Review: 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' is in the top five TMNT movies
If I were to rank all five TMNT movies, this movie would come in dead last.
This is not to say I did not like this newest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie; I like all five of the movies just fine, thank you very much, and this one is no exception. It’s quite possible that I may not be capable of disliking a movie involving teenage mutant ninja turtles.
I’d like to point out for the record that I have put forward reviews of the two most recent incarnations of the turtles’ story; I have been overwhelmingly positive towards both of them. Heck, the IDW comics are a reboot featuring ancient aliens mucking around with Earth’s history, and if I had to pick two storytelling devices I hate most, it would probably be those reboots and ancient alien stories. And yet, I not only loved that incarnation, I especially pointed out this newest origin story as a positive.
Since my first story at Flayrah back in 2010, this is my third review of a Ninja Turtle origin story; that’s almost one per year, for those of you who don’t like math in their movie reviews. Thank God this movie is doing well at the box office and the next movie will be a direct sequel with the origin story of the turtles all taken care of. Hopefully this time it lasts a while, and we don’t get a Amazing Spider-Man type situation. Because that would suck.
I’ve already talked about positive bias in movies, and it’s not really fair to compare this movie to previous incarnations of the franchise, but like that’s going to stop any of the hundreds of other amateur fanboy reviewers (and even a few professional fanboy reviewers, I’m sure) from doing just that, so I might as well.
This movie seems to be combining elements of the IDW comics origins and the original cartoon series characters; April O’Neil (Megan Fox) took a direct role in the turtles’ creation, but now, fifteen or so years later, she is a reporter who is looking for her big break away from fluff pieces. Her cameraman, Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett), becomes her sole confidante when people start finding her assertion that giant bipedal turtles are fighting crime in New York City odd.
It turns out April’s scientist father’s old business partner, Erick Sacks (William Fichtner), is a bad guy; he created the turtles accidentally while trying to create a cure for a poison he was also trying to create in a complicated scheme to allow the Foot Clan to rule New York City. Okay. It is never explained why the cure for a poison was tested on turtles and all of one lab rat; at one point, Sacks jokes that they were originally going to use rabbits. It’s a throwaway gag line, but you have to admit that would make more sense.
The front half of the movie only exists due to a series of incredibly unlikely coincidences; April is both the person who rescued the turtles from a fire, and the only reporter who investigates them fifteen years later, and even then, she only finds them by literally walking right into them, twice.
Strangely, though the movie goes out of its way to complicate the turtles origins and connect them with April, it neglects to connect them in any meaningful way with the Shredder (Tohoru Masamune). The character of Hamato Yoshi does not exist in this universe; Splinter (Danny Woodburn and Tony Shalhoub) takes up ninjitsu training for himself and the turtles on an apparent whim. At one point, Splinter and Shredder have their semi-traditional confrontation, but it has no real emotional impact because these are two characters who have never met. This is not a clash of rivals; it’s a CGI rat versus a CGI robot.
The four turtles are great; they each have their own classic personality, and the movie goes out of its way to give each of them something to do. Those character designs, which I actually really like, help this out, with each turtle sporting a complete costume that more accurately reflects their personalities.
The earlier movies tended to overly focus on Raphael (Alan Ritchson) and Leonardo (Pete Ploszek and Johnny Knoxville), as these two’s personalities most easily lend themselves to a typical screenplay formulation protagonist (in Raphael) and, well, love interest (in Leonardo). Raphael has the most obvious “lesson” to learn with his temper, making him the easiest character to “arc,” and Leonardo’s leadership position makes him most likely to butt heads with Raphael early on, creating dramatic interest that leads to a reconciliation for the (non-romanctic) “love story” of the movie. Basically, TMNT in a nutshell.
Giving Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) and Donatello (Jeremy Howard) more to do is welcome, because we’ve seen “Raphael is angry, so he storms off” in three of the four previous movies. However, the only other movie to not feature this scene is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, i.e. the one even fans of the original trilogy admit wasn’t that great. The problem is present here, too; all four of the turtles end up basically flat characters.
I did not like Splinter’s design; he’s also a weak character over all. I’ve already touched on this, but without a connection to Shredder, both lose dramatic potential as characters.
At one point, Splinter is imperiled, and I didn’t really care; we’re not really given a reason to. the original movie, there is a scene where Splinter comforts a distraught Raphael; this is a “save the cat” moment. It gets us on Splinter’s side, and makes the scene when he is kidnapped in that movie more emotional because we now know his relationship with the four turtles. TMNT goes about this differently, but just as effectively, by showing that Splinter may be a giant mutant rat ninja master, but he warmly greets the turtles at breakfast before watching soap operas; a silly moment that lets us know more about him, and therefore connect emotionally with him.
Here, the closest we get to a bonding moment with the turtles and Splinter is the rat disapproving of the young turtle’s decision to listen to “Hollaback Girl”. While understandable, it’s hardly a moment that lets us connect emotionally with the character.
Shredder spends most of the movie in a silly robot suit; it’s definitely overkill. Erick Sacks’ character is pretty much unnecessary; they apparently wanted both a charismatic actor and a giant hulking robot, hence the dual roles. However, together, they cancel each other out. Oh, and Karai (Minae Noji) is here too, but she doesn’t do much either.
Megan Fox seems more than a bit listless as April O’Neil; Will Arnett is much funner to watch, as he actually is a funny guy, and can handle the silly dialogue given.
Well, I guess that’s a thumbs down, all in all. But it’s, strangely, a very reluctant thumbs down. There are some really good jokes, and some really good action scenes.
At one point in preproduction, producer Michael Bay announced that this movie the turtles would be aliens instead of mutants. I don’t think I could have handled that. I mean, teenage mutant ninja turtles is kind of a silly concept, but it’s the silly concept promised by the title, thank you very much.
In this final version of the movie, Vernon asks April if the turtles are aliens. She replies no, that’s stupid.
Thank you, movie. I needed that.