A few weeks ago, the geek world fell into despair. Guardians of the Galaxy, far and away the best movie of the summer, had been beaten in its second weekend by a movie everyone had been dreading – the Michael Bay-produced adaptation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And with good reason – everything we’d seen in the trailers showed us a bland, humorless world of Bayformers style explosions and giant robots.
This weekend, given two hours or so to see a movie and not able to see Guardians for the fourth time, I finally gave in a purchased a ticket to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Was it bad? Was it really bad? Was it Revenge of the Fallen bad? All these questions and more will be answered, as you read on.
First of all, spoilers ahead, for those of you who care.
Second of all, the answer to all three questions above: No.
The fact that Ninja Turtles is a decent movie is a huge surprise, given the trailers and the producer. Is it a great movie? No. There are definitely still some major problems with it. Let’s take a look:
Who let this through? Who allowed this? The turtles have noses, and dead eyes, and are so over-designed that they look kind of terrifying. They’re also god-damn-gigantic, which makes no sense for creatures that are supposed to be lithe and stealthy. Each character is given a distinct costume to show off their interests – which is actually a great idea. But there’s so much stuff crammed onto each Turtle that they just look like a confusing mess. And they’re not nearly as terrifying as-
I cannot find a single publicity photo of Splinter that shows his face, so this will have to do. Luckily, it’s a good representation. His face is the worst CG effect in the movie, with jet-black eyes and fur that looks like it came straight out of Monsters Inc, ten years ago. Combine that with two major problems: 1) He’s played by a white dude. (Tony Shaloub. Who’s a great actor! But not a great Splinter.) A white dude who’s not even trying to do a Japanese accent. 2) In this version, Splinter is not a Japanese warrior who knows Ninjitsu from years of training, he’s a mutated rat who accidentally found a book on Ninjitsu in the sewer. It’s…a bit hard to swallow.
Poor Megan Fox. Seriously – after proving that she was completely replaceable in the Transformers series, her old boss brought her back for this one, and it’s almost exactly as bad as we’d feared. I give her a lot of credit, she’s clearly trying like her career depends on it. And it’s certainly not, say, a Kristin Stewart performance. She shows emotion, and even a little character growth…but her line readings are so consistently terrible that it takes you right out of the movie. And this movie cannot afford to do that.
That’s about what we expected. So why do I still call it a decent movie? Because, the fact is, I came out of it with a big smile on my face. There are huge chunks of this film that are flat out fun, and you can tell director Jonathan Liebsman and crew had an understanding of their source material that many Bay adaptations often lack. So here’s what’s good, or even great about this film:
THIS GUY IS NOT THE SHREDDER
When William Fichtner was first announced as the main villain in this film, everyone assumed that meant he was the Shredder. And the outcry from everyone, including me, was huge. The Shredder, Oroku Saki, is Japanese. He has to be Japanese, even more than Splinter, or nothing makes any damn sense in this universe. And I’m happy to report – we were all wrong. Fichtner plays William Sachs, who is the Shredder’s lacky. The Shredder is played by a Japanese gentlemen by the name of Tohoru Masamune. He spends most of the movie, when he’s not handing the Turtles their shells, speaking Japanese. And while Sachs gets more screen time, it’s always very clear that he’s not the real threat. Thank god. I admit, I spent most of the movie waiting for the other shoe to drop – for Sachs to betray his master, or reveal that he was the “real” Shredder, Iron Man 3 style. Nope. He’s a lacky.
While we’re on the subject of the Shredder, yes, his over-designed and knife-filled armor is ludicrous. But, it leads to some really cool fight scenes, so I’m willing to let it go.
The film, in true Bay style, spends most of its time focusing on the human characters instead of the title heroes of the film. This means we spend most of the movie with Megan Fox – which is painful. Thankfully, it also means we spend most of the movie with Will Arnett. Arnett’s dialogue and character, in the hands of a lesser comedian, would have been one of the annoying, time stealing, comic-relief characters that throws a bad movie off a cliff into unwatchable territory. Thankfully, Arnett is good enough to make it all work, and some of it actually funny.
Although it is a little creepy that his character keeps hitting on Megan Fox.
I have to give credit to Alan Richardson, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, and yes, even Johnny Knoxville. Do they do the best job of playing the Turtles that I’ve ever seen? No, that would be these guys.
. But they do portray the Turtles. Each of them has the personality of their character down, and does a great job with it. For anyone who was worried that this movie would pull a Michael Bay Optimus Prime, and show any of these characters in a light that’s not true to their cores, rest easy. All of these guys do a great job showing both each individual character, and the relationship between these four brothers that makes them a family.
I only wish they had more time to develop it. The film follows the usual Raph vs Leo power dynamic that’s been the plot of every Ninja Turtle film since the beginning of time, but unlike in the original Turtles movie, there’s just not enough time to get it right. I believe the Turtles when they’re fighting, and when they make up, but the film doesn’t show us why
they make up. Suddenly, Raph just decides to follow Leo. There’s no build to it. And that’s a shame, because I feel like these actors could really have pulled it off.
All in all, I actually quite enjoyed this film, and the kids in the theater with me were bouncing out of their chairs with excitement. I’m glad it did as well as it did at the box office – with a sequel in development, maybe the creative team can take the time to make a great Ninja Turtles movie. I think they can do it.Mike Fatum is the Editor in Chief and Podcast Co-host of the Ace of Geeks. He is a party dude. Cowabunga. Also, Booyakashah.
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