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Review: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES

A lot of people have been really worried about the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie “because Michael Bay.” Bay is a producer on the movie along with his company Platinum Dunes. It’s not a Michael Bay movie, that much needs to be established right away. Why? Because, while his fingerprints are all over Jonathan Liebesman’s film, from frenetic action you can barely follow to shots leering at parts of Megan Fox’s anatomy, the new Ninja Turtles movies actually DOES feel like it’s for kids, more or less. Not people around 30 years old who grew up with the first cartoon (which is actually terrible, by the way; I watched a couple of episodes recently and they do not hold up at all), but for kids today. The whole feel of it is that of a big, actiony movie for the under-twelves. That doesn’t make it any good, by the way; it just means, it’s just not for grown ups, so stop worrying.

The makers of the film are relying on the fact that we basically know what and who the Ninja Turtles are, and even their basic personalities, because almost no time is spent on character development. The film is only 101 minutes long and with a plot this convoluted and the need for obligatory huge action sequences, it’s hard to spend much more than a passing moment or two trying to give the turtles much more than what the original theme song told us: Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines, Raphael is cool but rude, and Michelangelo is a party dude. Them’s your characters. But we don’t see them for a bit.

The movie begins with Splinter (voiced by Tony Shalhoub) giving us narration about how his sons are “destined” to save the city of New York. Fine, whatever. We then cut to April O’Neil (Fox), a correspondent for Channel 6 news who, because of her youth and looks, is generally relegated to puff pieces and human interest malarkey. She longs to be a real reporter, though, and is going out looking for evidence at yet another robbery undertaken by “The Foot Clan,” a group of mercenaries so secretive that everyone knows their name already. Nobody takes her seriously, not even her cameraman and apparent only friend Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett), who thinks she ought to just be content where she is. It’s impossible to tell if he’s actually sleazy or just tries to act cool and comes across as sleazy. The character is a mystery.

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Eventually, April finds evidence (that no one believes) of vigilantes stopping the Foot. After becoming a hostage of the Foot, she follows her rescuers to a rooftop where she sees that they are, in fact, Ninja Mutant Turtle Teenagers. She is suddenly reminded of growing up, when her now-deceased father worked in a lab run by Eric Sachs (William Fichtner) and they were doing tests on four box turtles and a rat. They were all named what their names are so she remembers everything. She goes to Sachs to tell him their experiments were a success after all, but (surprise) he isn’t who he seems to be and is in league with the leader of the Foot Clan, the mysterious Shredder (played by CGI and shadows). Now it’s up to April, Vern, and the Turtles to stop the bad guys from (get ready) destroying the whole city.

That’s a very, very simplified version of the plot. There’s seriously so much going on with the storyline that it’s a wonder any dialogue had enough space to be spoken. While most of Bay’s output is becoming longer and longer, this movie (which, again, he didn’t direct) is barely over 90 minutes. On the one hand, that’s great because it’s not very good and I was able to go home with the sun still up, but on the other hand, it’s not enough time to tell a decent story properly given how many moving parts they have to work with. There are more plot conveniences here than in any five action movies, not least of which being a massive “Inject Adrenaline” button April has to push when the Turtles are being drained of mutagen-enriched blood.

Corny jokes and way too many references (spoken, mind you; not visual) to other, much better movies and sci-fi properties aside, there are some things I actually found entertaining – namely the Turtles themselves. While not developed in any satisfactory way, the graphics used to create them are really impressive and their movements are incredibly fluid and realistic. In fact, the only time they or any of the CGI looks fake is when it interacts directly with human beings. Which is a shame, really, since that’s pretty important. There are some genuinely goofy/funny moments with the Turtles as they interact and bicker or what have you. I’m not going to say some of it didn’t make my eyes roll, but they ultimately came across rather well.

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There’s a surprisingly small amount of action in the film, save a couple of big sequences. The longest one is equal parts super entertaining and super confusing. The Turtles escape from Sachs’ compound in the snowy mountains (somewhere that’s only a short drive away from Manhattan in the springtime, by the way) with the help of April and Vern and end up sliding for a million miles downward in a semi truck while the Foot Clan in Hummers chase after them, firing electricity tethers. This sequence goes on SO LONG and is so kinetic and, I’ll say it, physically impossible, that I don’t even think falling down Mount Everest would take this long. Not to mention the Turtles hurl their bodies at cars and things and barely get hurt at all, much less the broken back or caved-in skull they probably would have gotten. That said, it’s actually fun to watch because it’s so fast-paced. Speed ramping happens too much, but hey, take what you can get.

Ultimately, who cares what I or any other grown-up film critic thinks? This is, as I said, a movie for kids. It’s not particularly smart, nor do any of the situations happen naturally, nor does it do much with the franchise so many people of my generation love because of nostalgia – but 8 year olds are going to think it’s the best thing ever, and that’s kind of what Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has always been. Since the first cartoon, it’s been a way of entertaining kids with talking animals who do martial arts and crack jokes and eat pizza. It’s the stupidest premise ever! But little kids don’t care. After leaving the screening, and all the film snobs were talking about how dumb the movie was, I spied two little boys pretend karate fighting, clearly exhilarated by the movie they’d just seen. You can’t argue with results.

2 out of 5 Burritos (though probably a 5 if you asked a kid).
2 burritos

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28 comments

  • […] In addition to Avatar: Legend of Korra and Star Wars: Rebels, I've been enjoying the latest incarnation of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, although I don't know how long Nickelodeon will carry it. TMNT has all the wackiness of its predecessors and is still faithful to the core characters that Eastman and Laird created (again, don't get me started on the latest live-action flick). […]

  • I have to disagree about the cartoon.  Maybe it’s because of nostalgia but I think it holds up pretty well, certainly better than any subsequent Turtles TV shows, and this is partly because of how totally ridiculous it was.  (Obviously, the TMNT were from the start supposed to be ridiculous, but with the cartoon it’s in a very different way from the original Mirage comic.)  Talking to the camera.  The letter on the belt buckle.  Even the different colored masks which every movie and TV series has used because it makes sense but which the comics (as far as I know) haven’t done.  In the same way that the Adam West Batman show embraced the inherent ridiculousness of comic book superheroes (the modern ones are often funnier because of how depressingly serious they are) the TMNT 87 cartoon embraced the ridiculousness of the Turtles which were always a parody – of the X-Men, of Daredevil, of the “grim-and-gritty” uberviolence of The Dark Knight Returns and its imitators.

    I do like this movie, but in the same way that Michael Bay made the Transformers look so weird and oddly repulsive he’s done the same here with the Turtles.  Although the 1990 movie probably looks pretty dated I prefer the look of those Turtles to the vaguely nause-inducing look of them in this movie.  (I guess, if anthropomorphic, talking turtles existed, they’d probably be closer to the gross, slimy, creepy turtles of this movie.)

  • It’s interesting, when the Nerdist reviewers are critical of a movie (for example, “Pompeii”), people come out of the woodwork to call them snobbish, elitist, over-critical morons who can’t just sit back and enjoy an action film without tearing it apart for not being Citizen Kane.Now the Nerdist reviewer acknowledges that, as a movie aimed at children, it does its job despite its poor quality, and people come out of the woodwork to tell him how much of an idiot he is for excusing the filmmakers.  Even though he acknowledged that it’s bad, and gave it a low rating, somehow saying anything positive makes him a part of why Hollywood is falling apart.Good luck, Kyle, et al. With an audience like this, it’s a wonder you’re not having a nervous breakdown.

    • The original cartoon IS terrible. have you tried watching it lately? the show is a train wreck. the animators CLEARLY didnt give a flying fuckididoo about the Art, characters masks swap colors back and forth within the same scene. voices are placed on the wrong turtles. the plots are TERRIBLE.. the whole show is something along the lines of Spaceghost Coast to Coast.. actually i take that back. at least the people who worked on spaceghost gave a shit about that franchise for some reason. the NEW CGI Turtles “Cartoon” is pretty awesome though. you can tell they got people who wasnt loaded on Weed to work on it. 

      • The new cartoon is terrible, partly because they’re trying too hard (mainly to please their 20- and 30-something fans).  All 80s cartoons had those problems.  They did this in Transformers all the time.  It’s part of the charm now, I’d take that over the too-slick, too-up-its-own-ass current cartoon series.

  • Nice piece, as it hits all the basics points I was curious about. This isn’t the type of movie that needs a review, but definitely requires a warning for those of us that grew up with the earlier kid versions of the Turtles with the (better remembered) cartoon and (still holds up) first movie.

    • Every Movie “Needs” a Review if your going by why reviews are made. the action in the movie is sub par. the characters are Copy and Paste. the Acting is borderline TERRIBLE, the Jokes are the stuff you’d find a 12 year old giggling over. mainly sex and fart jokes. the art direction is GOD AWFUL. the CGI is HORRIBLE.. the Turtles even have Green, Disgusting teeth!. they Turned Mikey into a totally repugnant PERVERT. every time he is around April he makes CREEPY sexual jokes.. this whole movie is the train wreck we KNEW it would be. not at all shocked.  

  • I’m sorry, but the argument, “It’s terrible, but it can be forgivable because it’s for kids” is hogwash, and doesn’t hold filmmakers accountable for making a lousy product, or encourage them to make better ones. 

    How many Pixar or Dreamworks films need to come out before that argument is exposed as rubbish.  You can make a movie aimed at kids that transcends it’s prime demographic.  More than that, you can do it without making it sophomoric and groan worthy.  And how “for kids” is Mikey explaining turtle sex organs and trying to get into April’s pants?  Just curious. 

    The suggested demographic is not a shield to protect lazy, hackneyed film making.  Beyond that, why wouldn’t people who have been fond of the franchise for the better part of 3 decades, and will EXPECTEDLY represent a large chunk of the money spent at the box office, be targeted as people who would expect to enjoy this film.  To say that we shouldn’t be upset at a lousy TMNT film because it was meant to be viewed by hyperactive young boys ignores the reality of what a film produced by Michael Bay is really about.  Otherwise, you, yourself, wouldn’t have felt compelled to point out that the camera spends time ogling Megan Fox.  Your own words contradict your overarching sentiment regarding the movie.

  • This review is a joke. When you finish sentences with phrases like “Fine, whatever.” or “what have you” and you expect ULTRA Realistic injuries to four giant mutant FICTIONAL characters, you come across not only as someone who clearly doesn’t know much about the source material and as an uneducated jackass who just phoned in this review, seriously were you going to the theater expecting “The Departed” or going there to watch a new TMNT flick. They’re popcorn action flicks, its not supposed to be ultra complicated or intense its just supposed to be fun to watch. I can’t wait for a review on “Expendables 3″ where this guy says he “can’t actually believe ten people can kill an army because its virtually impossible” 
    Nerdist.com find someone else to watch this film and review because Kyle Anderson, you sir are a tool.

    • And you sir, are what is wrong with movies today.  When you give action movies an excuse because “They’re popcorn action flicks” we end up with crappy transformers Bayhem junk.  I don’t blame Bay for making millions off of the “feed me that sugary fat-infused stuff to me, make sure its written at a third grade level so I can understand it” garbage.  I blame the idiots spending the millions.  Just like its not Walmart’s fault they have a successful business model, it’s the people who shop there!
      Expect more from Hollywood and maybe they will actually give bigger budgets to films that have some substance.

    • Did people expect them to make a TMNT movie anything but a kids movie? This review is fine. They did make it for 12 year olds, not the few adults who read the comics as kids. Especially since after the comic, TMNT was aimed at kids. So this review makes sense.