So, I Sat Through Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
Sometimes I wonder if the MTV series Jackass had more of an impact on me than I would like to admit. I say this not because Johnny Knoxville did the voice of Leonardo in the movie I’m about to discuss, but rather because I watched this film as a sort of lighthearted self-mutilation. Thankfully, my girfriend shares my fondness for the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon and movies as well as my inexplicable attraction toward terrible movies. Very often, when I know a movie is going to be awful, I get just as excited about seeing it as I do when I know it will be fantastic. This is one falls into the former category, there was absolutely nothing indicating this movie would be watchable and yet we went and saw it opening night (we’re not entirely masochistic, it was a double feature at the drive-in with Guardians of the Galaxy… sort of like lukewarm piss with an ice cold lemonade chaser). And boy, oh boy… it was everything we’d thought it would be and so much less!
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I remember a whole lot about this movie. I was there while it played and I didn’t turn the sound off or anything, but the movie is really hard to watch. Even the scenes that take place in broad daylight against a snowy backdrop are somehow poorly lit and the action is simultaneously frantic and boring.
Obviously, the Turtles look awful. We’ve all known that since the first images were released. But here’s WHY they look terrible: The previous live action versions of the turtles have been modeled after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, instead of trying to emulate actual turtles as this movie seems to have been doing. Real turtles, though, have not got teeth, lips, or human eyes. When you mix realistic turtle textures with human facial structure and lifelike movements, it is not charming. The Jim Henson suits were a perfect compromise of realism and fantasy, giant humanoid turtles that wouldn’t give a child nightmares. Maybe the lip sync was a bit off, but who gives a fuck? If having accurate animation to correspond with dialogue means looking at this new turtles, I vote that the characters are reworked to be deaf mutes.
Anyway, here’s what I can remember about the movie. It actually starts out sort of like the 1990 movie; The Foot Clan have been committing crimes while the Turtles anonymously thwarted them. Except in this one, Splinter was not okay with this. Not only did he insist that they avoid detection, he didn’t even want them helping. I don’t understand why he wanted them to be ninjas if they weren’t supposed to use their abilities for any reason in particular. As a matter of fact, we later learn (and at this moment I could hear audible groans from OTHER CARS at the drive-in) that Splinter was in not formally trained in the martial arts and in fact only learned ninjutsu himself well into the Turtles’ adolescence. He trained himself with some Karate For Dummies bullshit book he found in the sewers and then used it as a tool to teach his “children” discipline. Most dads would go with Tae Kwan Do instead of the guerilla warfare and espionage skills that come hand in hand with name “Ninja”.
Are you pissed off yet? Well, what if I told you that the history of the TMNT universe explored in this film is shockingly similar to the shitstorm that was the Amazing Spider-Man. April O’Neil’s father and Bill Fichtner’s villain character were partners in science but Mr. O’Neil discovered that his mutagenic discoveries were being used for less-than-altruistic ends and destroyed his research before being snuffed out. Now, among this research were four tiny turtles (distinguished by color-coded tags) and a rat. And they were already named Splinter, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, and Donatello.
Oh, and Splinter looked way more like a horse than he did a rat. Like, WAY more. I can’t even find a dead-on shot of his face, but I was mesmerized by how cartoonish and horselike he was in contrast to the unsettling realistic textures of the Turtles. Halfway through the movie I pulled out my phone to see who did Splinter’s voice and found out it was Tony Shahloub. And I though to myself, “Gee, Tony Shahloub was on Wings wasn’t he? I never watched a single episode of that show, how long was it on, I wonder?” So I looked that up and I guess it was on from 1990 all the way to 1997! All of that time and I never caught a single episode. In fact, I was pretty sure it was just a syndicated series since I only ever really encountered it on USA in the middle of the afternoon.
Since I already had my phone out and this movie was a grade A shit-show I decided to play some trivia games. This one gave me more trouble than I expected it would, I had to decide whether a celebrity had died before or after the age of 40.
Some real upsets in there, as you can see. I didn’t think that Lady Diana was so young when she’d died nor that Gilda Radner was so old. Also, I had no fucking idea about any of the details of George Gershwin’s life but I should have figured he was under 40 because why else would he be in the quiz, you know? Well, I certainly will remember those ones going forward, so there’s that.
Anyway, at this point in the movie there was a scene when all of the turtles were stuck in a sewer pipe with everyone but Michelangelo facing the wrong way, and wouldn’t you know it, he farted!
It was at this point that I remembered I had snuck two tall-boy cans of beer into the drive-in and decided I would drink those and look at my phone some more while this movie wrapped up. There was a part with the turtles sliding down a mountain on their shells, and they ruined Will Arnett’s truck. Oh yeah, Will Arnett was in this movie and that’s just too bad. Strangely, his character and Bill Fichtner’s were kind of similar and that would probably be confusing for a kid watching the movie. They were both thin, sort of nose-heavy, wise-cracking flunkies with no depth or character arcs. But that didn’t exactly set them apart from the rest of the characters in the movie.
So a skyscraper got destroyed, and the turtles all survived but the Shredder might not have? April was fine and so was Will Arnett and he got a new car. And then the turtles HILARIOUSLY launched a rocket into his car and the whole gang fled the scene with a smile. The end.
Here are some ways in which they got every character wrong:
Splinter – As previously mentioned, Splinter had no real interest in Ninjutsu other than finding a urine-soaked book in the sewer. He had no motive for fighting Shredder and the Foot Clan and in fact had no interest in such pursuits.
Shredder – Not much that wasn’t wrong about this one. Cybernetic samurai suit (since that was so well-received in The Wolverine), no clear motivation in wearing said suit, and no discernible personality.
Leonardo – Actually more or less Leonardo, just without the integrity. He was still the moral center of the Turtles, but he was voiced by Johnny Knoxville.
Raphael – First complaint is not one of the content of his character but of the design; Since everything in this movie is grungy and gritty his bandana looks purple in almost every shot. Now, as far as his personality goes, he’s even more of a selfish asshole as he is in the non-shitty portrayals and he seems to be the leader of the group in this movie. Remember the rap theme song to the first Turtles movie? At one point in that song they stated that Raphael was the leader of the group and it frustrated my 6-year-old self to no end. It still does the trick.
Donatello – Ugh. Donatello was charming in the original Turtles movie because he was a genius but he was best friends with a simpleton, and later a greasy scumbag human. In this movie he has next to nothing in common with the only three other beings like him and his lines seem to be written by Big Bang Theory staff. He says something at one point along the lines of “If my calculations are correct, she’s a babe!”. Ba-fucking-zinga.
Michelangelo – The producers of this new movie have gravely misunderstood the term “party dude” to mean the guy AT the party who makes your girlfriend so uncomfortable that she wants to leave as soon as you get there. He’s a serious creep with an unhealthy amount of interest in April O’Neil, and also fancies himself a rapper. Oh, and he lives in a sewer and wears filthy rags but has a rocket skateboard.
Still, while some people claimed this movie has “raped their childhood” or in some way sullied their memories of the less awful iterations of these characters, I remind them that if someone robs you dressed up like your mother it doesn’t make you think any less of the woman who birthed you. Fuck this movie, but don’t let it spoil any fondness you hold for the previous version.
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