Saturday, August 16, 2014

Movie review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

TMNT posterWay back in the spring I mentioned how I was a big fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles during their original run back in the 1980s and 90s. The comics, cartoon show and the original live-action movie were a big part of my pop culture memories from my younger years. I still have a fairly sizeable TMNT comic book collection and perhaps I’ll finish my series of blogs chronicling them all someday. But for now I wanted to talk about the newly-released movie.

It’s no secret that this movie was produced (but not directed) by Hollywood blockbuster generator Michael Bay (among a dozen other producers, I might add). At one point it was rumored the turtles were going to be aliens, but that’s definitely not the case (there’s even a self-referential dig at this at one point in the flick). It’s a complete reboot of the franchise, at least as far as live-action movies go (the animated series and comics have been rebooted more times than I can keep track of). If the box office numbers are high enough, I’m sure sequels aplenty will be in the future.

Megan Fox stars as TV reporter April O’Neill (as she was in the cartoons, but in the comics she was originally Baxter Stockman’s assistant), who is the classic why-doesn’t-anyone-take-me-seriously journalist. Will Arnett co-stars as her sidekick Vern (another reference to the original animated series, albeit a bit more obscure). William Fichtner also stars as Eric Sacks, who reminds me a helluva lot of Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborn (aka Green Goblin) from the 2002 Spider-Man movie.
The story starts on a similar path as the 1990 movie with the immediate establishment of “The Foot Clan” and specifically Shredder as the villains. April does some independent reporting and happens to stumble across the turtles. She then meets them up close and personal after the movie’s first (of many) action sequences.

The Turtles’ origin radically departs from the stories told by the comics and the cartoons. Without giving too much away, it turns out that a 9-year-old April and her father had a role in turning the turtles into the mutants they became. It’s actually a better, more “realistic” origin than the comics (not that you watch a movie like this for realism). What I didn’t like is that in this version, Splinter wasn’t already ninja master when he found the turtles. Instead, he just learned it from a book and taught them (really? You can become a kick-ass ninja by reading a book?).

I don’t need to describe or critique the plot in any more detail. This is a Michael Bay flick, after all. If you’re expecting characterization, exposition, theme, motifs, etc., you’re not going to find that stuff here. It’s an action movie and it definitely delivers on that promise. But it’s a kid’s action movie, so the tone is light and the story is quite simplistic (overly simplistic, IMO). The Turtles are their usual jovial selves, though they’ve definitely upped the slapstick and trendiness here. The individual Turtles do conform to their usual personality traits, though in this movie they’re all wiseguys. Their faces are the most human-like of any incarnation of the Turtles I’ve ever seen; it’s a weird juxtaposition of cute and creepy.
Photo credit: Industrial Light & - © MMXIV Paramount Pictures Corporation
Photo credit: Industrial Light & - © MMXIV Paramount Pictures Corporation
So is this movie any good? Yes and no. It’s exactly what you’d expect: a silly popcorn movie that’s fun to watch if you don’t take it too seriously. It does utilize the classic Hollywood foibles, pratfalls and clich├ęs, but that’s understandable. It’s not grating like the Transformers movies or the usual Michael Bay-directed flicks. My only major complaint is that there’s really no element of suspense or surprise. At no point do I think the heroes aren’t going to come through and save the day. And the actual end sequence itself is ridiculous to say the least. Also, this version of the Shredder is way over the top, even for this type of movie. He’s just not a worthy adversary - he's essentially a video game boss.
Photo credit: Industrial Light & - © MMXIV Paramount Pictures Corporation
Photo credit: Industrial Light & - © MMXIV Paramount Pictures Corporation
NOTE: I’m not sure why it was rated PG-13, since there’s nary a swear word anywhere, nor is there any gore, blood, or truly scary moments. It should've been rated PG.

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