Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) Review or Lack of a Better Title

When the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie came out in March of 1990, I was 11 going on 12.  I don’t remember for sure, but I bet I saw it in the theatre, because I was a huge fan of the cartoon. I was never a comic book kid, so I have never read the comics, but the cartoon was enough for me (this is a theme in my life, as it turns out- GI Joe and X-Men being two quick examples).  I had the first movie on VHS and I wore the thing out.  There was a time that I could recite every line from the movie.  I was obsessed.  The second movie wasn’t horrible, the third was forgettable (and I have forgotten it – I only remember that they ended up in ancient Japan somehow, maybe?). I watched the TMNT animated movie that came out in 2007 and it was decent, but again, nothing compared to the first movie. My love for the Turtles has never waned and I’ve seen every major motion picture put out starring them.

I have to admit that I’m a nostalgia junkie.  Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you that, in my mind, I live in the past most often.  When the first Transformers movie came out, I saw it twice in theatres.  When the first Transformer in the movie transformed and it was the sound from the 80s cartoon, chills went up my spine.  Same thing happened when I heard Optimus Prime’s voice was the same voice from the 80s cartoon.  Brilliant.  The movie was… well, I liked it because it was novel.  A live action Transformers movie.  Amazing.  I am able to see a movie and enjoy it for what it is and move on with my life, which is why I have seen every wretched Transformers sequel and didn’t hate them.  They’re bad, but I (mostly) enjoyed myself while I watched them.  However, when I saw the preview for the new Turtles movie and saw that it was produced by Michael Bay, and starred Megan Fox, I was super skeptical.  It looked like it was going to be Transformers all over again.  So when I sat down one Saturday night to watch a movie and noticed that the new Turtles movie was on Amazon Prime, I knew I wanted to go for it and let my review of it be the first piece I submitted to Justin’s amazing website.

So here it is, a review of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) from a guy who can still recite most of the lines from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990).

Spoiler alert!  Granted, this movie has been out for a year, but hey, I just saw it, so you may have it in your queue and be someone who hates spoilers.  If that’s the case, go watch it, and then come back.

Rookie reviewer alert!  I took notes while I watched this and am going to try and flesh out what I noted, but some of them are just interjections and stuff I thought was cool.  So this may not be the most thought out or well-written review you’ve read. And I’ve changed the format at least twice now.  We’ll see how this goes.

Things I liked:

I thought the animated intro was pretty sweet.  Gave you a bit of background while also giving a nod to the fact that this is a movie based on a comic book, which was then a pretty famous cartoon.  I was impressed at the start, a good sign.  

I knew right away that I knew the voice actor they used for Master Splinter, but I could not place it.  I told myself I wouldn’t look it up until after the movie if I didn’t come up with it.  I had to look it up – Tony Shalhoub, who I know as the taxi driver on Wings and, of course, as Monk.  I thought his voice worked well for the role.

When you first are introduced to Shredder, he’s not wearing his usual outfit and he’s speaking in Japanese.  They go back and forth subtitling him throughout the movie.  I thought it was pretty well done here – not too much subtitling, but enough to show that hey, he probably speaks Japanese mostly but we’re not going to make you read subtitles the whole movie.

This version was a lot darker than the 1990 version.  I know enough about the comic books to know that they were much darker than the cartoon or first movie, and I’m glad they went that way with this one.  Appeals to a wider audience that way, I think, and makes it not so much just a movie for kids.  It reminds me of the animated movie they did a while back, Turtles Forever (2009).  The 2009 version of the turtles end up meeting the 1990 version and the comic book version, among others at one point, but the animated comic book versions were really tough and it was all in black and white.  It was pretty sweet. (Check that movie out if you’re a Turtles fan.)

They made the Turtles act a lot more like teenagers in this movie.  They joke around like kids, make jokes like kids, and are definitely hormone driven like kids.  “She’s so hot I can feel my shell tightening!”  Splinter is much more of a hardass and badass in this movie.  And he uses his tail as a weapon.  Nice.

There were little nods to the original movie throughout.  Also at least one reference to the cartoon.  I love it when movies and tv do that.  There was the slice of pizza landing on Splinter’s head, Shredder telling them that “the rat has not taught you well!” during a fight scene (a slight change, but a nod to the movie for sure), and Shredder said (in Japanese) “Tonight I dine on turtle soup!”

The elevator scene toward the end was hilarious.  MC Mikey indeed.  Nice touch.  The humor throughout was great.  When April catches them on camera right at the moment one of them said, “Like shadows in the night, completely unseen”?  Brilliant.  Other lines I thought were brilliant or made me laugh (some of which are funnier in context, but…):  “They ain’t dead, numb nuts.”  “I forgot to soak my retainer!”  “Oh my gosh, they have guns!”

While the driving/sliding down a mountain in a big rig scene was, overall, ridiculous, I did think the idea of them basically sledding down the mountain on their shells was pretty cool.

Will Arnett is one of my favorite actors.  It was a nice surprise to find him in this movie.  And Whoopi!  I haven’t seen a movie with Whoopi in it in ages.

April uses Google.  Good.  Nobody believed Spider-Man would be using Bing.

The horn of the Turtle Van being a clip from the cartoon theme song was a nice touch.  As was Raphael’s “I’m a hardass because I love you guys” confession.

Okay, now on to things I didn’t like:

I’m over the movie cliche of the reporter only known for fluff pieces wasting away their life trying to become a “real” reporter.  However, if I was the boss and a reporter came to me with a story about four walking, talking turtles but didn’t show me photographic evidence, I’d probably fire her ass too.  But my biggest problem with that storyline was then in the next scene she showed Sacks a damn picture of all four of them!  Why didn’t she just give that to her boss?  I guess to protect their identities but come on, she didn’t owe them anything yet!

You know how I knew Sacks was going to be a bad guy?  He was played by William Fitchtner – AKA the guy who is always a villain.  So I wasn’t shocked to find out he was working with Shredder.  Nor was I surprised to find out his plan was dumb and so was he as he monologued the whole plan to the Turtles right before they escaped.  I mean seriously, a poison at the top of the tower?  Which only you will have the antidote for?  That would have been an amazing coincidence.  Wouldn’t people have seen the poison coming out of your tower?  

Splinter taught himself and the turtles martial arts from reading a book?  That’s too much.

I wasn’t a fan of the voice acting at first, but once I got over it not being the same actors from 1990, it worked.  I didn’t even notice that Leonardo was voiced by Johnny Knoxville.  That’s weird to me for some reason.

I still think guys in Turtle suits are better than CGI turtles.

They changed the entire origin story.  I’m not okay with that.  Created by Shredder for some stupid plan by using some sort of alien substance?  The original origin story was just fine, thank you.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Shredder’s armor looked ridiculous, especially when he fanned out the blades on his hands.  Though, the use of magnetism to get the blades he’d thrown back was pretty sweet.  I just don’t get why he needs all of that, especially since it never really helps him win.  Speaking of armor, apparently mutant turtle shells are bulletproof.  Good to know.

These two thoughts I’ll just leave as I wrote them:  Seriously?  April’s leaning out of the truck to take photos while it falls down a hill, and Arnett is okay with it cause he can see her ass, instead of steering?  Just keep repeating, “It’s a comic book movie.  It’s a comic book movie.”

Apparently the good guys aren’t immune to the idiocy that is sending one attacker at a time when you have superior numbers.  Four against one is always good odds if you have the four.  They eventually figured that out, which was the point, but come on.

New ending rap song is nothing compared to the original or even to the ninja rap of the second movie.  I wonder, did 36 year-olds in the 90s hate the end rap of the first movie as much as I hated this one?

Final thoughts:
“I am not the target audience for this movie,” said my partner, Michelle.  No, Michelle, I don’t think this was targeted at 30 year-old women.  I think it was mostly targeted at kids that are 12-15 and really into the Turtles, as well as people like me who were really into the Turtles when they were first popular.  And you know what, they didn’t do too bad.  I went into this movie thinking I was going to hate it because of Megan Fox and Michael Bay, but now that I’m through it, I would say I enjoyed it.  Sure, there were things I didn’t like, and sure, it was not my beloved movie from 1990, but I think it was a decent representation for the current state of the Turtles.