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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

August 8, 2014

Let’s just get this out in the open right now, filmmakers.

Stop trying to be coy with your reboots of what were essentially toy commercials. I hate to say that because it diminishes television shows that were far better than they had any right to be (Transformers more so than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), and it also raises questions about what is essentially an art form that is always shilling for something via commercials but yeah, they’re toy commericals. See, the thing is though that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was originally a very dark comic that got appropriated into a children’s cartoon and it’s hard to pretend that a new reboot is not a cynical cash grab.

This is a franchise that has been rebooted every couple of years, and because of that it is beloved by everyone from small children to the parents of those small children who originally grew up with it. We’re all in that theater for the same reason: the turtles. Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello, and Michelangelo despite originally being one note characters, have always had great chemistry while also battling cartoonish villains that manage to still be menacing. We all want to see them kick some ass and have fun.

And the worst part is that this movie does the turtles really well.

Minus the obvious fanboy griping about them having noses (which look strange but quickly become forgotten), the character designs are pretty great and actually manage to differentiate them beyond their standard color coded bandanas and weapons of choice. Furthermore, all of the actors have good chemistry and their lines are pretty spot on. They bring a sense of fun, excitement, and emotional investment that this film desperately needed.

The shame about it is that much like a similar rebooted franchise, for some reason the titular characters are largely absent from the first act of their own movie. The plot of this film is obvious and lumbering: the Foot Clan are up to some surprising super-science shenanigans that lead back to the origin of the turtles and their master Splinter. The Foot Clan’s evil plot hinges on releasing some deadly gas from the top of a building in New York City that is conveniently located near Times Square, and the third act culminates in an awesome roof top battle.

The problem with the movie is that it spends a lot of time setting this all up as a very lame and boring mystery, and trying to give the turtles a sort of in-the-shadows mystique. This causes early fight scenes to be dimly lit, confusing, terribly choreographed, and shot at unnecessary dutch angles. It also results in us having to ride along with April O’Neil (Megan Foxx) and her cameraman/producer Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett). Some people see the name Megan Foxx and groan, while others get strange feelings in their pants their parents will explain when they get older, but I don’t care one way or the other. I’m sure there’s already people complaining about her performance tarnishing the glorious legacy of April O’Neil, but really it’s the script that has the problem.

I seriously wonder how at no point during this massive multi-million dollar project no one said, “You know real people don’t sound like this, right?” The most realistic dialogue in the early parts of the movie is April’s roommate talking to her mom on Skype. Everyone else just spews awkward sentences and poorly phrased exposition dumps. None of the actors except the turtles have anything to work with, and since we don’t see the turtles for what feels like an agonizingly long time, the whole thing becomes boring and bad.

When the movie finally hits its turning point though, it’s fantastic. All of the unnecessary dutch angles completely disappear, the movie becomes bright and colorful, the action sensible, and you actually care about what’s happening on the screen. The jokes hit, the emotional punches land right where they’re supposed to, and everyone sounds normal. By the end of it, the boring first half is a hazy distant memory that is painful to drag up from the depths of your mind.

I have to wonder if the screenwriters just ran out of time. Did they spend all their time punching up the third act and then when they had to turn in a script to shoot everyone just agreed to let the first half slide? Maybe they just hoped the second half of the film is all anyone would remember after they left the theater? I don’t know, but I am certainly curious.

There’s not much else to say in regards to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I personally thought it was hilarious that the most moving performance in the whole thing was Alan Ritchson as Raphael, but that’s more because of his time as idiotic linebacker Thad Castle on the raunchy college sitcom Blue Mountain State than anything else. I wouldn’t suggest watching this in theaters. If you catch it on streaming or cable in a few months/years you’ll probably enjoy it but it’s not worth rushing out to see. I will also say that my opinion might change as my memory of the terrible first half fades away much like it did for the first Transformers movie.

Ultimately, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is far from terrible but it’s also far from great.

Guardians of the Galaxy is still in theaters though. Have you seen that? Would you like to? Cause I’d go again.

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From → Movies

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