By: Bill Nelson
Well, bad movie fans, it’s time again for another glorious trek into the wasteland of cinema. This week we’re going to take a look at the 2014 reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie series. There’s a lot to talk about with this movie but it helps to know the history. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were created in the early 80s by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird as a response to the gritty stories that were starting to turn up in comics at the time, essentially satirizing the more realistic stories by filtering them through the most fantastical characters. While the comic was never a major hit it developed a massive underground following and eventually spawned multiple popular animated TV series and a successful film franchise, though there hadn’t been a live action entry in the series since 1993 and only the computer animated TMNT released in 2007 to keep it alive.
Then, in 2009, Nickelodeon acquired the film and TV rights to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles from Mirage Studios. Almost immediately rumblings began about a new began to echo through Hollywood. The trail to a new film was a strange one as Nickelodeon partnered with Platinum Dunes, the production shingle for action director Michael Bay. Bay, who is most widely known these days for his film franchise based on the Hasbro robot toy series Transformers, had developed a reputation over the years for his ability to choreograph action sequences like ballet but wasn’t well regarded for his ability to generate a deep, character driven story. Almost as soon as Bay’s involvement was announced stories began to leak regarding major changes to the Turtles origins. Bay had announced that the new film would be called just Ninja Turtles and that the turtles would actually be aliens who resemble humanoid turtles. With a collective groan every Turtle fan around the world bemoaned the fact that Bay was about to do them what he had done to the Transformers. A leaked script that found it’s way online in 2012 did little to assuage fans’ fears despite the filmmakers’ assurances that this was just an early draft of the film that was rejected as soon as Bay and his team came on board.
So now we finally get to the finished project. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is actually not the horrendous affair you’ve probably been led to believe but it has more problems than it needs. It acts as a new origin story for the Turtles and their master/father figure, the rat Splinter. Originally Splinter was a rat raised by Japanese immigrant Hamato Yoshi and learned the ways of Ninjitsu by watching his owner practice from his cage. He then passed the art down to his ‘children’, the turtles, after they are all exposed to a mutagenic glowing green ooze in the sewers of New York following an attack by a ninja known as The Shredder that left Splinter’s owner dead. Now the Turtles and Splinter were exposed to the ooze in a lab where they were being experimented on by none other than April O’Neil’s father. When a fire breaks out in the lab a young April rescues them and releases them into the sewers where they continue to grow in both size and intelligence. However, it turns out that the mutagen is actually a cure for a terrible chemical weapon that O’Neil’s father’s partner, Eric Sacks, had developed with the intention of using the cure to make a fortune with his partner, the head of a crime organization called the Foot Clan…a ninja warrior known only as The Shredder.
So yeah, this isn’t the same Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles my generation grew up with. Personally, I don’t have a problem with the unnecessary connection between April and the Turtles so much as that the Turtles are practically background characters in their own movie. We don’t get a good look at them until nearly a half hour into the flick and even once we see them the story continues to focus on Megan Fox’s April and her intrepid investigation instead of the actual heroes of the movie. This is the same problem that Bay’s Transformers films suffer from and it’s a bad one. By focusing on the human characters the Turtles never get the chance to be anything more than caricatures. Raphael’s rage makes zero sense without proper context as do Raphael’s nerdiness and Leonardo’s determination. Even worse was Michelangelo’s horniness. Obviously, the Turtles are teenagers, they think, act, and feel human so it makes sense they would be attracted to human women just due to their exposure to our media but the constant pervy nature of Mikey’s personality is grating and creepy.
Truthfully, I can get into a lot more, like how radically different the Turtles look compared to previous incarnations or how ridiculous the Shredder’s outfit was, but after spending most of the article bashing the movie I think it’s worth mentioning some of the good. Basically, the flick is a bit of fun, pointless summer popcorn fare. When they are onscreen together the Turtles are entertaining and the mocap allows for a much greater and more realistic range of motion than any of the original live action films offered. The voicework is phenomenal, particularly Tony Shaloub of Monk fame playing Splinter. While he doesn’t bring quite the same gravitas that the now disgraced puppeteer Kevin Clash did in the first two productions, he brings a more lively version of Splinter to the table. On the live action side, Will Arnett kills every scene he’s in as Vern Fenwick, a character originally created specifically for the 80s animated series as a foil for April O’Neil. Arnett’s natural smarmy nature and sarcastic one liners keep the movie afloat when the Turtles aren’t present.
The movie itself floats along on most shoestring of plots, basically acting as a springboard from one set piece to the next but the script remains lively and it never takes itself too seriously. I mean, yes, I would have preferred the grittier, almost film noir style that the original 1990 production had, but as far as candy coated surface level remakes go, this one isn’t exactly unwatchable. Despite my better judgment, I’m actually serious to see where the sequel takes us. I mean with Stephen Amell cast as Casey Jones and famed Madea director Tyler Perry set to play classic Turtles villain Baxter Stockwell along with the addition of fan favorite cartoon only characters Bebop and Rocksteady you almost have to at least see what they’re going to do. Well, that’s about it for today. Tune in next week for your next dose of Bad Movie Tuesday.
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