Like many boys who grew up in the 90’s, I loved the Ninja Turtles. I unfortunately wasn’t one to collect comics for a few reasons. First, I didn’t get an allowance, so no money. Second, my mom didn’t buy them for me. Third, I didn’t know any comic book stores near me. But I loved the live action movies and the 90’s cartoon. I even immersed myself in the video games, both the good and the bad.
Just recently I purchased the 4 previous films on blu-ray, the 3 live-action and the animated TMNT. I’ve rewatched them all, and they don’t quite hold up to where I held them as a kid. Quickly going through them, the first one I still thing is a solid movie for what it is. It gets the emotion, the comedy, the sense of family, and the action, and that’s all that really matters. The second one is fun if you don’t think about it too much. We all know the angry mothers who were saying the first one was too violent brought the action level down quite a bit for the second one, but oh well. Still a nostalgically enjoyable film at the very least. The third movie… oh god, the third movie… Let’s not talk about that third movie… TMNT was the only one I was able to see in theatres. I enjoyed it then, and I enjoy it now. It’s not great, but it’s serviceable. I also liked how it followed along with the cannon of the first 3 films. Although, it’s kind of both cool and weird when you think about it…
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the new one, raised a mixed set of emotions when it was announced. First, “Awesome! New Turtles movie!” Then, “Oh, shit. Michael Bay…” Luckily, after a lot of fiddling around with a variety of different pre-production issues, good news arose. Bay wouldn’t direct (score!), but would still be producing (damn). Jonathan Liebesman (Battle: Los Angeles, Wrath of the Titans) would be directing instead (Both his last two movies I thought were bad scripts he did decently with) and the movie wasn’t going to be all Dark Knight grim and dark.
Thank god they didn’t go and Dark Knight the Turtles. What made TMNT so great was the light-hearted fun. The turtles were teenage brothers who bickered, made quips, and tried having a good time even when fighting crime. Now days everything has to be so brooding and dark and gritty. Even Spider-Man (Sam Raimi’s version, and to some extent Marc Webb’s version) seemed to have forgotten what it meant to be fun. Knowing that it’s OK to not take yourself so seriously all the time is one reason why I praised Guardians of the Galaxy so much last week. Unfortunately, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles won’t be receiving nearly as much love.
The movie isn’t terrible. With everything going on in pre-production, TMNT could have been a train wreck. Luckily, it’s got enough going for it to stop me from being angry with the film, but not enough going for it so say much more than that. And just to get it out of the way, yes, there are changes from the source material. THIS HAPPENS ALL THE TIME, SO STOP BITCHING ABOUT IT! That isn’t what’s wrong with this movie.
I expected a little bit from from the writers of Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. The story is pretty stupid, to say the least. The last act of the film is pretty much the exact same as The Amazing Spider-Man with a little taken from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. We spend a bit too much time with April O’Neal, horribly acted by Megan Fox, and not enough with the Turtles. What I mean is, it’s about 60/40 April and the Turtles. We do spend more time with the human characters, but the green foursome… sorry, I just had a moment… is in this movie quite a bit. The overall goal of the villain is kind of silly. And the way the go about it is even sillier. I mean, the original movie didn’t have much of a goal more than “punish the turtles.” But at least it was simple and understandable. Here, it’s a bit more needlessly complicated and convoluted. The plot isn’t hard to follow, but it just doesn’t really make too much sense motivation wise.
While The Shredder is menacing, he’s a bit too over-the-top. They do a good job of making him more fierce and a badass than the original film. However the flashiness to him just screams “trying too hard.” He could have been simplified and still been a badass villain. In fact, everything could have been simplified and still achieved the same effect.
The design of the turtles has been the subject of a lot of controversy. Watching the movie, it doesn’t really bother me as much as the stills or trailers. But the CG is so obviously CG that it does kind of take me out of the movie. The brothers have so many pieces of flair they look like they’re applying for a job at Chotchkie’s. Donnie would bring Brian to shame.
Fortunately, their overdone designs aren’t too distracting when everything is moving. Thankfully the pacing of the film is quick once the brothers show up. The first act following April is pretty bland. Once the turtles show up, they stay on screen the majority of the rest of the film. Because we are mainly following April, we do leave them for a while here and there, and those bits do drag. But when it almost gets to be too much, the turtles show back up.
I don’t know what it is with Michael Bay and a lot of these movies now, but we don’t always need a human character to follow in these types of movies. They need to look at movies like Hellboy 2 and Guardians of the Galaxy to see that we can follow along with these non-humans through the story without our hands being held.
What makes it kind of worse that we spend too much time with April is that the time with the turtles and Splinter is pretty damn good. Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo act and feel like real brothers, and Splinter like their father/mentor. The comradery going on between them feels genuine. I got a real sense that these ludicrously massive turtles were brothers, or at least believed they were. The time spent with them is fun. The movie should have been focused mainly on that. Had it been, I probably would have liked it a lot more.
We do get some pretty good action sequences. There’s two sort of teaser action moments where we first get a glimpse of what the turtles can do without being really introduced to them yet. After we meet them, you get your typical three big set pieces. All three of them well set up and executed. The camera hardly ever goes in too close or shakes too much to where you can’t see what’s going on. There is a sense of danger throughout the battles to keep them engaging. All four turtles get several moments to be a badass. And even though Splinter only has one scene to kick ass, he really kicks ass. It was pretty cool to see the sensei show why he is the master.
I probably had more fun with this film than I should have. There wasn’t enough time spent with the turtles for this movie to be what it should have been. The writers may not have gotten many things right, but I think the director knew how to accentuate what was good: the family bond between the four brothers and their father/mentor, Splinter, the overall good nature of the turtles, the eagerness to help out. It’s a lot of what I really loved about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles growing up. And I think I’m just grateful that this movie didn’t end up nearly as bad as it could have been. And I don’t think it’s as bad as Ninja Turtles 3.
I’m honestly not sure if I can RECOMMEND this movie or not. I guess…
SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED if you can overlook obvious shortcomings, but
NOT RECOMMENDED if you’re going in hoping for more than an OK film.