Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Teenage Mutant Ninja TurtlesA review by Nalini Haynes

Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Writers: Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec, Evan Daughtery with Peter Laird (TMNT characters) and Kevin Eastman (TMNT characters)
Stars: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner
Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 2/5

[Spoilers, sweetie. You want a spoiler-free review? It’s an action movie, Michael Bay–style. You want heart? Watch the original.]

It’s been one of those weeks so this review is sadly overdue. At the same time, I’ve been struggling with what to say about this movie. First: a confession. I loved the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. It’s fun, action-packed and full of heart with comedy on the side. I didn’t expect this movie to match up to the original but I figured Michael Bay does action well and no-one could kill the comedy, right? Right?

There were people laughing in the audience. For reals. It’s just that the minion and I were not among them.

The evil Foot clan are robbing New York citizens blind. April O’Neil (Meghan Fox), fluff reporter, is on the case, trying to bust her way out of fluff into real reporting. Lights go out. Lights go back up. Foot are gift-wrapped for police.

April gets a lead, takes a photo, but it’s blurry.

April remembers that the turtles and Splinter the rat were her pets in a laboratory experiment on animals. Actually, they were April’s father’s medical test subjects. April rescued the animals from a laboratory fire. That her father started with April at the laboratory. He died in the fire. No, his partner shot him. April, unaware of the shooting, rescued the animals and fled the fire. Once on a street devoid of firefighters, paramedics or adults of any description, April pushes the turtles and rat into a grid over the sewer to save them from the fire. That fire they already escaped.

April is smart enough to realise the turtles and rat were her pets but not smart enough to realise that everyone will assume she has a mental illness if she tells them without incontrovertible proof.

It’s an action movie. You don’t watch a Michael Bay movie for the plot. Or the characters, apparently.

The action came a-plenty. If the Hobbit was eye-bleed 3D, the TMNT reboot is eye-blur. I wouldn’t mention this if it was just me but even the minion said he had trouble seeing some of the action because it was too fast, too overdone. He knew I wouldn’t be able to see much more.

In between sections of blur, I saw a few seconds of a turbo-charged (literally, it had rocket boosters) skateboard. It wasn’t in the sewers or on the street, though, it was on a snow-covered hill. Turtles slid down the slope on their half-shells; I expected the catch-cry ‘I just love being a turtle!’ but it was not forthcoming at this point.

A big truck overshadowed turtles in danger underneath; the minion noticed some suspiciously Transformer-style theme music.

Action. Action. More action.

After the shenanigans in the snow, Shredder takes on the Turtles on a rooftop in New York. They must defeat Shredder to prevent (more) lethal poison being injected into the atmosphere. Fight ensues.

Shredder, dressed in a ton of spiky plate-mail, dances like a leet martial artist clad only in gee. One of the strengths of the original was the real fight scenes. Not so in the reboot.

The reboot passes the Bechdel test where the original did not, although, ironically, the reboot is far more sexist than the original in spite of Bernadette Thompson (Whoopi Goldberg) taking down April in a very mild, unfunny reference to Clarke Kent and Peter Parker’s editor conflicts. In the original, April is a kick-ass reporter. In the sequel, April is fluff and sex appeal, both at work and as a character generally. Then she loses her job but, hey, she has her turtle friends and former co-worker Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) who sexually harasses her constantly, so that’s all good, right?

I’m not sure if Vernon Fenwick is supposed to be the love interest like Casey in the original TMNT movie; he’s more like Gob Bluth (also played by Will Arnett) and every creepy guy that sexually harasses every woman ever, telling her that he’s doing her a favour.

The turtles seemed racially ambiguous to me. I loved the Jim Henson puppets so I admit to bias but I thought one looked African-American then Jewish then back to African-American. Their personalities were pretty meh too. Mikey sexually harasses April; in the original he carries this off, partially because he’s in the cheer squad when April and Casey look like a match. In the Bay reboot, Mikey is more like the creep who can’t take no for an answer, compounded by playing the creep alongside April’s co-worker Fenwick. I found it difficult to remember the other turtles’ names . Donatello is the dude with goggles and gadgets although I would have thought that’d be Leonardo. Raphael is the angry aggressive dude who claims leadership although who’d want him as a leader? Not me. Leonardo was the extra, making up the foursome without much input.

Splinter is gross. Splinter in the original is more like an actual rat. Splinter in the sequel is more like a monster.

I’m not sure if I’m allowing my love for the original to blind me to its flaws but I think the original was less racist. Splinter’s former owner was a good Japanese guy, Splinter identifying as Japanese as a result. And, yeah, I know the ancient Oriental teacher-dude is a trope; at least it’s a positive image. In the sequel, Splinter is American and learns martial arts from a book. As you do. So just the bad guys, some of the Foot clan and Shredder, are Japanese.

The night after seeing the reboot I re-watched the original. It had more character development in the first 5 minutes than the Bay reboot had in the entire movie. Within those 5 minutes I remembered all the names.

The action scenes that I could see in the reboot came up well on the big IMAX screen. Shredder is always going to look better if he’s 7 storeys tall, right? How about if his HELMET is 7 storeys tall? Costume porn on the big screen.

Michael Bay is known for his action movies. I thought Transformers 4 was about half an hour too long, suited more to people who sit and watch race cars go round and round the track than for me with my hunger for plot and characters. If you like Michael Bay movies, watch his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle reboot. If you like the original movie, re-watch the original. Don’t let Michael Bay destroy a cultural icon for you. According to IMDB, the reboot is 101 minutes. I was so bored I looked at my watch at about 90 minutes.