“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” – A Review

10 Aug

tmntYesterday morning I created the following Facebook status:

So as so some of you know I write an occasional movie review. If I get, oh let’s say, 15 likes for this status, I will subject myself to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and write of my experiences.

I should state from the outset that there is no love lost between myself and the crime fighting reptilians. I have stated previously that I am not a comic book fan, and if I were going to read a comic it would most definitely not be TMNT. As many of you know, I have been quite critical of the Marvel Movie Universe. I loved the Dark Knight films, however, and adore the first two original Superman films. A good movie is a good movie, and a bad one is a bad one, be it an artsy-fartsy French flick or a romper-stomper summer blockbuster.

TMNT is inherently a cult favorite, from the original comic to the animated series to the much-lambasted 1990 film. Part of this has to do with the sheer outlandishness of the premise, which I don’t actually have to explain because it’s in the fucking title. We are dealing with teenagers who are also turtles and are also ninjas. The mutant thing is a gimme. It’s always been the turtles aspect that has bothered me. Why turtles? Why not, I dunno, hamsters? Or cats? Crime fighting cats would give plenty of lonely homebodies a modicum of joy. How about skunks? Porcupines? Teenage Mutant Ninja Porcupines. Now that’s something I would shell out some greenbacks for.

But Jacob, you’re asking, was the movie any good? Did it exceed your expectations? Did Megan Fox have sex with a turtle á la Lea Thompson with a certain duck? Did Will Arnett add some dark humor? Was it offensive to Asians, a complaint oftentimes hurled at the franchise? Was it better than Godzilla? Was it better than Transformers 12: Elegy for a U-Haul? Who voiced Splinter, the rat-father-sensei-Obi Wan figure? If a teenaged mutant ninja turtle fought a sharknado, who would win? Did the movie make you want to eat pizza or turtle soup? Do you hate all your Facebook friends for liking your status and making you see that movie? How was the trailer for Dolphin Tale 2? Did the crowd like the film? Will you stop coming up with off-topic questions and get to the goddamned review already?

Not really. Yes. Thankfully no. Sadly no. I could see that, but it wasn’t that noticeable. About even. That’s not a movie, yet. Tony Shalhoub. I’d put my money on the sharknado. Neither, I had ramen. No, I brought this on myself, my friends only egged me on because they are cruel sadistic motherfuckers. Morgan Freeman obviously needs money. One dude absolutely adored it. Fuck you.

Look, I had no expectations of liking this movie. It got 19% on Rotten Tomatoes. Step Up: All In got 42%! Michael Bay produced it, which meant that going in critics were drooling with anticipation, readying their clever bon mots to eviscerate our half-shelled heroes. The trailers looked stupid. With all that being said, let me put in print for all eternity a phrase I never thought would fall from the tips of my fingers.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is not that bad of a movie.

Whew! First step is always the hardest.

It’s not that bad of a movie. It’s not a good movie. At all. But it’s not the atrocity that many claim. If I were a boy between the ages of eight and fourteen, I probably would love it. It’s stupid. It knows it’s stupid. It’s okay with knowing it’s stupid. To see a film wherein you are promised five things – the four of the title and a gratuitous shot of Megan Fox’s (clothed) posterior – of such crude simplicity, and not expect it to be stupid makes you stupid.

Megan Fox plays April O’Neil, a puff piece reporter who wants to do more hard hitting stories, specifically about the notorious Foot Clan, an underworld organization specializing in evil, more evil, and even more evil. She stumbles upon a group of vigilantes who are fighting back against the Foot Clan and their leader, Shredder. Those four vigilantes happen to be turtles who have mutated, learned ninjutsu and not yet turned twenty apparently. They live in the sewers with a mutated rat named Splinter. There’s an origin story that involves a younger April getting the turtles addicted to pizza. The turtles, with the help of April and Will Arnett’s character, Vernon Fenwick (real fucking name), battle the evil Shredder and his henchmen.

It’s not a good story. But it’s serviceable for summer entertainment. The CGI turtles are a bit insane looking, but they are still leagues ahead of a certain George Lucas-created Rastafarian alien whose name shall henceforth never again be spoken by man or beast. Early on I was worried that they would not differentiate the turtles enough and I wouldn’t know Michelangelo from Donatello. But each one has a distinct personality, and I found myself quite taken by the brooding Raphael. Megan Fox is good here, but that will not prevent people from making fun of her because she’s hot. William Fichtner was born to play bad guys, so casting him as a greedy multigazzilionaire works here. The script is littered with terrible jokes, though that’s probably the point. The directing is all over the place, the lighting is often too dark, the fight scenes are poorly choreographed, except for one between the talking rat and the robot ninja. (Another sentence I never thought I would write.)

For a movie that is not very good, however, I could not find it in my heart to hate it. Oh, I didn’t like it, but within the half-baked mutation of a film resides a kernel of something kinda…sweet. The movie is not a lot of fun, but there’s a goofy charm to it, something innocent and naïve. With so many superhero movies going darker than a moonless night, TMNT is not bleak and depressing. Take Man of Steel for instance. There are a lot of things wrong with that movie, but the inherent fault is its tone. Superman is not bleak. Superman wears red, white, and blue. He’s folksy all-American, mom, and apple pie. Batman is dark, Superman is not. Superman shouldn’t brood for two hours. The feel of TMNT is basically right – it knows that it’s silly and stupid, and plays with that nicely. It’s a shame that the movie isn’t very good.

I’m giving this the same grade as I did for Guardians of the Galaxy, a film everyone and their mother seemed to like, but I did not. I was harsher on that film because it should have been better than it was. But, as I wrote last week, Marvel doesn’t make movies as good as they can, they make them just good enough. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles should have been worse than it was. The real difference between these two films is that GotG faked being a good movie better than TMNT.

What both of those films have in common, as do almost every superhero film, is that they come from utterly insane premises. Mutants. Talking raccoons. Flying people. X-ray vision. A bad guy who dresses like an evil clown. Or talks in riddles. Or uses a freeze gun. Hell, everyone in Batman’s rogue’s gallery are caricatures. Comic books inherently are not deep, which is why TMNT gets a bit of a pass from me. It’s so ridiculous it’s almost parody. If only…

Part of me wishes TMNT was a complete and utter disaster, and not the mostly mediocre fake B-movie it became. It would have been a lot easier to lampoon it. But another part of me, the one who is still a hopeful, goofy, nerdy teenager himself, is happy that it wasn’t that bad. Although, it wasn’t good either.  

Final Grade: C

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