Tuesday, January 6, 2015

'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' REVIEW

It's been thirty years since two freelance artists who were living in Dover, NH at the time (Eastman and Laird) collected their last few thousand bucks to self-publish a comic book that satirized what was popular in comic books at the time (the ninjas in Daredevil, the teenage mutants of X-Men...um, turtles are slow and you wouldn't expect them to be ninjas).  The more popular it got, the more it became its own "thing".  A series of toys spawned a very popular TV series (which is backwards and part of the problem, but typical of the 80's) that was quite campy and had completely different side characters from the comics.  A 1990 movie successfully combined what was cool about the comics and the cartoon, but kept the "brothers who bicker but still love each other" and "step-parent raising four boys" aspect that was always the "heart" of the better TMNT stories in any medium.  Since then, TMNT versions have ranged from a nice combination of the cartoon and comics to even more campy and "let's sell toys to younger kids because our original fans are growing out of this crap" kind of thing...like the "Coming Out of Our Shells" music stage tour that I will try to forget about again and hope it goes away.

Now, we have a live-action Michael Bay-produced TMNT movie.  The man who ruined Transformers is tackling something I had MORE of an emotional attachment to as a kid.  (Saw it a week ago, haven't killed myself.)  First, the good.  No one changed their origin story to aliens instead of mutants, a concern started two years ago when Michael Bay "misspoke" (or changed his mind later when turtles fans got mad and lit the Internet on fire).  Second, complaints about the look of the computer generated turtles are overblown.  They were trying to make them look like real turtles, but still make them able to emote like the characters we grew up with...and turtles have beaks.  So, they look different, but it grows on you as you are watching the film and realize (third) they they got the four turtles' personalities exactly right.  The big brother.  The hothead.  The nerd.  The funny one.  (Michelangelo is as funny as he should be)  The characters are well-done visually, a nice mix of familair and more realistic.  Fourth, this movie has great action scenes and is better than Transformers 2 amd 3, which is not saying much, but this film helped me realize what a difference it makes when watching big, dumb, pointless action scenes where you care a little about the characters...as opposed to when you don't.  You care a little more about what's blowing up and who is catching who instead of being bored.  Megan Fox was better than I expected as the turtles' human friend/reporter April, who wants to be a serious journalist instead of interviewing fitness gurus.  They gave the character more to do and more of a connection to the turtles' origin, which was from the (great) current IDW comic book series.  Will Arnett is funny as her quippy cameraman Vernon Fenwick.

Now, the bad.  The main villian is not Shredder (the iconic villian from every other version)...but a scientist/new character named Eric Sachs (played by a great actor named William Fichtner) who had a hand in creating the chemicals that mutated the turtles (and their rat/father figure Splinter).  People unfamiliar who are dragged to this movie with their kids won't know the difference, but (spoiler alert) his "end" at the end of the film is so anti-climatic where he gets knocked out and he's gone for the rest of the movie that you will just be there with your mouth hanging open, going "whaaaat?".  The same is true of fan-favorite/Shredder's daughter Karai, who has one scene and very little point in this pointless movie.  The turtles fight Shredder at the end like they do in every version, but because he had been reduced to secondary villian and (more offensively), they cut out his backstory/connection to the turtles' rat/father figure/teacher Splinter, you care about him as a villian even less.  And then, the real villian gets knocked out and you're like...eh.  There are alot of plot holes in this movie, a weak story and bad dialogue that detracted from the decent parts and none of the above-mentioned "heart" that characterized better TMNT stories.  The TMNT taught me that it was okay to cry when I was 11, as both Raphael and Mikey do it in the 1990 version.  All this movie will teach kids to do is that its okay to pointlessly wreck trucks if you're big enough and have a shell.

Got the turtles' personalities right.  Side human characters were funny.  Villians, some of the dialogue and plot ruined the rest of it.

2 shells out of 5.
Better (current) versions of TMNT that show what these characters can be.
The new TMNT cartoon on Nick.
The new IDW comic book series.  I think you can still download volume 8: Northhampton for free on the Google Play Store.  Lots of emotionin that story.

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