Considering the rumors and dark prophecies surrounding the Michael Bay produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, I had pretty much zero expectations of this movie. I’ve been a fan of the brothers since I was 12 years old and watching their late 1980’s cartoon. The thing is, I’ve never left the fandom. I’m 37 and I still get a little thrill when I re-watch the 1990’s live action film (That line from Splinter “all fathers care for their sons” still gets me a little misty eyed to this day). I love the energy and the grittiness of the 2007 CGI movie. Hell, I even love the horrible cheesiness of Vanilla Ice rapping “Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go!” So terrible, but so fantastic at the same time.
This film however, I went into for one reason. I’ll be honest. I teach a panel at conventions about the history of the TMNT. I’m teaching it on Sunday Aug 17, at InCONceivable in Northampton, Ma. The very home city of the late Mirage Studios, in fact. I had to see it to include it in the panel. The fact a friend offered free movie passes to go only sweetened the deal. Mr. Bay wouldn’t be getting a dime from me.
So was it because of the extremely low expectations that I left surprised at this film? It’s not good, not even good for a turtles movie. But it wasn’t the horrible train wreck I was expecting. It had moments that made me laugh. And I didn’t hate Megan Fox.
Oh don’t misunderstand, she’s not April O’Neil. Not at all. But she’s never given a chance to BE April O’Neil. She’s written as the focus for every sex joke in the film. (In the first five minutes, we have Fox bouncing on a trampoline in a tank top. Right there, you know what the tone around her character is going to be). She’s given a few April-like things to do. But she’s never given any real chance to try to inhabit the character. Everything about her is told and not shown.
But Fox obviously is trying, and she does her best with what she’s given. And that seems to be the problem with the human characters in this film, the worst being April. Most of them are set pieces with very little to do. Shredder only becomes really menacing when he puts on the armor, and that’s only because they basically turn him into Megatron. (Complete with the annoying Bay transformers sound effects)
The bad guys plot makes little sense. They turn the foot into a gun-toting band of mercenary terrorists that could have come from any standard action film. There’s actually very little ninjitsu in this ninja movie. Karai is there for no real reason. She does almost nothing in the whole film but stand around and shout things. The main scientist is a bait and switch character, created for this film, who seems to have very little more to do than be creepy. Hell, we already have a classic turtles character that could have done just that- Baxter Stockman- but they choose to create a whole new person who really doesn’t seem to have much of a purpose.
And maybe that’s part of the problem. I know Splinter is a sewer rat, but man he looks grotesque in this. It was as if the designer thought he was working on a boss for Resident Evil, and only pulled back the design at the last minute.
So what saves this movie from train wreck status? The Turtles themselves. The actors that brought them to life really seemed to understand what these characters were about. Every time they’re on screen they interact as teenage brothers would, and it’s a pleasure to watch. They’re funny, they’re at once both insecure and bold, and each shows their personality without making a caricature out of it. Oddly, they are the most human characters in the film.
My one big complaint is how Michaelangelo’s sexualizing of April. I can believe a teenage boys (or a teenage turtles) crush on a pretty lady but it’s taken too far with a few lines that go right up to the edge of George Carlin style lines. There’s a barely disguised erection joke that made me wince.
That’s another issue the film seems to have. At parts, it seems that its for kids. Pizza jokes, fart jokes, and cowabunga’s are to be found. But in other places: we have hostages, semi-automatic weapon toting terrorist bad guys shooting into crowds, and the before mentioned adult humor. It’s like the film can’t decide if it’s for the grown up fans, or the kids now just watching the Nickelodeon reboot. And in trying to please both, it fails badly. Sticking a reference in about the 1994 TMNT Christmas album is cute, but it doesn’t make for plot.
The thing about this film is, there are places where you can see what we COULD have had. If a better director was at the helm. If the stink of Michael Bay wasn’t all over this thing. If the people writing the script had wanted to write a really fun, really well-crafted film, rather than just phoning in some pop culture references. There’s so much potential here, its actually almost WORSE than if it was a complete train wreck.
My advice: Save your money. It might be worth a curiosity watch when it comes out on DVD (and you can get it for free from your local library) but even those bright moments when we see what we might have gotten for 120 minutes isn’t worth the price of the ticket.
Me, I’m going to go get out my old DVD boxset and watch the secret of the ooze again. At least that movie was MST3K fodder. This one isn’t even bad enough to be good again.