Steel when we see 30 minutes of building smashing. It’s not all bad though, especially with one fun action scene that takes place with a high speed chase down a mountain and gives the Turtles a chance to show their full power with some satisfying CGI hijinks that is over the top but probably the highlight of the film from an action standpoint and lots of fun to watch.
As weird as the turtles are to look at, the film does a pretty decent job with their personalities and interactions. The classic motifs are all there, the leader, the dude, the nerd, and the rebel. Michelangelo was the stand out for me delivering some legitimately funny one liners, including his first line in the film which sets the tone of the film as basically anytime it’s getting too serious Mikey will promise to lighten the movie back up and remember it’s a full on Turtles movie in 2014. The film doesn’t give Leo a lot to work with and he basically plays the polite leader addressing April as “ma’am”. The film goes a little more crazy with Donny, which is appreciated, giving him access to loads of gadgets and even a gadgetified bo staff. With Raphael we get the typical brooding angry at the world thing which is a little tired by now but really what other choice did the filmmakers have. I’ve always enjoyed these archetypes and their interactions with one another and the film does a great job of giving all the Turtles their own moments at being badasses so props to the writers for nailing that dynamic.
That plot was passable but really jumps right into the thick of things with liberal uses of flashbacks to fill in the story later on. It’s pretty lightweight on villain motivations and honestly gets a little too big for its britches by the end, with a “worldwide” threat the Turtles are dealing with instead of just protecting NYC which may have been more appropriate for a relaunch of the series because any movie after this will have to go bigger. That could be a good thing if they do some crazy Dimension X stuff, but it’s also a bummer they missed out on that opportunity to just do a smaller, more fighting in the alleys on NYC story, which is part of which makes the 1990 film work so well. Sadly it’s not 1990 anymore and this is a 2014 summer blockbuster, the action scenes are larger than life but overall they work with this version of the Turtles, it’s different, but pretty much par for the course in a post Marvel superhero film era.
In the end I had a fun time watching TMNT. I threw on my TMNT shirt of Leo painting a picture of a Vitruvian turtle, my girlfriend and I went and got a pizza to psych ourselves up and then headed to the theater. There were kids there with their parents, some lesbians wearing red and blue headbands eating their own pizza they had snuck in, and of course lots of late 20s and early 30s guys who had drug their significant others there. People stayed through the credits hoping to catch a glimpse of a sequel (there was no after credits scene), but you could tell people wanted one, which is a good thing. There was pizza cutting with katanas and a cameo of the turtle van, and that skateboarding through the sewers scene?, it’s there, and you’ll smile a little smile while watching it.