Monday, June 22, 2015

TMNT (2014) Movie Review

© Paramount Pictures / Nickelodeon Movies

This movie was not as bad as I anticipated. Then again, I expected the worst.

Back in September 2014 I sat down in a eerily quiet theater to watch a film I wasn't really looking that forward to seeing, but I sort of had to, because that's just the kind of sad creature I am. The following day I wrote about 90% of a review, only for it to gather dust until now. For some reason. Today I've blown off the dust and finished the review (hold your roaring applauses).
The review is categorized into 'The Good', 'The Bad' and 'The Ugly'. Not because the film has anything to do with Clint Eastwood at all, but because I am just that cheesy and I'm thinking about using that format more often. Now, on with the review!

The Good.

William Fichtner isn't Shredder!
Don't get me wrong, I've got nothing against William Fichtner. However, when it seemed he was going to play Shredder it really didn't resonate well with me for the sole reason of Shredder being Asian whereas Fichtner is white. Well, that and the idea of Shredder being a businessman. Yuck. Instead, Tohoru Masamune is now playing Shredder and the dude is downright awesome, albeit scarcely used.

Will Arnett as Vernon Fenwick.
Even though this interpretation of the character is a far cry from his animated counterpart, I was entirely on board with it. Which is probably a testament to Arnett's talents. His interpretation of Vernon might not be the pinnacle of Arnett's work, but it is enjoyable none the less.

The soundtrack (meaning pop songs used in the film, not the actual score).
The uses for Hollaback Girl and Careless Whisper are actually reasonably funny and work well in my opinion. And the scene where Michelangelo sings Happy Together to April is excused too, even though I don't like the Michelangelo-likes-April-a-bit-too-much thing at all. Why? Two reasons: 1) The band originally preforming the song is called The Turtles, so that's kind of clever. 2) Who can stay mad when one of the happiest songs ever conceived is being sung by a giant anthropomorphic turtle? No one, that's who.

The Turtles are done right.
They have the right personalities and in-group relations. Too bad they had as little screen time as they did (too bad they look like shit too, more on that later). When we did see them interact with each other, it was clear that at least someone did their homework during the production of this film. All their characteristics match the turtles you know and love.

Michelangelo is genuinely funny.
When he isn't riding his horny ass up against April, that is.

Raphael has a genuinely capturing character arc. He even has a touching moment in the third act.

The elevator scene.
People on the internet seem to be going crazy over the elevator scene. Personally, I thought it was kind of funny but I wasn't ecstatic about it. Yet, I completely understand the reaction. It's because it's one of the very few moments where we see the Turtles interacting with each other like they would on their down time, which is where the Turtles really shine. More of this, please.

Sliding down the snowy cliff.
Well shot, creative, captivating action. Will Arnett is hilarious. Awesome sequence.

There are dark obscure corners of the internet where the TMNT hip-hop christmas album is not only a thing, it's actually infamous. I know, for I reside there often. These kind of things don't often seep into the real world though. So imagine my surprise when the thing was actually referenced. And this was not a one time thing. There is a conversation between Vernon and April for example where at some point the dialogue goes something like this:
"So, they're aliens?"
"No, that would be stupid. They're mutants."
This references the fact that the Turtles where originally not going to be mutants in this movie, but aliens (the then-title being just 'Ninja Turtles', without the 'Teenage Mutant'). This was changed after fan backlash.
There are also references to the iconic theme song of the original animated series, like the claxon of the Turtles's car, the sounds of Megan Fox's computer being hacked (playing an instrumental version of the song) and Vernon calling the protagonists "heroes in a half shell".

The Bad.

The score and sound-design.
Although not 'bad' per sé, the score was hopelessly mediocre. When composer Brian Tyler wasn't repeating himself, he was being the millionth Hans Zimmer imitator, making the whole thing a bit generic and unremarkable. The sound design generally isn't any better, making lazy use of the 'Inception-bwam' you've been hearing in practically all trailers in the last four years. The sound design does have a bright point though: the use of cameo sounds. For example, the Turtle's car horn plays the melody of the familiar theme song of the original animated series.

The soundtrack (meaning pop songs used in the film, not the actual score).
The song that plays during the credits is one of the crucial elements that determine what feeling you're leaving the cinema with. Sadly, that song is one called Shell Shocked, made by some gentlemen called Juicy J, Moxie, Ty Dolla$ign, and Wiz Khalifa. Even Vanilla Ice's Ninja Rap would have been a much better choice, since at least it has a clear intention tone wise (up-beat, feel-good), whereas Shell Shocked just seems like generic, empty 'gansta' rap. But hey, maybe I shouldn't be that opinionated about the song, seeing as how the genre is something I know next to nothing about. If it was up to me I'd probably go with something like this, so make of that what you will.

April O'Neil is thick as a brick.
Any reporter should know that if you are going to claim that there are giant martial arts practicing anthropomorphic turtles running around, you're going to have to wave some pretty significant evidence around before anyone takes you even remotely seriously. Just assuming people will take your word for it though? You'd almost have to be certifiably insane for that kind of reasoning.

The Foot Clan.
The Foot Clan is basically changed from a group of ninjas to a SWAT team. Which is, just so weird you guys. Lay down the guns and pick up a katana dude.

Shredder's costume.
Or as I like to call it: Edward Swordhands. It's the kind of mindless clutter you've come to expect from Bay productions. It still looks enough like Shredder for people to make that comparison had he not been in a TMNT film, but now that he is supposed to be Shredder, I would have liked to see more focus and less random shit Bay thinks looks cool. Remember how the Transformers are a big mash of CGI clutter? It's that same shit all over again. Seriously, the guy is literally a metal samurai. You'd have to try to fuck that up.

I think the character should have been a bit more reserved, he's just a bit over the top now. One of the most over the top things about this Splinter is probably how he uses his tail. It's similar to how Doc Ock uses his tentacles. But the worst part about Splinter is how...

Hamatu Yoshi is replaced by a thrown away how-to book.
Which is fucking ridiculous. In previous incarnations Hamatu Yoshi was either the owner of the rat that became Splinter, or even become Splinter himself. Yoshi's history with Shredder is what's sets up the rivalry between Splinter and Shredder. In the new film, the rivalry seems to still exist, but it comes out of nowhere. The stupidest aspect about Hamatu Yoshi's absence however is how Splinter now gained his Martial Art skills. It used to be that Yoshi was a martial artist, but now splinter learned it all from a how-to book he found in a sewer. Meaning that all the Japanese aspect of the Turtles come from Splinter stumbling on a book by accident, that's it. That does not make any sense at all. So please Bay & co., in the inevitable sequel, retcon the shit out of this.

WAY to little Turtles.
We see very little of the Turtles just being themselves. Instead, we see them almost exclusively in fight scenes. Maybe it's because of the long build up wasting screen time. There is no need for that, just show us the Turtles, goddammit. It's what we all come to see.

Eric Sacks is useless (and incredibly generic).
It is painfully obvious that the role of Shredder was changed quite a bit into production, leaving a lot of loose ends. The film really suffers for it. Sacks was originally supposed to be Shredder, but this was changed after fan backlash (and rightly so). The downside of this is that now you have a character that takes up the screen time of a main character, while really not being that important.

Karai is useless.
I like that they got her look right. Sadly however, she doesn't actually affect the plot. She doesn't seem to have any purpose beyond being a wink tot the audience that's already familiar to the TMNT lore, which is the cheapest kind of fan service there is. In most cases, it's better to leave out a character completely than to do a disservice to the character (for the most extreme example of this, see Bane in Batman and Robin. Karai's case isn't quite that bad, the disservice to her character lies in her small involvement in the plot, not necessarily a bad character portrail).

The setting.
There is something about the filth ridden pre-Guliani New York of the original movies that really went well with the Turtles. I'm not sure why, but this is the kind of environment they seem to blend in the best. The new movie however, is set in bright and shiny modern day New York. Understandable, but a major disadvantage in my opinion.

So many plot holes.
Oh no, Raphael is seriously, possibly fatally injured! No wait, he's fine.
Eric Sacks just discovered the Turtles? Better put them in these handy Turtle sized pods.
Oh no, Shredder is off to New York, somebody stop him! No wait, he's already there.

The Ugly.

I've already touched upon the abomination that are the noses on the Turtles in the trailer review. You might think that it's hammering on a hugely trivial part of the film but in actuality, it makes a tremendous difference.
I've found a Photoshopped picture online that wonderfully illustrates why so much hinges on those noses. If the Turtles would have had their original noses (and slightly wider heads), they would look a lot more like themselves.

© Paramount Pictures / Nickelodeon Movies / Platinum Dunes / Whoever made this manip
(Important side note: If anyone knows who made this, please leave a comment below so I can properly credit this person. Sites that I've found that display this image refer to a Reddit post that just says 'Someone took it upon themselves to improve the new TMNT designs'.)

As you can see, the altered picture (numbered '1', for some reason) shows a more familiar and, more importantly, more accessible face. There is a certain openness and friendliness there. The original, on the other hand, mainly comes across as creepy. Even though Michelangelo is giving a reassuring face (or at least he's trying to), a certain uncomfortability remains. Obviously, this poses problems when trying to connect with audiences. 

By the way, when Google-ing for something like the above image, I accidentally stumbled upon greatness. Do yourself a favor and check out the TeenageMutantNinjaNoses Tumblr.

In conclusion, some afterthoughts:

-The degree in which you already have a connection with the franchise will be a determing factor in how much you like this movie. If you're the type of fan who needs to see everything remotely related to the Turtles, I obviously don't even need to tell you to go see this movie.
If you're the type of fan that has only seen the original cartoon, don't expect much of a nostalgia trip. Although your previous knowledge of the characters might prove useful.
If you have no connection with the Franchise at all, you're in for a excruciatingly mediocre film at best. Watch Guardians of the Galaxy instead.

-The inevitable sequel will most likely be better. I say that because the Turtles will probably have more screen time with the lack of build-up to them. Also, seeing as how Eric Sacks is almost certainly a leftover from an earlier cut, there probably won't be a character as bland as that in the sequel. Which in turn leaves room for characters like Krang and Bebop & Rocksteady.

That's about it. If anyone needs me, I'll be over here watching the 1990 movie.

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