Yesterday, for my husband’s birthday, we went out for a meal. Sat eating painfully spicy food, looking out onto a rare patch of green, I watched a massive rat run through the car park and disappear into bushes. Apt, I thought, considering what we were doing after the meal.
If you’ve frequented this blog often enough, you’ll know how much the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mean to me and my husband. We both grew up on it and it was one of the first things we found in common when we discovered one another existed. So it was with a mixture of doomed excitement and trepidation that we ran through the rain to the cinema to watch the latest retelling of our favourite four brothers.
The 2014 film, produced by Michael Bay and starring Megan Fox (but I saw it anyway), tells the turtles story a little differently. April O’Neil’s (Fox) father was a scientist working with Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) on a mutagen from space, injecting it into four baby turtles and a rat (as you do). The lab was burned down, April’s father killed, and the rat and turtles escaped into the sewers where the mutagen mutated them into our beloved Splinter (played by Danny Woodburn and voiced by Tony Shalhoub), Leonardo (voiced by Johnny Knoxville), Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello. Now the city of New York is under siege from the Foot clan, led by Master Shredder, and the turtles are the vigilantes to stop them.
So far, so been done before. The plot wasn’t anything to cheer about, but it didn’t need to be. As the film started, I began to actually feel excited. Damn it, I wanted this film to be good.
It’s difficult to hide what the turtles really are when the franchise is 30 years old, especially when images of the new look heroes have been plastered over the internet for a year. Yet still, this film tried to build some sort of tension. Instead of focusing on our four favourite pizza lovers, it followed April as she worked desperately to get a story that would make her career. Maybe this would have been less painful if April had been cast better, but even with an actress I like at the helm, this would still be a mistake. Neither those who grew up watching the original turtles, or the new generation of turtle lovers came to the cinema to watch April. We want the turtles.
But sadly they were also a disappointment. I thought it would just be how they looked, after all their characters are very well known and loved, what else could go wrong? The new design is good, it adds to the dark, real and gritty trend that hero movies are following these days. Except that they were too big, especially Raphael who I would describe as a monster (which pains me, I adore Raph). Their muscles were unnecessary and made them intimidating. Not to mention Donny suddenly having glasses. Why? Because he’s the intellectual? I suppose that’s why Raph is so huge now, because he’s the quick tempered one. Rather than being creative, or true to the franchise, they’ve become stereotypical. But that wasn’t the worst of it.
These weren’t the turtles we grew up with. Strip back the looks and get down to the characters, you’ll find just the bare bones. The character development is lazy. Just because we know each of them so well does not mean that work doesn’t need to go into this. There were no brilliantly sarcastic cutting lines from Raph, no inspiring words from Leo, they went to town on Mikey to the extent where he lost some of his ninja-ness and at one point Donny squealed ‘they have guns!’ like a girl.
Loyalty alone made me want the turtles to survive their fights.
Speaking of the fight scenes, these were amazing. Modern technology has made true ninja warriors of the turtles. The fight scenes were well choreographed, fast and beautiful to watch, if not a little painful – it’s hard to watch the turtles fight better than you’ve ever seen them but not feel much for them.
While the turtles are should have been the focus point, I should also mention Shredder and Splinter. Shredder was well done, although lacking in any character whatsoever. His costume has also been changed to include robotic elements, I assume because they doubled the size of the turtles, Shredder had to be made more bad ass to suit.
Splinter was done very well, although I was surprised to be reminded that Danny Woodburn had played him. He looked completely animated and a little cartoony, but he has more character than ever before, and more than the turtles.
Fichtner and Will Arnett (who played April’s almost sidekick Vernon Fenwick) were excellent. Fenwick even proved to be the most likeable character.
This film had its good points. There are some homages to the original comics, cartoon and films (including Splinter getting a slice of pizza on his head). There is also some mickey taking, which made parts of the film feel less like a work of love and more a failed parody.
The best scenes are watching Splinter fight, which we never had enough of before, and the turtles waiting in the lift, which is a wonderfully, warm and modern teenage moment. Otherwise, the film may leave the turtle fan cold, frustrated at the missed opportunity to make something wonderful and desperate to watch the original materials, like taking a long shower after doing something dirty.
The film set up for a sequel which has been announced but once again I’m torn. If only the writing was better. If more effort was put into recreating the characters we fell in love with as children, then maybe the other failures could be overlooked.