Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Posted August 7, 2014 by Daniel Hodgson in
What I appreciated most about Michael Bay’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is that although it’s PG-13, it’s a kid-friendly movie. The language is tame, it’s not too violent, and unlike the most recent Transformers outing, it isn’t too long for kids to sit through.
Make no mistake; it is Michael Bay’s TMNT. Although he’s the producer of the film, not the director, it looks like a Michael Bay movie. That means obligatory sunrise and sunset shots, spinning camera movements, and aggressive, in-your-face action shots. And yes, that also means an obligatory shot of Megan Fox’s posterior, this time done for comedic effect.
Previous movie incarnations of the afternoon cartoon have featured live actors in turtle costumes (1990-1993), and a computer animated cartoon (2007’s TMNT). This version is a combination of live-action actors and CGI turtles. Like other summer blockbusters this year, CGI effects have come to a point where the only reason you recognize computer effects is because we’re informed by reality that there’s no such thing as sewer dwelling, humanoid turtles who practice ninjitsu. You can fool the eyes, but not the mind.
As much as I admired the special effects, it’s more important for a money-making project like this to have its heart in the right place, and keep its target audience in mind. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a live action cartoon for kids. It’s rated PG-13, but it’s a soft PG-13 (it feels PG), meant to draw in as large of an audience as possible. There’s is nothing I can say to prevent this movie from making a fortune and launching a franchise reborn from nostalgia.
For some time now, nostalgia itself is the driving force behind certain studio projects. Children may cry to see the movie, and beg for the toys at the toy store, but it’s parents who buy the toys and the tickets. That’s why studios need to give parents a reason to go to the movies, to remember their childhood and share what they grew up with with their own children. Bay’s own Transformers series is proof enough of that, as are G.I.-Joe and the Star Wars prequels, among other films. Toys and tickets, box office and ancillary merchandise. Nostalgia.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles bears a resemblance to the cartoon that I grew up with. Leonardo is the leader of the turtles, serious and dedicated. He wields a katana in each hand. Donatello is the computer genius of the group. He uses a bo staff, and has gadgets strapped to his shell. In the cartoon, Michelangelo was the nunchuk swinging, laid-back California surfer of the group, who spoke in the 80’s lingo that helped define the show. Here, he’s more hip-hop than cool dude; he raps in this version, and provides the film’s comic relief. Raphael is the malcontent of the group, the group’s Wolverine, who uses sais.
But then again, you already knew all that, and so do your kids. There are movies where back-story is in order. Guardians of the Galaxy is one of them. Ninja Turtles is not. There is no reason to re-explain where the turtles came from, and yet somehow, the new origin story makes less sense than the afternoon cartoon version.
This version links April O’Neil (Megan Fox) to the turtles’ origins, even though it defies plausibility (why is a child in a science lab by herself in the middle of the night?). However, the retelling inadvertently distances the turtles from their main antagonist, Shredder (Tohoru Masamune).
Everything about Shredder is wrong. His amped-up voice doesn’t match his face. His iconic spike-covered armor, now a power armor suit, is exaggerated far beyond the cartoon villain that inspired it. He basically looks like a robot, and his mask bears an uncanny resemblance to Megatron’s face from the Transformers movies. Wrong franchise, Bay-man.
It gets repetitive to say this review after review, but feedback suggests readers want to hear it, so here goes: no, the 3D version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is not worth your money. There’s about 10 minutes out of 100 that look 3D. Moving on.
The cartoon of the late 80’s lasted just 30 minutes per episode, with commercials. Some cartoons out there do two fast-paced episodes per 30 minutes. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles feels like a 15 minute episode in 100 minute format. It’s all plot-plot-plot, fast-fast-fast. That’s the fatal flaw of this movie. No one watched Ninja Turtles for the stories. You watched it for the characters. This movie, however, is more interested in what’s happening than who it’s happening to.
Fact is, this movie doesn’t have to be about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles at all (an early draft changed their origin to space-monsters); they could be mutant frogs, battle toads or street sharks for all that it matters. The turtles are just something familiar to slap on a poster to sell tickets and toys because of their brand recognizability. The ending of the film leaves no doubt of this. Spoiler here, but in the film’s final scene, the turtles show up in their brand-new, souped-up van. Even though its appearance in the film is brief and inconsequential, the toy version of the turtles’ vehicle is available for purchase at Toys R Us for $29.99. Tickets and toys. Nostalgia.