Thursday, August 14, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

***DISCLAIMER*** The following review is entirely my opinion. If you comment (which I encourage you to do) be respectful. If you don't agree with my opinion, that's fine. To each their own. These reviews are not meant to be statements of facts or endorsements, I am just sharing my opinions and my perspective when watching the film and is not meant to reflect how these films should be viewed. Finally, the reviews are given on a scale of 0-5. 0, of course, being unwatchable. 1, being terrible. 2, being not great. 3, being okay. 4, being great and 5, being epic! And if you enjoy these reviews feel free to share them and follow the blog or follow me on Twitter (@RevRonster) for links to my reviews and the occasional live-Tweet session of the movie I'm watching! I suppose this is where I yell "Turtle Power" or "Cowabunga" but let's cut all that and just have a pizza party.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – 3 out of 5

It’s pretty amazing when you think about how long the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have remained relevant in pop culture. Ever since their debut in the comics in the 80s, the Turtles have had a fanbase that keeps getting bigger. Sure, a lot of it has to do with the tamer, less gritty and dark cartoon adaptation that began in 1987 and got a lot of dudes my age hooked and now share that heroes in a half shell addiction with their children or just random people on the street (I’m no longer allowed at my local coffee shop for preaching the awesomeness of the Turtles—I apparently "scare" the customers). However, when you sit back and look at the fact that there has been three animated series (the second of which is my personal favorite), a slew of comic books published from the likes of Mirage, IDW and more, a small army of action figures, and a bunch of films (this one being the fifth theatrical feature for the four brothers), it’s safe to say the Turtles are just as cool as they were when I first ran into them all those years ago.

The evil Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) and his equally evil Foot Clan led by Karai (Minae Noji) who is also very evil (there’s a lot of evil here), have New York City held in a grip of fear...and evil.  The Shredder and the Foot have a plan to bring the city to its knees and it involves the genetic work of scientist Eric Sacks (William Fichtner). Sacks was attempting to recreate a mutagen that was fabled about in feudal Japan but, after an accident, his work was lost. Little did he know that his work lived on in the form of four turtles and a rat. The mutagen transformed the lab experiments and now they must stop the Shredder from unleashing death on the entire city. It’s up to Leonardo (voiced by Johnny Knoxville), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard) and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) to save the day and protect the overzealous reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) and her smitten camera man; Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett), who find themselves caught in the middle.

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With three fingers, it's hard to tell when a Turtle is flipping you off.

Okay, so we all know the reaction fans had when they found out that Michael Bay was attached to this reboot of the four famous ninjas. The words "rape," and "childhood" were used quite a bit—seriously, go to any message board that discussed this and drink every time you read the phrase "rape my childhood" and you’ll be dead of alcohol poisoning within minutes. I won’t sit here and say that I wasn’t thrilled about Bay’s attachment. I’m not a Bay fan. Sure, I will admit the guy knows how to do action and much of his camera work is downright impressive but the guy doesn’t understand how to capture characters (I secretly think it has to do with the fact he’s actually a killer robot from the future who learned that, in order to control his programming to kill, learned that he can make big explosions for movies and make shit loads of cash doing it). However, I calmed down a bit when I learned he was only producing it and that the guy who directed Wrath of the Titans was going to helm it—wait, what? Well, to be fair, Jonathan Liebesman directed Battle: Los Angeles and I thought that movie was alright. But he did do the Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequel to the reboot that actually felt like a reboot to the reboot.  Okay, the director is hit or miss, is what I'm saying.

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Ha ha, he just watched Wrath of the Titans and experienced Sam Worthington's acting.

Then came the news from Bay that said the Turtles’ origin would have some alterations and that there would be an "alien" element to how the four brothers and their talking rat father came to be. We should count ourselves lucky that a nuclear war wasn’t started because the fans weren’t happy—I, included. We didn’t want Teenage Alien Ninja Turtles. We wanted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. However, I failed to take into consideration that the Turtles, in both their comic form and later animated forms, already had an extraterrestrial element to their origin. In the comics, the mutagen from TCRI was a product from the alien race named the Utrom (the race that inspired the more known Krang from the original cartoon). So, in that sense, this rebooted origin—alien goo and all—is the closest we have got to the original comic start. Still, there were some changes made and I honestly didn’t dig them all. Most of my complaints with the origin story are minor and were just a matter of preference than anything else. For example, Splinter and Shredder don’t really have much history together and I felt that robbed some drama from the story but, overall, the new origin worked for the most part.

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Pretty soon the media is going to report on the new teenage craze of kids throwing
turtles at cars that isn't actually happening...just like the knockout game, kids smoking
Mentos or whatever stupid things one kid did and the media claims all kids are doing.

I was keeping my excitement at bay (tee-hee) with this film until I saw the new designs of Leo, Donnie, Raph, and Mikey. At that point, I no longer cared that there was some alien to them or that Bay was around to muck things up. I really liked how they looked and, after seeing the film, I still feel that way. Yes, the internet once again exploded because they had nostrils but, I honestly dug their look. This is the closest I think we’ll have to realistic looking mutant turtles without spitting into the eyes of God and actually mutating turtles like we should have been doing since the original cartoon debuted. These guys aren’t puppets anymore, they are wonders of motion-capture technology. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the work Jim Henson’s crew did for the first live action film (by the way, I revisited the film and wrote about it for The Robot Pajamas, you can check it our here) but technology has advanced and what we got was designs that captured the characters excellently and looked frighteningly realistic. I will admit, though, that the designs might have been a little too busy as they have flair literally painted all over them and they are a lot larger than their cartoon and comic counterparts but, in the end, I did enjoy how they looked.

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Believe it or not, I worked with a dude who looked exactly like this...without being
green and a turtle, of course.

In my humble opinion, I thought the production really nailed the characteristics that I love about the turtles. After I revisited the original film, I really noticed how the film failed to capture the tech-guru that Donnie was but this film got it. It also nailed Leo’s desire to be the good leader, Raph’s attitude and Mikey’s fun loving nature. Sure, at times this presentation of their characteristics feels tacked on like with the fact Donnie is wearing "nerd" glasses and has all sorts of gadgets hot glued to his shell and body but I really got to see the turtles in their closest to their truest form ever. This was also achieved by having the right cast, as well. While Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher and Jeremy Howard did both the voices and acting of the Turtles and Knoxville was only around to do Leo’s voice, all the actors really captured the feel of the Turtles and were able to give them voices that not only reflected their personality traits but made them feel authentic and not just cartoon characters like the other live action films did. In all honesty, I really like Knoxville as Leo. I didn’t know if he would fit but he completely did.

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Say what you will about the designs of the Turtles but Leonardo has the most
beautiful blue eyes!

Let’s move on to the next iconic character from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles lore, the patriarch of this mutant family; Splinter. This mutant rat and adoptive father of the Turtles was a bit win/lose for me in the film. I wasn’t too thrilled about his design. The hairless face and the black eyes were a bit unsettling to me. While rats don’t have human-like eyes and their old vision-balls are, indeed, all black, the look translated to something that reminded me more of the various forms of demonic possession I’ve seen in films and movies rather than a wise rodent who can kick all kinds of ass. And the seemingly hairless face just made him look like a rat fetus with a very deep tan. However, I thought Tony Shalhoub did a great job as the voice and Splinter has a great fight scene with the Shredder that complete makes up for the limits the puppet Splinter had in the first live action film. This isn’t a feeble, slow moving Splinter we’ve seen in other properties but a real tail-whipper (get it? Because he’s a rat and has a tail…I’m sorry for that awful joke).

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I'll spare you the soulless eyes...

One thing I expected to fully dislike in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was Megan Fox as April O’Neil. I’m not a fan of Fox, I don’t think she can act. "But Rev., she’s hot though." Sorry to inform you, Text Meant to Act as a Misogynistic Commenter, I don’t find her attractive—she looks greasy and orange tans don’t do it for me but that's besides the point and has literally nothing to do with her role in the film.  I was shocked to see that Fox wasn’t looking exhausted like she just came out of a nap the way she did in the two Transformers films she was in but, rather, actually looked like she gave a shit. Granted, she still isn’t giving a performance that really grabbed my attention and she isn’t going to win any awards for her role as April or even be remembered for playing the character when the next inevitable reboot comes out but she looks like she is trying and that’s probably the most I’ve seen from her in awhile. To summarize, I didn’t think she was terrible and was actually pretty tolerable in the role. Her counterpart, however, not so much. 

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I'd make a selfie joke but the camera is clearly facing the wrong way for a selfie...

As much as I like Will Arnett, he didn’t bring much to the comedy with his role and felt more like a third wheel. While it was nice to see Vernon re-imagined into something a lot more tolerable, the sad reality is that the movie could have easily existed without him…of course, doing so would have robbed the movie of a great (and sneaky) Arrested Development reference the film provided.

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"I've made a huge mistake."

Now, let’s get to our villain…you can’t have the Turtles without Shredder (yes, the animated TMNT did it and, actually, I thought that worked). Now, when we saw the first trailer, the fanboys were once again lighting their torches and sharpening their pitchforks for the swords-a-plenty Robo-Shredder that we got to see (they were already fuming when they heard rumors that William Fichtner was going to be the Shredder) and, I have to say, I’m a little bit with them. This new Shredder is ridiculous…and awesome at the same time. Just like Splinter, I felt there were good things, cool things, and what the fuck things about the iconic villain Oroku Saki. First off, I liked the dark and malice-filled approach that Tohoru Masamune brought to the role (much closer to the comics than the bumbler of the cartoon) and there are some really awesome fights scenes with Shredder in it, however, that robot suit can be quite silly…yes, silly for a film about four mutant turtles that are ninjas and named after painters.

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No one tell Sacks that Shredder isn't in the suit.  He thinks he's in the most epic staring
contest that has ever existed.

Here’s the thing I had with the suit…it actually looks cool—in a hooky, video game boss battle kind of way but the problem comes from the fact the suit was just too busy. I will totally admit that I thought the suit looked really cool but it looks cool in the fact that it seems like it was designed by a 10 year old boy who just kept telling his artist father who was doing the concept art that it needed more knives. It also kinda hurt that this is one of the only ways we see the Shredder in the film. Yes, there is some short scenes where it feels like he is constantly surrounded by shadows and he has his talks with Karai and Sacks completely out of uniform but, besides that, we never see the Shredder we’re used to and only get to see him in action as Robo-Shredder. This is just a personal preference but I would have liked to see Classic Shredder in an outfit that fits all the old designs take on the Turtles, fail, and THEN turn to some cybernetics/robotics upgrades.

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"But is there enough sharp things on him..." - Michael Bay.

Like my thoughts on the characters, the film is just a collection of "this is good/ this is bad" moments. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate the film. I thought the movie was very fun and I really enjoyed it and I honestly think a lot of the hate it is receiving has to do with the fact that Bay’s name is attached to it—there’s no point in playing coy, we all have knee-jerk reactions to that man’s name (but will gladly pay the money to see his stuff because we all are, at heart, hypocrites). I really liked all the references to the old cartoon and the comics (like Shredder saying, "Tonight I dine on turtle soup."), the film has some very exciting and fun action scenes, I thought William Fichtner was great as Sacks (but I like Fichtner in everything he does) and I thought the film was very funny. However, there were things I wasn’t too thrilled about. For example, the film introduces the Shredder’s adopted daughter Karai and that is awesome…but she really wasn’t developed or utilized for anything other than being a generic commander of The Foot. I also didn’t like that the Foot Clan was more of a militia than an organized group of threatening ninjas. My biggest complaint, ultimately, had to be the fact the film feels like it is moving very fast.

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Honestly, the film needed more from Karai.

I’m not saying the film is short but the film moves at a pace that never really slows down—even for back-story or character development. The beginning feels like its moving in the usual "let’s devote a half an hour to build up what made these heroes who they are" type of thing that origin films are known for but this doesn’t last long and after April stumbles on the Turtles and quickly figures out that her past and theirs are connected, the film goes into overdrive and it goes into action-overload. The movie suddenly feels like it put its foot on the gas and decided to not let up. The story goes from the Turtles getting taken by Shredder to learning about the Shredder’s nefarious plan to the Turtles getting rescued from the Shredder to the Turtles having their epic showdown and defeating the Shredder (drink every time I used "Shredder" in that sentence). While this resulted in a Second and Third Act that never lets up on the very satisfying action, it also robbed the film of the drama that should have been there when it concerns character growth and the relationships between Leo, Don, Raph, Mikey and Splinter. Did this make the film a let-down for me? Absolutely not, but it would have been nice to see something more.

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"What if, instead of drama, we have an exciting action scene that involves the Turtles
sliding down a snowy mountain?" - Jonathan Liebesman

"Shut up and take my money." - Rev. Ron

*That's a totally real interaction that I just totally made up.

Is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles the best form the guys have taken? Probably not. The movie definitely has its problems that feel Bay-related and can easily be blamed on him (like the fact Shredder’s suit looks like a reject Transformer and the fact the film incorporates a fart joke) but it’s a long way from the bubble-gum silliness of the original cartoon (something which I now have a hard time watching). Overall, I had a lot of fun watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and, even with its issues that resulted in a story that isn’t as rich as it could be and some strange design decisions, the movie’s positives kept me entertained and left me with an enjoyable theater experience.

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