Monday, August 11, 2014
Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
I'll preface this by stating that I almost didn't go see the movie because I've never much liked anything done with the TMNT franchise beyond the original Eastman and Laird comics, which were good for their time in the 80's. I hated the live action movies, but suffered through the first one because everyone else loved it, and have recently been subjected to repeat viewings of the later movies because my kid loves it. My wife by contrast is a huge fan of the Turtles and so I decided to surprise her with the new movie.
One of the reasons I didn't want to see the movie was it's stinky review by Movie Bob. However now that I've seen the movie, and contrast it with his comments, I have decided that I can't actually rely on him for unbiased criticism. This movie was much, much better than Bob gave it credit for...not "staggering, earth-shaking" better but more like "I got my money's worth and was entertained" better.
The movie is a retelling of the TMNT origin tale with a few twists and changes. The turtles aren't randomly in some sewer as babies when radioactive chemicals are spilled on them; now they were deliberate test subjects. The Foot Clan isn't a bunch of displaced ninjas living out the glory days in New York (because Frank Miller parodies are harder to pull off now like they were in the 80's I guess) but are instead a paramilitary crime syndicate with Japanese ninja overtones in the form of Shredder, who is an enigmatic Big Bad with dreams of Yakuza glory or something. The turtles are still the turtles, just now they look real and move like they're real and not just guys in rubber suits.
The movie deals with the rise of Shredder's clan to make New York an even bigger hell hole than it already is, the turtles appearance with the aid of April O'Neal played by Megan Fox and her camera dude ally played by Will Arnett. I love Will Arnett, so kudos here....and they let him do his trademark humor style, too, so he worked well in his time on screen. Megan Fox was actually fine in the roll of April, and kept it together for the most part....I know it's popular to hate on her, but she's always played the roles she's given just fine, and honestly I don't get the dislike. She didn't make or break the movie, but she came across believably as a hysterical reporter on a huge story about some pet turtles who had been subjected to a crazy mutagen. Oh, and the rat Spinter too.
The movie has lots of Michael Baysian action scenes, occasional slow-mo moments, and way too much shaky-cam syndrome but for a Bay film it was positively timid by comparison to other prior works. Almost passable, I dare say, without once being annoyed at the "Baysian" style of filming.
The turtles were great. For the first time ever I could figure out which one was which without looking at a color-code card and they had distinct personalities. It was played straight, like any old super hero movie, and did not once dilly dally about in the la-la land of "not quite believable behavior" that kid's franchises are often prone to being stuck in...this is a movie that was made for older viewers to watch and enjoy right along with the younger viewers. Probably wouldn't take my two-and-a-half year old to see it, though....the movie is aimed at a slightly older audience when it comes to kids.
The turtles make a lot of off-references to other heroes/franchises. It was done just obliquely enough that you could readily imagine that when Raphael is doing his "Batman voice" he's not necessarily referring to the movie but the actual Batman over in Gotham City. Michaelangelo (Mikey) was a little perve, serving as a cypher for the 13 year olds in the audience who are panting at Megan Fox I guess, while Donatello* is apparently gifted with a weird science super power. Only Leonardo* seemed to be a tad weak on the personality. Either way, I'm just amazed I could follow who was what for once.
So in the end: great summer movie, plenty of fun. If you really wanted a film that looked and felt like the old TMNT movies then this one may disappoint. However, my wife is a HUGE TMNT fan and she loved this movie. I am a fan of only Eastman and Laird's original comic and I have despised almost everything done with the turtles from the animated show to the live action movies on down, and this is the first TMNT offering that I have actually liked in over 25 years, so take that as you will. I give it a solid A.
*After writing these names in reverse my wife corrected me so maybe my turtle-fu is still weak...