Meet The New Face Of Justice
Ok, it’s time for some hard truths. The Turtles franchise has been around for several decades and bar a few of the comic incarnations and the most recent animated series, they’re all by-and-large quite shite. I’m not saying you can’t enjoy the concept, the old films, the impossible NES game or classic 80’s cartoon but time and nostalgia have warped the memory of these examples into a mound of undeserved glory. Are we clear on that? There’s no golden age of Turtles, there’s just a decent comic concept with a monster of the week formula, that’s all. If you go back and watch/play/read any of the adaptations over the years, they immediately lose their personality and charm and expose themselves for the platform for selling toys that they were. I’m not unnecessarily bashing the Turtles, I too had all the figures, watched the series and the films and even like the current IDW comic run but I’m not under the delusion that we’re talking about a Studio Ghibli release or Casablanca. So with this in mind, I have the following announcement to make: I enjoyed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
After a brief animated exposition sequence, we’re introduced to Channel 6 news reporter, April O’Neil [Fox], who is pursuing a story about an underground gang called the Foot. At which point her cameraman, Vern Fenwick [Arnett] reminds her that they have an actual story to report on – which turns out to be a fluff piece about a new trending exercise fad. Deflated but not defeated, April is determined to break the story and justify her four years of journalistic studying (she goes on about that quite a lot – an attribute which would be better shown than talked about – but thankfully it’s something which is quietly mocked by the supporting cast). April witnesses the Foot first-hand, but they are taken out by a fast-moving shadowy figure, yet without evidence, her colleagues refuse to believe her. At this point we are introduced to the Foot’s leader, Master Shredder [Tohoru Masamune], who orders the clan to hurt the innocent to flush out the vigilante. The Foot execute their plan and April is there to witness it. Once again, this act is thwarted by not one but four vigilantes, who defeat the gang members and escape before anyone can get a decent look at them. April follows them to a rooftop and manages to take a picture before meeting the vigilantes, four mutated humanoid turtles named Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo. The four brothers explain that April cannot tell anyone of their existence and disappear into the sewers. As the story progresses, we learn that April and the turtles share a history (before anyone starts whining, that’s also the origin in the IDW comics) and this connection puts all of their lives at risk.
Going back to my opening paragraph, I said I enjoyed it.. I didn’t say it was a good film, so let’s dispense with the admittedly negative elements first. The story is far from original. Once again, we’re treated to a Raphael-driven story, in which the abrasive member of the group realises that he works better with the team and has difficulty expressing himself. Nothing new there. Then you have a combination of several mad scientist plots with the whole chemical dispersal thing; The Amazing Spider-Man, Mission: Impossible II, X-Men, etc. which isn’t helped by quite a healthy dose of plot -holes. Secondly there’s Splinter. Literally everything about Splinter is pretty atrocious. The CGI is appalling, the character design is rather odd, I wouldn’t say Tony Shalhoub phoned in his performance but he definitely wasn’t the best casting decision, the dialogue is pretty ropey and the physical actions don’t make a lot of sense (moustache flicking? Really? This isn’t Kill Bill). After a while you get used to the turtle’s design and though I’m still not entirely sold, I understand the 2003 series inspiration and combatting the question ‘if they didn’t have the masks on, could you tell them apart?’ Having said that, I can’t abide the bloody accessories. There were far too many, so everything looks a little cluttered and more importantly, they’re impervious to damage. For example, Raphael is a tough-guy, how could this be conveyed physically? “Well, we could start with a lot of scarring all over his face and body?” Sure, that makes sense, what else? “How about his shell has a few cracks but he just duct tapes them up, ’cause he’s such a badass?” Stretching a bit but ok, I’ll allow it. “Oh! And sunglasses! All cool guys wear sunglasses.” So, he wears sunglasses all the time? “No, just on his head.” Perched on his head? “Yeah, ’cause he’s cool.” But.. he doesn’t have any ears. And they move around mostly at night so if he never wears them, what’s the point in having them? “And a toothpick!” What? “A toothpick! Nothing says tough guy more than a toothpick in his mouth.” Again, are you talking about all the time? Even during the action sequences? Just clenched between his teeth, never losing it or it falling from his mouth? “You read my mind!” *face palm*
One of the stronger elements is the music used. If the turtles are contemporary teenagers, it would make sense that they would enjoy certain music styles – case in point, leaving the screening, I couldn’t even count the amount of kids dancing and singing along to the ‘Shell Shocked’ track during the end credits. On top of that, Brian Tyler’s score feels appropriately epic and heroic in scale, using the classic trumpet, strings and choral waves rather than employing a more guitar/electronic orientated score. Having said that, I’m starting to worry about Brian Tyler. Since he was effectively appointed the go to composer for Marvel’s films, everything he’s produced sounds a little samey. Almost like he’s taken a series of six notes and just keeps rearranging them. Before any smartarses feel the need to point out that’s exactly what music is, I’m referring to the similarities in formula and melodic themes. Maybe it’s just me. From a technical standpoint, I felt the direction was fairly decent. Nothing overly challenging but thankfully you could pretty much see everything that was going on – a fact ensured by watching this release in 2D. Speaking of shaky-cam, this movie is actually devoid of a lot of Bay-isms. I know Michael Bay is producer and his name is stamped all over the promotional material but if I’m honest, his signature isn’t overly present. None of the characters struck me as particularly racist, offensive or over-sexualised, there isn’t a great deal of random swearing, every scene isn’t set at sunset, the inclusion of Karai and other Japanese speaking characters was a nice touch, although there was plenty of product placement it largely made sense considering the source material (pizza) and story (phones), the mutagen nods set up a whole realm of potential stories with Bebop, Rocksteady, Baxter, Casey Jones, Dimension X, Krang, etc, and while the story is a little dumbed down I felt that Megan Fox was a better April O’Neil than Amy Adams was Lois Lane.
It’s important to note that I went into the cinema with absolutely no expectations. I’m a fan of the turtles but wanted to see how they’d be interpreted or reinvented and I was surprised to discover that all the key elements are in place. For all intents and purposes, this is a good TMNT film. The comedy is surprisingly reminiscent of the cartoon, the action is enjoyable without being unfollowable, there’s a good human/turtle narrative ratio, the acting is acceptable and the story was a tad weak but credible enough for an origin story. Obviously all these things can be improved upon but it’s not nearly the train wreck everyone claims it to be; if anything it’s better than all three Transformers sequels combined. My recommendation is to try this film if you’re looking for light family action, if it’s not your thing, no problem. But don’t start harping on about how this film has ruined your childhood or it’s tarnished the spotless name of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, ’cause you’re just going to embarrass yourself.
17th October 2014
The Scene To Look Out For:
In my synopsis I’ve deliberately missed out a whole section of the plot in which three of the turtles are kidnapped for the mutagen to be extracted from their blood. Eventually they’re found by April, Vern and Raphael. While Raphael battles Shredder, April asks what she can do to free the others. Donatello, after significant blood-loss wearily requests adrenalin. Naturally, April panics and administers far too high a dosage and the turtles break out of their cages. At which point their reaction to such high levels of adrenalin take over and they run around frantically, speaking at incredible speeds. It’s rather amusing and neatly culminates with Michelangelo running out of the warehouse, arms spread shouting, “We all have to stay calm! LOOK HOW CALM I AM!”
To be honest, all four turtles were my favourite characters collectively. While the personalities were heightened to excess, they were easily recognisable (both in terms of the characteristics fans are familiar with and physically in fight sequences) and aside from a few odd interactions the cast and crew seem to have genuinely captured something of the heart of these individuals. I still have no idea why Johnny Knoxville was chosen to ADR Leonardo, who was played by someone else entirely but his voice was far from jarring.
“Ooooh tension. It’s been.. like.. thirty whole minutes since you last had this conversation”
In A Few Words:
“Not nearly as awful as it has been portrayed but there’s definitely room for improvement. With a confirmed sequel, hopefully these issues will be addressed. In the meantime, just stick to the 2007 animated release“