Saturday, August 9, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

It has been a while since I have done one of these. There have been some fantastic movies in the last few years and some horrible ones. For the most part I have concurred with the assessments of "regular fans" such as Rotten Tomatoes.

This is one they have gotten wrong, however. With a current tomatometer of 20% (despite 64% audience approval rating) it is way down the list.

When Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were first being drawn in black and white for a one-issue semi-joke under their self-started Mirage Studios banner, the turtles were much different than the iterations we have seen in the various movies, cartoons, and comics of more recent vintage.

In the same way Nolan turned Batman somewhat more back towards his "darker" routes, the original Turtles had a lot more darkness. Killing was not a hobby, but neither was it taboo. They were gritty, violent, and edgy.

As that single issue became a series, then expanded into the mainstream they were cartooned up to appease the parents until we had the rather odd juxtaposition of the swords of Leonardo going up against bare-handed, faceless enemies and never so much as nicking one.

By the time the second live-action Turtles movie came along, schlockmaster rapper wannabe Vanilla Ice fit right in with his goofy Ninja Rap travesty of justive (which he still defends as awesome, by the way, thus proving some people never learn).

Meanwhile, Shredder had degenerated from a true, dangerous villain into a weak parody of the incompetent Dr Claw who consistently threatened Inspector Gadget despite such demonstrated incompetence that he could not defeat the numbskull Gadget...but he could have beat Shredder without trying.

The animated TMNT (2007) went a bit darker but was still relatively harmless fare with villains who at least had some intimidation factor going for them.

In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) director Jonathan Liebesman (Bay PRODUCED, not directed, which people seem to miss with regularity) demonstrates a familiarity with the entirety of the Turtles history.

With the exception of one 30 second, regrettable allusion to the incredibly cheesy "rapid growth" scene from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2006) where it looks like one of those storyboard sequences you often see on DVD extras, the animation and cgi is pretty cool. The turtles look like they fit and belong in the world they inhabit.

The action is watchable without the herky-jerky "make a thousand jump cuts in lieu of actually choreographing fights" that more favored franchises such as Transformers, the Bourne movies, and most other action movies have gone to. Here you actually get to see them run, jump, punch, kick, block, swing and whatever else they do, thus automatically moving it up the ladder of watchability.

The storyline itself is nothing special. We have all heard the basic turtle legend of an evil Foot Clan operating in New York and the 4 Turtles under the tutelage of Splinter fighting back using their ninja skills to secretly protect the city.

This time the stakes are a bit higher as instead of stealing the Foot is trying to seize power over the city. Then again, the Foot is a bit deadlier this time, carrying automatic rifles and showing a willingness to maim and kill should it advance their cause.

Along the way we get to see Splinter (Danny Woodburn, voiced by Tony Shalhoub) go at it with Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) in a very entertaining battle sequence. Later the Turtles take turns battling Shredder in a scene reminiscent of the denouement of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2006). 

We also get to see the Turtles battle each other, salivate over pizza, demonstrate their respective personalities, references to TCRI, memorable moments from other movies, and even allusions to the catch-phrase forced on the TMNT franchise.

If you are looking for classic story-telling like A Tale of Two Cities or Pride and Prejudice, this movie is not for you. But if you want a rollicking good time with improbable action sequences, weapons that vary between stopping a turtle cold and having no impact on him, turtles that one moment are getting injured by kicks but the next moment are immune to bullets, a lot of laughs, a lot of high-octane set pieces and just a plain old good time, this movie will do that.

The plot holes in this are no worse than the ones in much more highly esteeemed Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) and despite the massive villain risk of his own plan flaw, it is not as bad as the same issue in The Dark Knight Rises (2012).

The movie starts off a bit slow but in just a few minutes it turns into a highly entertaining ride with a good mix of laughs and action with a satisfying payoff. It was well worth the time.

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