Sometimes your girl loves bears. Sometimes you just gotta make a gif.
Reblog if you are Groot.
America is some fucked up dystopian shit honestly like how are y’all even surviving? Paying for healthcare? $60,000 on tuition? POC getting shot in Wal-Marts? White men shooting up elementary schools? That’s terrifying I’m worried about all of you
America doesn’t seem that terribly horrible when you live here day to day and you’ve known nothing else but when somebody says something like this it fucks you up really good.
MC Griffin’s TMNT 2014 Review! (Long, but has pictures!)
Before I even get started, I should mention I’m listening to Wu-Tang Clan while writing this review. They’re a big part of why I even went and saw TMNT. When I first saw the trailer for this new Ninja Turtles, I hated it. I wrote the movie off altogether. Then, one day, the Facebook account for Wu-Tang Clan uploaded one of the TV spots, since it included a Wu-Tang reference. Naturally, I watched the spot, and was surprised to find something trying much harder to sell me on a new Turtles movie, instead of Michael Bay’s version of Christopher Nolan’s turtles movie. Their personalities were very much on display, as well as some nifty looking martial arts. So, that’s basically what led to me buying a ticket.
I should say upfront, this movie’s bad. If you still want to see it, read no further, ‘cause I’m going to spoil the fuuuuuuck out of this flick. I dare say this review is more for those curious, who might not want to see the film themselves. Or if you had seen it, hated it, but enjoy reveling in the ‘why’ of things.
Now, a lot of people leave these movies sort of shrugging off any sins the film may have committed with a dismissive thought along the lines of ‘eh, it’s just a popcorn film’. That is completely valid. There were colors on the screen, and they did move about, but if it doesn’t work, or more specifically, if it doesn’t feel emotionally evocative or satisfying, I’m allowed to ask why without being ushered out of the conversation. I am after all a person who prefers to like things instead of hate them. If you loved this movie, I’d enjoy hearing why!
The elephant in the room: Guardians of the Galaxy just came out you guys. God, that was a good movie, huh? I find it interesting that another science fiction film came out that arguably had a much more dense plot, less cohesive world and characters with absolutely zero nostalgia burning under the hood, and yet that’s the film that had more real moments, and more lasting appeal. I almost watched it again instead of this flick.
Let’s get this out of the way first: Nostalgia does not a remake make. Many arguably decent remakes have gotten away with relying very little on the source material. Usually a movie like this is helped more by an understanding of why the original was good, as oppose to just paying the source material arbitrary lip-service. That said, and this kind of stuff might not matter to you, but there were a few nods to the older incarnations of TMNT that I found enjoyable.
Vernon, April’s boss from the 80’s cartoon is in this movie. In this he’s her cameraman/producer, but not only is his role similar to it’s cartoon counterpart, it’s enhanced. Almost-never in the cartoon was Vernon a proactive participant in the story, but here, not only is he one of the more useful characters in the film, but he’s one of the only ones with a clear goal: Impress April. Oh, and he’s played by Will Arnett. Pitch-perfect casting. I read another review that said Will Arnett wasn’t funny in this, but, seriously, he was, and was probably the most consistently pleasing presence onscreen, and yes I include Megan Fox in that (just wait). I dare say Vernon is the best thing about this movie, and certainly the most consistent.
Another little fun nod to the Turtles’ past was the inclusion of Karai, Shredder’s daughter. Of course, she doesn’t do anything, operating more as the sort of lead-enforcer for the Foot Clan. At one point she kinda just disappears from the movie. The Foot Clan appear in all other incarnations of the Ninja Turtles. They are a criminal organization that use ninja techniques to commit crimes. I liked the way the Foot were portrayed in this. They seemed more at home in the real world, and less goofy. The logic of this universe allowed them to carry firearms and wear body armor. Their ninja training was more like tactical and stealthy than just knowing martial arts and swinging swords and such. I welcome that kind of realism. It keeps me grounded. Points!
There are some clear tent-poles to the Turtles’ world however. Some things that absolutely have to be there. The biggest of these is their personalities. Leo is always the boyscout, Raph is the one with the bad attitude, Mikey is there to have fun, and Donnie’s the smart one. The film maintains this wonderfully, but… And this is a big but. In addition to representing these attributes emotionally in the dialogue and voice acting, the movie also represents it in superficial, 2-dimensional ways. This is most evident in Donatello. It’s apparently no longer enough to have him behave sheepishly and think clinically. He now needs to snort out of his mouth when he laughs. He’s got taped up glasses. He’s got some kind of contraption on his back. That’s a thing smart people have, right? A contraption?
This flattening-out of the characters -changing their personalities into tropes- does nothing to aid the story, but takes up a LOT of screen-time. As a result, the two Turtles that normally get the least amount of story feel like they’re absolutely dominating this one. We get more insight into Michelangelo and Donatello’s personalities than we ever did before, and of course, it’s ‘cause they’re funny! They’re Zac and Screech. This movie touches on complexity of characters like a child who can’t have desert until they eat just one bite of broccoli. The tension between Leonardo and Raphael that normally dominates these films is very thin here, because utilizing that would be less like making a joke or wearing identifiable accessories like glasses and dew rags, and more like telling a story with character.
I think the worst way the Turtles’ personalities reflected on their more superficial movie versions is in the form of Mikey’s jet-skateboard and Donnie’s… stuff. in the film, Michelangelo has this rocket-powered skateboard. He never does anything with it, and it never influences the story. We can presume Donatello made it for him, but we have no reason to come to that conclusion other than Akum’s Razor, I guess. It’s weirdest attribute is that it doesn’t exist in the real world. Similarly, Donatello utilizes a lot of gadgets and technology that as well don’t presently exist. He has goggles that have Batman videogame powers. His bowstaff extends a bit, but with hydraulic force at times. At one point he emits a holographic GPS readout from his hand, and never uses it again. None of these things come into play narratively. They are there to serve the purpose of personality. Ironically, as I said before the character exudes a fine amount on his own, making these gadgets pointless. Also he has a big dumb contraption on his back that is never explained. It seems to just be there to show he likes machines enough to always have one on his back. Did I mention that already?
So, the film shows a shaky understanding of what made previous incarnations of Ninja Turtles good with the way they treat their characters, but there are other things they changed that are more arbitrary. The Turtles used to be short, but now they’re huge; over 6 feet tall! They now have super-strength and athletic ability, able to leap impossibly high. As a turtle-fan, I have problems with all of that, but giant turtles with super strength does not a bad movie make. All this talk of nostalgia is pointless if it doesn’t reflect on the film good or bad. Before I put the past to bed however, something must be addressed that will weave it’s way through the rest of the review…
They fucked with the origin.
That’s probably not bad, right!? They do that in all kinds of movies based on stuff, with all kinds of results. Surely it’s nothing to get bent out of shape over, right!? And yeah, normally I’d agree. But the Ninja Turtles origin story is so elegant and so simple, that to add or detract from it without SIGNIFICANTLY compensating for any changes made would turn this tale into a broken, nonsensical mess, which is more or less what happened. The result is a film that absolutely can’t be taken in it’s own context. Major beats in the film are meant to be significant, but only if you’ve seen previous Turtles films, or watched the show. As we begin breaking down the plot of the movie you’ll see where there was once a concise, simple plot, by adding elements the writers and producers turned this narrative into a story-octopus with plot holes and weird narrative cul-de-sacs at the end of a lot of it’s tentacles. It’s this mistake of copy-pasting complicated elements into an existing story that proves to be the biggest issue with the film.
In hind-sight, the opening of the film is that much more insulting, as it starts with a visual ode to the original comics. We get this trip around the rooftops of New York drawn in Eastman’s sketchy, ink-splattered style, as the camera whips down into the sewers. This intro is the only real allusion to the comics and gaslights how much it truly deviates from the source material.
Visually, the movie was all over the place. I guess part of the tragedy of the films’ mediocreness is that when the visuals were competent, they were really, really effective. See, this is a Michael Bay produced film, and Mr Bay likes to move the camera a lot, sometimes to his detriment. Because half the cast of this movie are computer generated, that means he gets to move the camera an impossible amount, and does so, nauseatingly at times. But, when there are human characters present in the frame, interacting with the CG ones, suddenly the framing and camera movement becomes subtle, and clear, like a real movie.
Big Hollywood Michael-Bay-type filmmakers need to learn an obvious lesson from Dreamworks and Pixar: Film language is not a burden! We do not use the language of cinematography because we’re anchored to a tripod. Clarity is important, and this movie is a better film when the filmmaking process slaps it in the mouth and tells it to shoot Megan Fox correctly when she needs to be clearly talking to that giant turtle we’re gonna add in post! And that’s fucking tragic! Judging by the shots with the fully animated characters, almost every shot I really enjoyed must’ve been a compromise to the producers.
For example: The martial arts in this movie is really good. Though maybe cut a bit too manically, the fight scenes are clear and impactful (more-so especially when compared to the Transformers movies). I think a lot of that is because the fight sequences were often between live-action humans in mocap suits. As a fan of things that contain punching, these were often the scenes I enjoyed the most, but there wasn’t nearly enough of it.
So, yeah, any shot where the Turtles or Splinter were interacting with a present live-action character made it feel like a real movie. There’s a little interaction between Will Arnett and Raphael in his van that especially made me giggle. The Turtles’ faces are full of emotion and personality, and it’s only in these shots that they really got to show that off. Sure, there are a few moments sprinkled in here and there where the camera slows down enough to capture some of the CG, but for the most part, it was only when the Turtles were interacting with real people that you believed they really existed.
On the other hand, when they weren’t interacting with people, it kinda became a mess. The big action set-piece of this film involved the Turtles sliding down a giant snowy hill. We don’t know what hurts them, we don’t have a very clear idea of where they are, and since there is very little real in the scene, the camera swings around freely to catch any moment it wants. The thrills come from the moments where we check in on Will Arnett and Megan Fox. There’s no point where you’re worried for The Turtles, ‘cause they get shot, hit by cars, slide off cliffs, nothing kills them or even phases them. The kind of action scene that provides no clear stakes: You constantly have to remind yourself of the reason you’re supposed to care.
As a result, you never become invested. The most they do to set up some kind of threshold of mortality for the Turtles is a point where Raph gets his shell cracked. We see him duct-taping it back in the very next scene, and suddenly he’s snow-sliding with the rest of his brothers. Knowing the threshold of damage of your characters is important for sci-fi action. It’s important to know Spider-Man can bleed. It’s important to know kryptonite kills Superman. If I’m to be invested, I need to know you can hurt these guys in a way that can’t just be fixed with duct tape. A great example of how they completely fail this is: Right after the aforementioned snow-slide scene where, theoretically, the Turtles and their friends are in peril, the movie cuts to a transition of the characters passing from one part of NY to another using the sewer system, but they’re doing so by fucking SLIDING down an even more treacherous series of pitfalls and hazards, and that moment just ends! I found myself double-taking, thinking to myself “Hey, you can’t just do that! You can’t sell me on the peril of sliding against your will and the threat of falling to your death in one scene, and then treat it flippantly for fifteen seconds in the next!”
See, sometimes things need to be grounded, both physically and metaphorically, or the audience becomes all discombobulated. You can say you like Transformers movies, and you very well may, but there’s a reason you’ll go back to Star Wars or Guardians of the Galaxy or Wall-E more often. TMNT is only grounded when it HAS to be. You don’t believe the characters are real when they aren’t sharing space with live actiors because the film itself isn’t letting you. There’s a sequence where Splinter is scolding the boys as they are holding various stress-poses. Raphael is knitting, while balancing on two legs of a chair for example. There is dialogue throughout the whole scene, but you barely hear any of it. You just watch the camera go through this David-Fincher-on-meth voyage around the lair, upside down, through objects, around the turtles’ faces to catch all of this impossible shit. And it comes off that way: Impossible. You don’t believe it’s really happening. This kind of manic insanity is in stark contrast to the live-action elements of the film, and even the action sequences. It’s literally unbelievable, like a cartoon, but with less restraint. This shot is the biggest, most significant clue that the producers didn’t know what they were making tonally or stylistically.
Another example of this tonal and stylistic hodgepodge comes in a scene after April discovers the Turtles’ existence. After meeting them a second time, she watches them scamper off, recording them with her phone. We end the scene on a closeup of her dirty photo: This was a transition. This should have led into a different scene, as the movie was being very careful at this point to not show the Turtles too much, even when they were chewing the scenery anyway, they were still never framed up to where you could get a good look at them. So then, from this photo, it cuts to this fully animated sequence of the Turtles tumbling through the sewers. Mikey suddenly has this rocket skateboard, and the camera is whipping around them as they spin and surf through the sewer. The movement in this scene is pointless and unnecessary. We learn nothing as we’re offered plot-stagnant spectacle that ends with these gigantic turtles getting stuck in a doorway Three-Stooges style, and one of them farts. They go from hiding them from our eye like Jaws, to this, immediately after a scene transition that was practically yelling “See this out of focus cell-phone image! That means we’re being subtle” Smash-cut to surfing, spinning and farting: the three core tenants of a Michael Bay film.
Even though this isn’t Michael Bay’s film directorally, it still has all the benchmarks of ‘Bayhem’. This is the way camera always moves around characters and scenes even when it doesn’t need to. The camera spins and surfs around as the characters spin and surf around. Those are actually two things there is FAR too much of in this film: spinning and surfing. Lots of the characters rotating for no reason, and being propelled downhill by their own momentum, as if they’re barely in control. This is like visual sugar, but it won’t give you diabetes, it’ll give you apathy. You might go into a movie like this not expecting to care about it after you leave, but that certainly shouldn’t be a filmmaker’s goal, even in the most cynical sense.
And with those movements comes another issue: Visual clutter. Think about the Transformers in Bay movies, with all their little moving parts and details. It’s very busy, and very flat, and thankfully, it’s not as big a problem in this film, but it is there. Again, the superficial understanding of who the Turtles are is translated into things like pucca shells and beads for Mikey, ‘cause I guess that’s what party dudes wear. Or all that gadgetry for Donnie. But Turtles brings a new aesthetic problem never before seen in a Michael Bay joint. I’m going to call it: The Troll Aesthetic.
Computer generated characters are relatively new in Hollywood. Before this film, any live action Ninja Turtle was a guy in a suit! Anything even appearing like that surely must be avoided! If movie magic will let us incorporate non-human characters with human ones, then damn it, that’s what we need to do! They can’t even be mistakable for people in suits! The less human the better! Well, in the comics the Turtles are kinda squat; like five feet tall. But you can’t make your protagonists SHORTER in a Michael Bay picture; that’s just backwards. Everything must be bigger! So that’s what you do. You make ‘em big! Not a bad idea in and of itself, but there’s no film language for what an acceptable giant turtle person looks like. Hulk was big and green, so what if they look a bit like The Hulk from Avengers? Or how about the trolls and ogres from Harry Potter and The Hobbit? They’re giant and kinda green! So it’s settled, the way you make these giant turtles look right, is by making them huge, and by giving them a slouch!
The Turtles are ALWAYS hunched over. And to make matters worse, their shells come up behind them to about halfway up their head. Now factor in that below that they have long, thin athletic legs, and arms that are proportionate to those legs, you start to see the issue. They look like you taped two little pieces of string on the bottom of an egg. They look like the Grunts from Halo on stilts. And I know this wasn’t intentional because they tried like hell to shoot around it. The Turtles are always shot low and with dynamic angles, or close-to-mid shots if they’re standing still so that you can’t see how awkward their legs look, jutting down out of their bulbous bodies. They look fine if they’re in dynamic action poses, but if they’re just standing, they become potatoes on toothpicks. This could have been mended by lowering the shells 6-12 inches, or by handling their legs differently. Making them wider, or bulkier? At least then maybe The Troll Aesthetic would work for them. But no. This is probably the most debatable point I make, but I just find it weird they made a Turtles movie where the Turtles themselves literally can’t stand up straight.
And what the FUCK is that on Donnie’s back???
Moving on: At this point, your head’s probably spinning. Lots of talk about nostalgia and it’s effect on the film, lots of talk about visuals and character design, and you’re thinking, ‘Hey MC, I don’t care about this superficial crap. I’m in it for the story.’ Well, my friends let’s open up that can of worms, shall we? You already know it’s hopeless. You already know I couldn’t say TOO much good, but let’s at least talk about some of the things I liked.
The characters are proactive! The beginnings of the story are put in play because April and Vernon have motivations. I understood April’s less of course, but as I said before, Vern’s motivation is understandable and simple. That’s something to like!
They took some dumb stuff from the first trailer out! That’s something! There was this thing in the trailer involving the Turtles pushing and throwing giant shipping crates around as if they had Superman strength. It’s not in the movie anymore! Praise be!
I think the best element of the movie is character moments! Go figure! They’re few and far between, and much too short, but after all, yes, character is the best thing about this movie. Character is what got my ass in the seat, and when it’s on display it shines. Most of it is in the third act, weirdly. I don’t know what to attribute that to, but most of the more clever stuff happens near the end of the film. Moments I found particularly charming include: Raphael exposing himself to Vern after sneaking into his van, just popping his head out in the middle of a conversation to sort of pull the bandaid of his existence off. There’s a point during an action sequence where Donatello impresses himself when he launches a car in the air, and you just get this little extended moment of him being proud. There’s a point where they walk in on an epic amount of bad guys while looking for an elevator, and instead of engaging in a big brawl, they just close the door and move on. When they find the elevator, they begin beat-boxing and making a rhythm with their weapons (it’s great!) Moments like these, where these big stupid cartoon characters get to show that they’re fully realized are definitely the best thing the film has to offer.
And it’s not enough! This isn’t a reason to see this movie. This actually highlights the biggest oversight of the filmmakers. Much like with the camera-work, this shows that they had the tools to make a good film, and opted not to use them in a majority of the movie.
There were some narrative things in here that were almost good. Like, the pacing for example, was almost good. I liked the clip the film moved at, though I was a little annoyed that the plot would stop every time an action scene happened. The biggest offender being the big snow-slide scene, where a ton of time passes and nothing happens except spinning and surfing.
One thing I’m sure a lot of people had problems with, both visually and narratively was Shredder’s armor. I actually had very little problems with Shredder directly. They gave him a massive scar on his face, and I thought that was fine. Mostly, he just doesn’t do much. The armor is a sticking point in general, because it should have been built up, so we understood why we were supposed to be menaced by it. Never in the movie do you see Shredder’s previous armor in live action. It would have been a good move to wait, and let the new armor be a unique element to the final action set-piece, but again, restraint is certainly not in this filmmakers’ arsenal. And there was certainly a lot of stuff in the movie surrounding Shredder that didn’t work, but I’m saying I can imagine a ‘good’ version of this movie where he’s almost identical.
Similarly, Splinter is also a kind of mixed bag of bad and good elements. For one, weirdly, it’s always awesome when he fights, which I never thought would be a highlight! Every time he’s punchin’ dudes, or whippin’ cats around with his tail, it looks awesome. Never thought that’d be the thing I’d dig so much in a Turtles movie, but there it was. Personality-wise though, this is a weird Splinter. This is an AMERICAN Splinter. He’s never been to Japan. He’s essentially a big ol’ weeaboo. Ninjas aren’t his culture, he just thinks they’re cool. He lacks the stoic calm, and preparedness to die that all other versions have, capable of panic and desperation, which might have been emotionally evocative if handled better. When you know that he borrows Japanese culture, it’s a lot harder to take him seriously.
Which brings us to a new threshold. This is it, folks, any praise I might have had for this movie is behind us, as we come upon a narrative microcosm of everything completely fucked about the story and narrative of this movie. This could potentially sum up all of the problems you might have yourself if you take the plunge and watch this flick. SPLINTER LEARNED NINJITSU FROM A BOOK HE FOUND IN THE GARBAGE!
Let that sink in for a moment.
Remember before, when I mentioned that if you mess with the origin of something as simple as Ninja Turtles, you better be ready to compensate? Well, they didn’t. Splinter imparting years of exotic martial arts training to the young turtles is powerful, because it matters that he’s a foreigner in a strange land. It matters that he’s motivated by trauma. It matters that he’s old. It matters that he’s learned. In this movie, he’s not a part of that world, he just thinks it’s neat. He picked a book up out of some shitty water, learned some crap out of it and teaches it to the turtles a month later or whatever. This is not evocative of anything. This doesn’t work. There are two other major characters that are expressly from Japan, and yet Splinter is disparate from them entirely. The Foot Clan and The Ninja Turtles being ninja-based combatants in a war with one another is completely a coincidence. One faction is based in history and tradition. The other faction found a dirty book in some shit.
See, the original text isn’t holy, but when you change some shit around and add stuff things stop making sense. But they could have totally strayed away from the original material regarding other elements and I wouldn’t have complained. Like April O’Neil!
This movie’s April O’Neil is very, very much based off her counterpart from the 80’s animated series, and in the worst ways. Though she never said ‘scoop’ once, she repeatedly throws herself head-long into danger for the pure sake of a ‘story’. Every time she’s on the scene she’s there by coincidence, or she’s following up on a lead that is completely unrelated to whatever danger she finds. She’s like a moth: Whenever a light comes on near her, she’s going to bang her head on it repeatedly until she dies.
All of this is in a search for journalistic integrity. April’s motivation throughout the film until the third act is that she wants to be taken seriously as a journalist. She’s tired of doing fluff-pieces, and wants to tackle real, hard-hitting investigative journalism. She expresses this to Vernon, and he replies that everybody needs some fluff and sugar in their lives. This is Vernon making the case to April that she should be happy enough with her sugary, distracting, fluffy work and quell these urges to tackle material with more protein. We’re obviously supposed to be on her side here, and that sentiment, in this movie, is fucking insulting. I mean, coding superficiality and sugary/distracting media ‘bad’ in a movie like this brings the meta-text of the movie’s own filmmaking into the narrative! It’s the purest form of irony! This movie doesn’t care about integrity or credibility. There is no bigger message here. Taking this moment in April’s story seriously would be like buying into the racist rhetoric spoken in the first act of American History X. You’d clearly be missing the point, making that whole portion of the film utterly pointless.
These issues are exacerbated by April’s casting. Megan Fox as April O’Neil is the one casting choice in this movie that is completely wrong. It’s not her fault of course. She was very poorly directed, and she shouldn’t have been in the role in the first place. Most of April’s dialogue is rushed exposition, and it’s delivered with a tone and attitude that I can only call ‘drunk sixteen year old’. She pieces the film’s mystery together out-loud, telling the audience the story as she experiences it, with the timbre of one of the story-tellers on Drunk History. She doesn’t believe the words she’s saying, but goddamnit she gives it her all.
If Megan Fox were ever meant to play nerdy, exciteable or ‘spunky’ she would have played it better. Eager-to-impress is not in her wheel-house. I’m certainly not one of her fans, but I’m not so dense that I can’t recognize that she is suited for certain roles. April isn’t mean, cold, sexy or bad ass, and credit where credit’s due, those are the things that Megan Fox does swimmingly. The only attribute April-on-paper has in common with April-on-screen is that they’re ‘sexy’. Now, April doesn’t ‘act’ sexy in this movie, we can only infer from the male characters constantly commenting on her sexiness that she’s sexy. And that, folks, is creepy as shit. Makes otherwise likable characters into leering punks. I’m not saying you have to neuter your characters, but there’s something very, very not cool about our heroes commenting on how attractive April is while they loom over her unconscious body. Michaelangelo at one point makes a direct reference to his boner toward her (he says his shell is getting tighter). Our hero, ladies and gentlemen, resorting to language that would get him banned on most internet forums. If ‘sexiness’ had to be part of April’s character, I wish it was tied into her proactiveness. She could have been flirty and coy, but instead, she’s a gaze-mop. The producers definitely over-estimated the innate aesthetic sexuality of Megan Fox. Whenever characters made these kinds of comments I mostly felt bad for her.
April O’Neil took four years of ‘journalism school’, as referenced in a line of dialogue toward the beginning that stuck out like a sore thumb. She needed more, so she could come up with synonyms for ‘vigilante’, which is a word she just about wears out before the second act. You ever hear a word so many times it starts to lose meaning? That’s what happens here with the v-word, a word, by the way, which is completely inaccurate each time she uses it. April is eye-witness to the Turtles’ shenanigans in 3 (that’s two more than needed) seperate ‘inciting incident’ sequences in the first act. If you see half-naked green dudes over six feet tall dispatching gun-toting assailants by utilizing superhuman strength and iron-age weaponry, I would hope that ‘vigilante’ is not the first word that would have come to mind. ‘Monster’ is a simpler, more appropriate word, with many more synonyms: Creature, beast, thing, etc. These turtles, unlike their predecessors could never be mistaken for human.
So, as I mentioned, the first act has three separate inciting incidents, which is ridiculous heresy in a screenwriting sense. April discovers the turtles, confronts them, and is kidnapped by them in three different locations in that order. They’re the main characters in our film, and we aren’t even allowed to ‘know’ them until the second act is underway, and we’re expected to get invested in them real fast. And of course, as a result, we’re thrown into the deep end where nothing makes sense and we’re expected to swim.
For example: There’s this whole scene I mentioned before, where the turtles are being punished; forced to hold stress poses while Splinter interrogates them. This sequence is a big ol’ info-dump where nothing is revealed and only questions are raised. We learn that the Turtles disobeyed Splinter by going out and fighting The Foot. Why? Were they not supposed to be fighting the Foot Clan all along? That’s what the opening narration said was going on. Was it a lie? Did they disobey all the times they went out, or just that time? If they aren’t supposed to fight the Foot Clan, then what are they for? Do they fight other crime too, or do they only fight ninja crime? Are they never allowed to leave the sewer? Have they been fighting the Foot Clan against Splinter’s wishes this whole time? None of these questions are answered.
I think part of the reason the first act got to have so many scenes is that none of the characters had story arcs, so there was more time for useless bullshit. Some stories had a beginning, and an end, but no middle. Even weirder, some only had an end. In the first act, April is desperately trying to break the story about the (ahem) vigilantes, but her boss won’t give her the resources to cover it. In the end of the film the Turtles thank her for not exposing them even though she would have benefited from it. Was that a thing? Not once did she seem tempted to do so, or even have the opportunity to. That would have added so much weight to her character, to know that she had the power to end the story prematurely and advance her career, especially since that’s her stated goal from the beginning. But no, we don’t get to see anything like that, only hear about it.
Raphael’s the only of the four brothers who even flirts with a complete story arc, but again, we don’t see it. He mentions, ONCE, that he might want to go it alone. You don’t even take him seriously ‘cause that is followed by teenagery bickering between him and his brothers. Then in the end of the movie, mustering all the powers of the high-tech character animation team and heart-felt voice acting of Thad Castle himself, Alan Ritchson, Raphael gushes at length about how sorry he was that he was always so hard on his brothers, and that he always talked about going rogue. How he pushed them, and challenged them ‘cause he was afraid of being alone. What? What scene did he do anything like that? I remember him mentioning wanting to leave once. I remember him meeting April three times. Could have been a powerful moment if I ever saw him do anything like what he said at all. But it must have happened ‘cause he said it.
Even Donnie and Mikey have weird stuff like this. Donatello has several moments where you can tell he’s happy to be doing the cool stuff for once, but we never see him left out of the action so there’s no way we could know that was ever a thing. Michelangelo tells Leo that he’ll follow orders for once, but we never see Mikey disobey any orders, or even be disagreeable at all. All these revelations come in the third act, which is where they feel ‘right’, but they’re just set-dressing. They’re more pointless, meaningless machinery on Donatello’s back.
This movie can’t decide what a ninja is. It certainly never makes it clear to the audience. The Foot Clan get to use guns and dress like soldiers and still be ninjas ‘cause they work at night in secret, utilize stealth, spies and espionage, and their main goal is to make money for their clan. That’s a very concise, understandable interpretation of a modern ninja. We see them be very deliberately sneaky, terrorizing New York but remaining on the fringe of visibility to the point where people can’t agree on if they even exist. Awesome. So. Why is there a scene where Shredder resents their anonymity? He curses it even. He doesn’t want to be a myth! To him that’s an insult. He wants the name of the Foot Clan to ascend! Shredder! Homie! You’re doing it wrong! I’m not even sure why this bit of dialogue is there, but again, it’s another scene that raised more questions than it answered. Are the Foot Clan not actually very effective ninjas, but instead, very bad terrorists? They have no core ideology, and all they are after is money, so why would notoriety be a goal? And why would you try so hard to conceal your activities if it was?? Maybe they needed to read that dirty book Splinter found. Or maybe they lost it, and that’s why they forgot what ninjas were.
I mentioned that, right? That Splinter learned ninjitsu over a couple of months by reading a dookie book?
That’s only the humble beginnings of things making no sense in this movie. Remember all that ranting I did about the origin? Well, here it comes again: So, the main villain of this picture is a guy named Erik Sachs. I’d heard this character was supposed to be Shredder, but graciously, that’s not the case. Anyhow, he is one of Shredder’s lackeys. The Foot Clan’s plan was to use Sachs’ science powers to create a virus that could only be cured by a mutagen cultivated in four turtles and a rat. His lab burned down, the turtles were thought dead, and because they couldn’t extract the mutagen in their bodies, they couldn’t release the virus and make a profit, so the plan was dead in the water. So, years later, when it’s discovered that the four lab turtles (and one lab rat) turned into giant monsters, then obviously, gotta get that mutagen out of their blood so the plan can get back in motion.
So, okay, a few questions: Why did the mutagen make them into monster-people? This is never even touched upon. If you were developing a vaccine for polio, and it was turning all your lab-monkeys into hyper-intelligent beings that build rocket-propelled skateboards in their spare time, I’d think THAT would be your new cash cow. Is Sachs just single-minded? Does he not like any plans that don’t involve bleeding unique new lifeforms to death?
There’s at least two points in the film where the mutagen is shown to have healing properties. This is never explained to us, the movie just has it happen, and hopes we roll with it. Is that the point of the cure they were looking for? I think a cure for death-in-general would be very lucrative without giving everybody a virus. The Turtles themselves could sell it even! (As an aside, why do these big Hollywood blockbusters keep curing death in their movies? Star Trek 2 did this same fucking thing earlier with Benedict’s Cumberblood being an apparent cure all. What the fuck!?)
So, they removed the part of the story where Shredder and Splinter know each other. They replaced that part with dookie book. When it’s discovered that Sachs and the Foot Clan are related, everybody’s surprised. Like, this is some shit that April O’Neil had to figure out for herself. So why isn’t Splinter surprised? Why does he know that Sachs and Shredder are related? Sachs’ connection with Shredder was a secret, so how could Splinter possibly know about the connection? He’s never been to Japan, which is where Sachs and Shredder met. He’d never even seen a ninja in his life, but he read about them a lot. The only way I could justify this is that Splinter is wise, and poor screenwriters don’t have a grasp on how to write wisdom, but they are sure that wise and smart are synonymous, and that smart people know stuff, so therefore wise people must know fucking everything.
There’s a fight scene between Splinter and Shredder that would only matter or have any narrative resonance if they’d met before. Viewers my age of course have that foundation. We’ve seen the other incarnations and we know why this clash matters. But the film doesn’t have this same history, so if this movie was your only context for these characters, you wouldn’t know why you’re supposed to care. The very expendable rat character is fighting the very thinly conceived final boss, and the only reason you’re going to care is that the other characters seem really sad about it. This fight is basically an absurd mark on a checklist titled “Sequences needed to make a Ninja Turtles movie.”
Here’s a weird thing: Imagine for a moment that The Emperor and Darth Vader did the exact same shit they always do in the Star Wars movies, but in this new version, The Emperor also does all the fighting. Like, they still both have the same dialogue, Vader still talks about The Force a bunch, but then when the blasters start going off, The Emperor jumps into the fray and Vader stands back, and maybe floats some shit while he waits. That’s the relationship between Sachs and Shredder. The lackey makes the plans and the boss does all the fighting. I’m not even sure that this is, like, bad necessarily, it’s just oblong and weird, and certainly doesn’t improve the movie.
Sachs in general is just a big ball of confused elements. His mentor is a ninja, but he has no martial arts skills. He’s supposed to be a scientist, and he’s shown to be curious and daring, yet he looks at these huge scientific rarities and would rather cultivate them for their blood than study them or learn from them. He actually says the words “Take all their blood.” He doesn’t want anybody to know he’s connected with the germ-outbreak from his plan, yet he was going to deploy it from his own tower. He grew up in Japan, and the only reason I can see that that matters is he got his plan from an ancient Japanese lord, and bought a big poster about it to put in his house, along with some samurai armor. So many weeaboos in this movie, man. I guess you’re not allowed to be legit Japanese if you have too much dialogue.
Also, Sachs apparently designs robotic armor on the side. Nothing else in the whole movie is robotic, just the armor he makes for Shredder. ‘Cause he’s a geneticist. They don’t typically make robots. In fact…
This one character commands so much of the movie, he renders ALMOST everybody else pointless. He created the Turtles and is a villain, so we don’t need Shredder. He discovers the Turtles and their connection to his experiments, so we don’t really need April or Vern. This movie might have had a bit more of that simplicity required in a Turtles film if it was just about the Brothers fighting Sachs. I mean, we’d still have poop book, but at least there’d be less weird narrative clutter.
Another weird aside: Everybody is everybody’s dad. Splinter raised the mutant turtles, so they call him father. April’s dad was killed, so Sachs is kinda like a father to her. April saved the turtles and Splinter, and put them in the sewer, so she’s also kind of like their father and grandfather. Which makes Sachs their father, grandfather and their great-grandfather. Shredder was like Sachs’ father, and funded the experiments, so he’s also like the turtles’ father, which makes him a father, a grandfather, a great-grandfather and a great-great-grandfather. Yet, is fatherhood or parenthood a theme in this movie? They certainly acknowledge it, but no, it’s not a theme. Not even a bit.
By far though, the biggest narrative flub in the movie is what seems to be it’s central theme: Drugs are good, and they solve most of your problems! When the Turtles are being drained of their blood, and about to pass out Raphael has to act quick. Donatello instructs him to up the adrenaline being pumped into their bodies. This totally works: It suddenly makes the turtles stronger; able to break their chains and explode out of their cages. This is something they apparently couldn’t do before, and needed the magical properties of intravenous drugs to save their lives.
And that’s even without acknowledging the mutagen, the films’ fictional super-drug. Why deal with a dead antagonist, or a mortally wounded patriarch in any kind of meaningful or challenging way, when you have Deus Ex Mutagen. It’s implied that one little tap of it brings Shredder from the brink (though it’s not confirmed) And it definitely cures Splinter, who apparently would have died without it. No, it’s not family or brotherhood that saves you in the end. Well, it is blood that saves you, but it’s your own irradiated monster blood. That’s kinda poetic, right? Wait. Yeah! How does the mutagen help Splinter if it’s already coursing through his system. Everybody involved in making this film needs a serious time out.
So, obviously I love TMNT, but that’s not why I hate this movie. I came in with an open-mind, and I didn’t die from the experience obviously, but holy shit there was way too much to ignore. Every problem was avoidable. They had the tools to make the movie they should have made. It could have still been about gargantuan super-ogre-turtles and I still could have enjoyed it, but the narrative and visual clutter just made this thing into a big, jagged, cluttery mess. I can’t help but wonder if Michael Bay’s initial alien-centric idea would have been something more concise and simple. Changing the Turtles entirely almost certainly would have made for a better film than changing them by degrees. Bay and his team clearly tackled something they didn’t fully understand, and maybe it’s a failure in minds like theirs to even try.
I’ve speculated at length about what I would have done differently. The biggest change would be to return their origin to normal, making Splinter into either a Japanese rat who’s master got cut down before him, only to be mutated along with his turtle pupils in New York and plot revenge, or the cartoon version where he’s a man transformed into a rat-person by Shredder. Both of those make it very clear why the Turtles are at war with the Foot. Vengeance and justice are simple ideas for a silly story like TMNT. I would have changed Sachs either into Baxter Stockman with his Mousers and other potential robots, or make him an Utromm (maybe even make him Krang!) who is puppeting Shredder from the sidelines. Still need to connect him to the origin story? In either case he could have invented The Mutagen that got lost in the New York sewer system. Why do they have to be lab animals in the first place?
What was the point of all this? Maybe it’s silly to think this critically about a dumb movie based on some dumb cartoons and dumb comics. Well, with movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Edge of Tomorrow, Snowpiercer, and even pop-culture surprises like The Lego Movie all coming out this year, it’s clearly no longer enough to have a recognizable title to your name. Good science fiction movies are back, and hopefully for keeps. I can tell you that Turtles sadly, is not one of them.