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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
Unlike seemingly most of the Internet users I come across, I don’t really think a remake or an update of something popular from my childhood can ever ruin the experiences I had with that property as a child. The Transformers and GI Joe film series are both notorious for being franchises that “ruined” the childhoods of various angry Internet commenters. I don’t think these things have the power to retroactively go back in time and sour the fun I had playing with action figures as a nine year old. Similarly, the announcement of a rebooted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film series was met with heavy scrutiny and criticism, especially as it was produced by Michael Bay, the director and architect behind the aforementioned Transformers film series.
I saw the original Ninja Turtles film in theaters in 1990. I remember getting a haircut the same day, and then my dad dropped my brothers and I off from his 1970s step-side Chevrolet truck. I have incredibly vivid memories of being transfixed with what I saw on screen. From about 1988 to 1993 (with the arrival of Jurassic Park), I was enamored with the Ninja Turtles. In the early 2000s, I bought the original film on DVD after a wave of 1980s nostalgia began to make what was old new again. I thought it held up incredibly well, especially the absolutely fantastic Jim Henson costumes. The story was surprisingly dark, though it also contained the kid-centric jokes that one should come to expect when viewing these kinds of films. But overall, I thought it was a solid film. I still do – I rewatched the film earlier this year and I still think it holds up (the sequels, however, are garbage).
So with a fondness for the original film property and a feeling that nothing new can ruin my precious childhood memories, I went into the Jonathan Liebesman-directed/Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie with open mind. What I got was not as good as the 1990 film project, but also not nearly worth the amount of Internet scorn the film has garnered since it was announced a few years ago. It’s not a great film by any stretch, but it is entertaining enough despite its faults and actually has a few inspired action scenes. This is a movie targeted towards nine-year-old boys, and on that front it is at least successful. It has its faults for sure, but there are also several surprises along the way.
The biggest surprise I had was the performance of Megan Fox. Her initial casting announcement as April O’Neil was met with the hatred of a thousand fanboys online, but she acquits herself nicely in the role. I’m not sure why fans suddenly thought that April O’Neil was some kind of sacred cow that someone as utterly lowly (I guess) as Megan Fox would be unable to play her, but I am really glad to announce loudly that the idiots on the internet were wrong once again – Fox is easily one of the best parts of the movie. I also didn’t find much fault with director Jonathan Liebesman, whose previous films (Wrath of the Titans, Battle: Los Angeles) were not that great. Liebesman’s action sequences typically involve a million jump cuts mixed with incoherent choreography. I didn’t find that to be much of the case here, and a sequence on a snowy mountainside is downright inspired.
I also found the casting of Will Arnett to be enjoyable, even if he doesn’t get too much screen time (he’s Fox’s sidekick throughout and is essentially the audience surrogate character). Arnett is easily the funniest character in the film. The great William Fichtner also gets to be his slimy self, and I’m also happy to announce that all the people complaining about his casting were just dead wrong. Seriously, can people not just wait to see these things before turning on their caps lock buttons? I also can’t find much fault with the voice performances. I really liked Alan Ritchson as Raphael (my favorite turtle, incidentally) and Tony Shalhoub as Splinter (even if Splinter’s character design leaves something to be desired). Casting Johnny Knoxville as the voice of Leonardo is weird, but it isn’t distracting in any way possible.
I have bigger issues, however, with the special effects. It is clear that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was shot on a budget much lower than the Transformers film series. The CGI here is pretty bad. The turtles themselves are totally ugly. I have no problem whatsoever with the filmmakers changing up the designs of the turtles themselves and I actually like that they tried to inject each turtle with distinct personality (I don’t mind that they have skateboards or sunglasses or pukka shells or whatever). The designs themselves are just plain ugly to me, however. Raphael and Leonardo are passible, but Michelangelo and Donatello just look awful (Donatello’s voice performance is also bad I thought). Additionally, sets looked rather cheap and sparse to me for the most part. The script is also not as punchy or funny as it should be. The humor should have been more appealing overall.
I don’t think this was a great movie whatsoever. It is totally disposable and cheap entertainment designed to appeal to young males. That is absolutely fine with me. I didn’t find Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to be the absolute train wreck it was supposed to be either. I thought it was merely ok, and I think there’s actually a lot of room for some solid growth (Casey Jones for part two, please?) in this rebooted film franchise. The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film series should not be held up on an immutable pedestal. The first film holds up, but both sequels are hot garbage. This new film is about on the same level as that first film, and even has a few nods to the original as well. I was never against rebooting this film franchise, and while I don’t think the new Ninja Turtles movie is great, it is nowhere near the disaster the Internet predicted it would be. A total shocker, I know.