IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 101 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
April O’Neil, a reporter for Channel 6 news in New York, has been researching a gang called the Foot Clan which has been terrorizing the city. She questions a dock worker about shipments of chemicals that may be linked to the Foot Clan and at night sees the Foot Clan unloading cargo. April tries to record footage using her phone, but a shadowy figure arrives and takes out the Foot Soldiers one by one. She tells her co-workers and her boss Bernadette Thompson, but no one believes her story. The Foot Clan next attack a subway station and take hostages. April sees four figures this time, who disappear after defeating the Foot Clan. She follows them to a rooftop and tries to photograph them, but they delete the camera’s images, warning her not to divulge their existence. She asks them who they are as they leave, and they say, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”….
So it’s here, the reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the reason I subjected myself to the previous four Turtle films and reviewed them for this website, and to be honest I was somewhat dreading seeing this one, though I really should have known better. Though a big commercial success in the States, something that seems on its way to being repeated over here in Blighty [ though they seemed to put off the UK release for quite a bit didn’t they?], people don’t seem to have much good to say about it. Critical reception seems to be poor, though actually none of the Turtle films were well reviewed. More importantly, it doesn’t seem to have pleased the Turtle fans either, though even before its release there was moaning about the fact that Michael Bay [aka The Devil, or so you would think] was involved, and this was predictably followed by the nonsensical: “Michael Bay has raped my childhood for a second time” crap. I defended Transformers: Age Of Extinction, because I felt that, while no classic, it delivered in what it promised and improved on the previous films in its franchise. I even wrote an entire article defending Michael Bay. It seems to me that the widespread, ridiculous and tiresome Bay hatred is precluding many from enjoying something he is involved with and is even getting people to make up their minds about that something even before they have seen it. In fact, it’s even getting people to say things that are just not true. I’ve read comments that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is nothing more than mindless action all the way through, but actually the first half only features two major action scenes.
Of course Bay didn’t actually direct Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, though his fingerprints are all over it and it was produced by his company Platinum Dunes. Now I dislike Platinum Dunes as much as I reckon many other horror fans do due to it being set up to principally remake older horror films, though the company seems to have moved away from that now, and the director of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Jonathan Liebesman did make one of their best films, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. The new Turtles film certainly has its problems, and it’s easy to see why some fans of the Heroes In A Half-Shell are irritated by alterations to the source material, but overall it’s a decent action fantasy, and certainly not gloomy and overly serious like some say [it really seems like half the folk criticising the film didn’t even watch it]. If it had come from Marvel, I reckon it would have got a lot more positive attention. Then again, I’ve always felt that, despite being seen on children’s lunchboxes and the like during their most popular phase, the late 80’s and early 90’s, the Turtles have never quite broken away from their underground origins, and maybe that’s as it should be.
The story is very similar to the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for its first third, with reporter April O’ Neal investigating the mysterious crime wave in New York and finding herself in danger from which she has some very strange rescuers. The Turtles are seen in a rather ‘for dummies’ introductory scene-setting bit with Sin City-style images, but the early scene of April being rescued by a Turtle consists mainly of Foot Clan members being thrown about, and the film does build up to their full appearance quite well. Things do resolve into a series of action sequences about half way through as there’s an attempt to destroy the city, but despite what you’ve heard, there’s plenty of room to get to know the Turtles, and their interplay is great throughout. Their best moment has them beat-boxing in a lift, something I can just imagine them doing. In terms of action, the stand-out scene is a vehicle chase down a hill where the truck the Turtles are in is tumbling down and down yet they still have to fight off pursuing vehicles and rescue April. It’s a tremendously exciting and inventive sequence, one of those scenes where you can imagine people sitting round a table brainstorming for ages. The roof top climax isn’t quite so good, but there’s a decent amount of Asian-style martial arts fighting. I don’t really like the ’12A’ rating, and find it absurd that films of such wide-ranging material get this rating, but it works for the Turtles, because we can finally see lots of fairly brutal, if not bloody, fighting. The best brawl is a set-to between the Turtles’ rat sensei and virtual ‘father’ Splinter and the villainous Shredder, really good stuff.
Unfortunately, said Splinter/Shredder encounter doesn’t have the emotional weight it should do because, unlike in the 1990 film, there’s no history between the two characters, and most of the other changes, including the Turtles having originated as April’s pets and the substance that mutated them being partly man-made and partly alien [though actually the ‘Ooze’ was alien in the comics], don’t work too well, while certain parts of the plot are either a mess or don’t make sense. Changing the Foot Clan from ninjas to masked men with guns was a bad idea too. There’s been much criticism of Megan Fox as April, though she’s actually slightly improved as an actress and delivers some of her lines with exactly the right, mock-serious tone. A bigger issue is how poorly April is written, and how stupid she is, while despite having a huge amount of screen time she doesn’t have any decent ‘hanging out’ time with the Turtles – everything is just ‘Go Go Go’. Her colleague/potential lover interest is dull – this film really misses the character of Casey Jones – and characters elsewhere are sometimes given short shrift, like what the hell happened to evil female Foot Soldier Karai? Still, William Fichtner, as he showed in The Lone Ranger, is a superb screen villain and can always make expository dialogue interesting.
The CGI Turtles look overly muscular and grotesque – I actually much prefer an earlier set of designs they had for them – and what’s with Leonardo having some stupid thing on his chest and a NYC pin on his shoulder strap, Donatello having a ridiculous contraption on his head and giant glasses, Michelangelo having his stupid sunglasses hanging from his shell necklace, and Raphael with duct tape on the back of shell and sunglasses [ in fact what’s with these sunglasses?] on his head. Their strength seems to be inconsistent too. One minute they can send large metal crates flying. The next, they have trouble lifting a gate. Splinter just looks freaky, though Shredder is really ‘bad-ass’ in robot samurai armour [I miss the cheese grater though]. The film certainly gets the personalities of the Turtles right though and, again despite what you may have heard, are given plentiful scenes to be themselves, from being given tasks by Splinter as punishment only to be cruelly tempted by Splinter with a pizza [good product placement for Pizza Hut here, though once again I need to correct comments I’ve read by saying that there isn’t product placement for the company anywhere else in the film], to thinking they are all about to die and arrogant bad-boy Raphael saying he actually loves the Turtles, a really emotional and nicely played moment. Despite flaws in execution, this film shows that Bay and Liebesman do understand the Turtles, and their appeal.
The tone is slightly grittier than we are familiar with, but so were the original comics, and there are plenty of well-placed laughs throughout. There are a few examples of bad special effects, most notably during some explosions when you see a second of a really poor CGI explosion and then cut to a ‘real’ aftermath, and Leibesman, as is the depressing norm now, uses far too many close-ups during the action, though he thankfully refrains from crappy ‘shakycam’ for the most part [April is introduced with the camera wobbling about, and I really was expecting the worse], and considering the dreadful state of action filmmaking today does a reasonable job really. There are some problems with this new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and overall it lacks the charm of the original movie, but it’s nowhere near as bad as many are saying and is actually a solid and often well-crafted blockbuster. I enjoyed it as much as the last few Marvel films, though I know some of that may be due to me getting bloody sick of Marvel. In any case, It may not be ‘radical’, but it’s certainly rather ‘bodacious’.
Check out my reviews of the previous four Ninja Turtle films here: