TR Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Nitwits in a Nutshell

By Luke Y. Thompson in Cartoons, Comics, Movies
Monday, August 4, 2014 at 11:30 am


Lucy Liu voice: "You didn't really think it was going to be any good, did you?"

Beatrix Kiddo voice: "You know...for a second there...huh, yeah. I kinda did."

Following one of the most disastrous marketing campaigns I've seen in a long time, one that emphasized the Michael Bay connection and failed to get good studio-controlled images of its main characters out there before ancillary merchandising got there first, I was finally starting to hear things about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that gave me hope. Like director Jonathan Liebesman saying he loved the cartoon and wanted to be true to it. Rumors that William Fichtner was not, in fact, playing a racially miscast Shredder. Teasers that mocked the idea of the turtles being aliens. Kevin Eastman saying he liked it (to be fair, Eastman, much like Stan Lee, Will Endorse For Food). I'm not even a total hater of the redesigns (save the stupid nostrils) and was looking forward to maybe owning some of the toys.

And then I'm pretty sure I saw a movie in which Michelangelo wants to fuck April.

Oh yes, purists - that's "Michelangelo," the correct spelling of the Renaissance artist's name; a correction finally made after years of Turtles canon misspelling it "Michaelangelo." I have no strong opinion on that one way or the other - it's just funny it took so long to do it.

As a matter of fact, I didn't think I'd have a strong opinion of any changes made to the story - like Transformers and He-Man, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have had several similar-yet-different continuities, and if there's any property that can weather some change, this is it - the Erik Larsen-produced series for Image, and the similarly dark Body Count, for example, were more ultra-violent than anything Michael Bay will likely ever do. But at the same time, there are character beats you want to see be the same in every incarnation - even the Adam West Batman had his parents murdered, though the show didn't dwell on it.


So, okay...the fact that the turtles AND Splinter are now April's childhood pets, but also experimented on by her scientist father as part of something called Project Renaissance, and she feeds them crumbs of pizza, but her dad's partner pulls a double-cross because he's actually a pupil of Shredder, and Splinter is not only not Japanese but has nothing whatsoever to do with Hamato Yoshi (a name not mentioned in this movie, ever)...and learns ninjutsu from a book, yet ALL his primary fighting moves involve his tail, which would definitely NOT be covered in a book written for humans....

Deep breath.

Okay, so technically April is like the turtles' mother, in a way, because she saves them from a lab fire and releases them into the sewers. And then when she meets them again all grown up, they go on and on about how hot she is, and even after her connection to them is revealed, Michelangelo STILL keeps asking her out...


Ow. Head just banged against the wall a few times.

This movie was not made by fans of Ninja Turtles, whatever they may tell you. It is a movie made by people going through the motions. Just for a far more minor example, there's a scene in an elevator where Mikey and Raph start beat-boxing, and it almost sounds like "Ninja Rap" for a moment. Before long, Don and Leo have joined in and it's like a mini music video. It's fun, except that based on everything established about Leonardo thus far in the movie (he's the serious one), it's not the sort of thing he would ever do.

Now, I've never been a hater of Megan Fox, particularly. She has an agreeable screen presence in movies like Jennifer's Body and How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, and her complete lack of diplomacy and political correctness in interviews is endearing, not to mention she's easy on the eyes too. But the way April O'Neil is written and depicted herein is a major setback for one of geekdom's greatest female role model characters. It's not that Fox is more glamorous than one might expect - who says April can't look good? - but that every character hits on her constantly. The movie coyly has her forced into the role of entirely frivolous journalist, whose assignments even include getting her to jump on a trampoline as part of a fluff story about fitness. Director Liebesman probably thinks he's critiquing sexism...but he still found a way to give us Megan Fox getting jiggly on a trampoline.

Side note: why do journalist characters in movies always hate doing arts and human-interest stories and want to be real hard-news reporters? Arts and human-interest stuff is more fun. Trust me, I've had people try to turn me into a serious journalist. It sucked. Reporting on toys and movies and stuff is way better. And I think I'd say that even if I had to wear a Speedo and jump on a trampoline.

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