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The boys are back in town! Jonathan Liebesman’s reboot of the famous foursome, the heroes in the half shell, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has arrived, and surprisingly it isn’t horrible. ’80s cartoons as source material in Hollywood has had a rather bumpy history. Between “Masters of the Universe” completely changing up what the story was about, to a decent live action “Ninja Turtles” film in the ’90s to Michael Bay’s childhood-crushing take on the Transformers and Steven Sommers’ lackluster attempt at G.I. Joe, my childhood hasn’t fared too well. “G.I Joe: Retaliation” was a step in the right direction, and personally so was “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
Without going into too much detail, we all know how much fan backlash the movie was getting right up until its release. To me this is more a result of angry fans still looking at their favorite shows through what I like to call The Rose Tinted Lenses of Nostalgia. Not even using any other examples other than TMNT, but going back to the original cartoon, it was ludicrous, even more so than the original idea and comic. Where the comic was satire with some adult themes, the cartoon was just childish silly fun. And I loved it. But I’ve grown up and so have the turtles, even if they are perpetually teenagers. My point is, most of the issues fans are having are really minor gripes. But more on that in a bit.
If you somehow don’t know the rundown, here’s the super short version: Four turtles are mutated along with a rat and taught the ways of the ninja in order to protect themselves and the city. And that’s it. And therein lies the rub; once you have a premise like that there’s only so much that can be taken seriously. They are teenage mutant ninja turtles. Anything after that should pretty much be taken with a grain of salt. Why is it that 6-foot tall turtles is bad but 5-foot turtles makes sense? And why do mutants have to be cute? And are we really going to nitpick that since they’re so much bigger they shouldn’t be able to move quickly or fit down manholes? Um, I’m from NYC and a 5-foot turtle isn’t fitting down a manhole.
But I digress, thought not really. The point of the rant is to highlight the fact that while the actual story is pretty cookie cutter, it’s no break from tradition for the franchise. The plot of the original film isn’t exactly enthralling. As a matter a fact, the plot in the original cartoon wasn’t that good, either. Besides the original comic, it wasn’t until the 2003-2009 version and the current show on Nickelodeon, along with the current comic, that we’ve been getting such good stories for the turtles. It has always been about the characters and luckily that is where the movie shines, along with some impressive action scenes.
The cast truly bring their A-game. The turtles especially are spot on from what we’ve seen in almost every iteration of them. Leonardo (Pete Ploszek, voiced by Johnny Knoxville) is the leader and big brother, Raphael (Alan Ritchson) is still the surly hot-head, Donatello (Jeremy Howard) is the tech whiz, and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) is the lighthearted goof), with Splinter the rat (Danny Woodburn, voiced by Tony Shalhoub) being the wise father figure and sensei. Everyone is firing on all cylinders when they are on screen together. The family dynamic is front and center and really handled well, and story-wise it was refreshing to get a TMNT movie that doesn’t focus on Raph’s anger issues.
Megan Fox plays April O’Neil, and she tries hard to prove that she’s more than a pretty face. Hell the movie even makes fun of that fact, but alas that’s pretty much all she amounts to save for a few moments where “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” makes fun of itself, like when O’Neil tries to convince her boss Bernadette Thompson (Whoopi Goldberg, in a gender swapped role from the cartoon, and completely wasted) about the turtles’ existence. Will Arnett gets a few laughs as April’s lovestruck cameraman Vern Fenwick, and William Fichtner gets to chew some dialogue as evil business mogul Erick Sacks.
The movie has a very weak plot, but then again it’s TMNT so I wasn’t looking for “The Dark Knight Rises”-level of plotting or anything. I was looking for an upbeat, fun, humorous action flick, and I got that and even got to relive some of my childhood. The changes to the origin weren’t nearly as bad as I was hearing and barely effected the plot, and they’re actually from a few of the newer versions of the Turtles, so it’s not just some writers taking license, they did some homework. No, these aren’t the turtles you grew up with (in looks at least), but they are definitely still the turtles. Except now their personalities extend further than a colored mask and weapons and attitude.
Despite some admittedly choppy moments during the action scenes, they were for the most part well done. I was afraid the mountain top chase had gotten spoiled by the trailers, but it was a blast and there were some badass Shredder moments too! Yes, the clunky armor that looks like it came from “The Wolverine” was cool! My daughter simply said, “I like this Shredder!” He was a physical threat. And the turtles, being hulking mutants, needed a credible threat since they actually looked pretty dangerous themselves. Sadly Shredder, like most villains nowadays that aren’t named Loki, Joker or Bane, doesn’t get the development he deserves.
A sequel has already been greenlit and there is already talk as to where they could take the franchise. Liebesman wants hockey masked vigilante Casey Jones, as well as possibly bringing in mutant thugs Rocksteady and Bebop. Personally I’d love for a third film to cover the Triceraton invasion. You see what I mean? TMNT history is filled with crazy story arcs and insane ideas. Who remembers Baxter Stockman becoming a fly? Or Some of the other nonsensical stuff they came up with? I hope they fully embrace what they’ve started and go all out for the sequel. If you are a fan, but were worried your precious turtles had been turned into turtle soup, rest easy, the brothers are just fine, and still kick ass! Cowabunga, Dudes!!!
Jonathan Liebesman (director)/Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec, Evan Daugherty (writer)
CAST: Megan Fox…April O’Neil
Will Arnett…Vernon Fenwick
William Fichtner…Eric Sacks
Johnny Knoxville…Leonardo (Voice)
Tony Shalhoub…Splinter (Voice)