Nickelodeon Movies’ “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”
Directed By: Jonathan Liebesman
Produced By: Michael Bay, Andrew Form, Bradley Fuller, Galen Walker, Scott Mednick, & Ian Bryce
Screenplay By: Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec, & Evan Daugherty
I’m not going to lie I didn’t have high hopes for this movie. It has a LOT of factors working against it and one of them, as many people have attributed time and time again, is Michael Bay. While I can’t disagree with this I also feel it worth mentioning that when it comes to making a live action film to an otherwise popular and beloved animated series Nickelodeon tends to drop the ball. Drop it hard. Personally, the only Nickelodeon movies I’ve enjoyed were the ones based on books, but that’s neither here nor there. For the purposes of this particular review, I shall discuss the three most criticized proportions in the film.
First I shall discuss the changed designs of the Ninja Turtles and Splinter as well as the Shredder’s armor. Second the newly made origins of the Turtles and their changed connection to April O’Neil and, in a roundabout way, the Shredder. Last, and certainly not least, the moments that were well and clearly times that Michael Bay was allowed to influence the film. Warning, there will be SPOILERS in this review, intentional or otherwise, so continue reading at your own risk.
I shan’t lie, I hated how the Turtles looked both in their size, all of them being six feet tall at least, but what I really couldn’t stand was their lips. Their pouty little lips that I kept trying to reason but just couldn’t find an adequate one. Yet… as the film went on, I found myself growing accustomed to the changes. Not entirely, for there were moments those silly lips were just too much, but overall? While this was something of a gag in the early cartoon series and comics with the Turtles being easily confused for one another were it not for their colored bandanas, I like how they’ve been given distinctive body shapes.
Raphael is the powerhouse and built like an American football linebacker and even has parts of his shell cracked and duct taped. Donatello is the nerd with glasses, actual glasses to which I cheer most heartily, and enough advanced tech to make one wonder if he hadn’t learned from MacGyver. Michelangelo is the kid of the bunch, being the shortest and most eccentrically dressed of the group with the oddest “bling” necklace I’ve seen yet. Leonardo is the levelheaded leader and garbed more like a ninja with actual armor.
Yet despite these clear visual differences, there was no mistaking which Turtle was which as far as mannerisms and personalities are concerned. The Turtles are every bit the same as they’ve ever been and can hear it readily in how they speak and act towards one another, especially in the more comedic moments of the film. Out of the entirety of the film, the one moment that will always stick clearly in my mind is when the four of them are in an elevator going up to fight the Shredder when Mikey suddenly starts to beat his nunchakus together followed shortly by Raph with his sai and Donnie with his bo before Leo eventually breaks and adds the clinging of his katana to the little musical beat.
It’s the little moments like that, that really show us how human a character can be.
As to Splinter, he scared the beejuzus out of me when he first appeared on screen, looking more like a human sized rat than a humanoid rat as he had in previous incarnations. It didn’t help that he initially gave off a very harsh, almost abusive, vibe to the turtles up until his “punishment” was revealed to be intensive, and almost silly, ninja training and that his main method of torture involved a freshly made pizza with cheeses that even Michelangelo hadn’t even heard of. That and while I have seen Splinter fight, it’s very rare that we see him fight the Shredder and I will say this, my money will always and forever shall be on the old rat kicking some serious tail.
Speaking of the Shredder, I will say two things about him. First, he is well and truly the Shredder both in and out the armor. He gave me the willies with his voice alone and the moment you see his shadowed form, you realize that somebody is either going to die or sincerely wish they were already dead. Second, the armor itself is both incredibly hardcore and unbelievably silly in how over the top it is.
As the trailers have shown, the Shredder has a myriad of blades in his armor but what they don’t show is that he can not only launch them like bladed missiles of death but can also magnetically pull them back into place. I’m not sure as to the science behind all that, but you know what? Don’t care, that was an amazing effect to see and an impressive fight to watch between him and Splinter.
The origin of the Turtles and Splinter is changed as I’m many had guessed by this point but the degree of those changes are both sensible and idiotic at the same time. The mutagen, as it is referred to still in film, was intended to be something of a possible cure-all antidote and is, quite possibly, alien in origin.
What makes this origin fairly interesting is that April’s father was the lead scientist behind the project, named Project Renaissance and hence the names of the individual Turtles that were color-coded in their distinctive colors, and that April herself inspired their love of pizza by secretly feeding them some as a treat. What makes it silly though is that it’s never explained why Splinter was there being the only rat nor why the turtles themselves were chosen instead of rabbits, a quip made by one of the film’s villains no less.
Yet what makes it especially horrendous is how the Turtles learn how to be ninja. They learned it from Splinter who is still their sensei/father figure but as to where Splinter himself learned the art of ninjitsu, the art of invisibility?
From a book.
No. I kid you not, Splinter happens across a couple of ancient, honest-to-goodness Japanese books that describe the various forms and art styles of ninja.
I just… WHY? For the love of pepperoni pizza, why?
They could have had it that Splinter might have been the Shredder’s old pet and the one that gave him a wicked scar, a nice tongue-in-cheek nod to the original films, and that’s how he not only knew ninjitsu but was skilled enough to face the Shredder and nearly beat him, but from a BOOK? Granted, I’m all for literary learning and all that but my suspension of disbelief draws a firm line when an ancient Japanese book of ninjitsu ends up in the sewers of New York City.
Lastly, but certainly not least, the influences of one Michael Bay… Well, for one thing, I can say that while I was one of many who were NOT happy with Megan Fox being chosen for the role of April O’Neil, I will say that she is, surprisingly, not herself in the role. That is to say that in her previous films, I never say the character Megan Fox was trying to portray, just Megan Fox with a different name. That’s not the case for April though they still make her out to be a horrendous idiot in the film.
Like when she tries to explain to her boss that she discovered the TMNT, she doesn’t show her boss the, admittedly blurry, photo she managed to take of them fleeing the scene or the video evidence of one of them, likely Raphael, headbutting a glass tank hard enough to crack it. No, instead she shows her boss a picture she likely pulled off the Animal Planet website of the Ninja Turtles as regular turtles and the video she shows her? She shows the one of her younger self giving little Mikey a slice of pizza.
That’s not even her stupidest moment either, sad to say. There’s a scene where she and Vernon are in a truck careening down a snowy mountain side with the Turtles sliding/fighting not far behind and what does she think to do now instead of any other moment prior or later? Take out a regular camera and try to film the events happening behind her by sticking herself halfway out the truck window. I happen to know that my mother has that exact same model camera she was using and I can say that the video quality is bad enough when one is standing still but whilst careening?
For pity’s sake…
Of course, Michael Bay’s influences are seen most especially in April, and occasionally Michelangelo and his slang but I can’t really blame that entirely on him given that’s just how Mikey generally is anyway. In the aforementioned scene, there’s a moment where Vernon is clearly looking at April’s behind, whilst she’s wiggling about for a better angle to record the events happening. In a far earlier scene, right at the beginning of the film almost, April is doing a news report on some form of exercise that involves small jumps on a trampoline.
Jumping on a trampoline with other ladies beside her.
Do I even have to say anything more?
Yet, the biggest and most obvious offense occurs in a scene that is inserted for no apparent reason amidst the credits. Picture it, Michelangelo and Raphael running across the rooftops in broad daylight when a passerby happens to glance up towards them and they hide themselves by clinging to a billboard sign. A billboard sign for Victoria’s Secret where they are both, literally, pretending to be a part of the woman’s bra. The earlier scenes I could chalk up as just some minor moments of subtle, or perhaps even unintended, perversion, but that?
I would not be at all surprised if it’s because of that scene that the film earned its PG-13 rating. I really wouldn’t.
As I said earlier, the film was not as bad as I thought it’d be but not as good as I had hoped it would be. Would I see it again in theaters for a second time? Not likely. Will I buy it when it comes out on DVD? Heck no, I’m getting the deluxe blu-ray edition with hours of extra stuff I’ll probably never watch in a single sitting but will be glad to have regardless.
Because at the end of the day, I grew up with the Ninja Turtles and this film is just another chapter of a story that will likely go on for several more generations to come. That and if there are those who are true Turtles fans at heart, this film is delightfully riddled with several nods towards the franchise both good and bad, obvious and not so obvious and I had far too much fun trying to spot them all. Until the next read or as the teens are oft to say…