Review: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES

You think you know how this review is going to go, but let me take a moment of your time to surprise you. Sort of.

Recently, I read a critique where one man purported to stand alone, among the many – me included – who hailed Boyhood as a masterpiece. The problem is, he didn’t actually stand alone. He enjoyed the film, even touted the superiority of many aspects, but because Boyhood did not rock his world he chose to get some publicity give it a “so-so.” Everyone is entitled to their opinion — it’s why I was invited to contribute to this blog — so let me “stand alone” and tell you how I did not hate the new incarnation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (“…heroes in a half-shell. Turtle Power!” Come on. You were totally singing it, too)…

The masked reptiles you played with in the bathtub yesterday as a kid are back, now in CGI! Joined by plucky reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox – wooden as always) and her comically lecherous colleague Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett…*swoon*), those four masked fightin’ turtles must battle hormones, ego, and the evil Foot Clan to restore the balance of peace in New York City.

Let’s get this part out of the way: the story is predictable, the acting, for the most part – we’ll get to that – is painful, the laws of physics do not exist here, and the film straddles 1980’s humor with downright racism. But you knew all that already; do you really need yet another spoiled critic to spout the inadequacies of a film about mutant turtles that blatantly pushes Pizza Hut and Fila?

There is a certain level of nostalgia that I cannot deny influenced my non-hatred of this Michael Bay-produced, CGI-laden, mildly comical adaptation of one of my favorite cartoons growing up. A script penned by four people is going to have its problems; consequently, so much about the film works…if you’re an 8-to-11 year old kid. And there’s the rub. A PG-13 movie that is intended for kids still kind of works riding nostalgia, going all-in, and not getting too hung up on its three act structure. You never feel like Turtles is taking itself as seriously as the later Transformer films do. The movie is banking on your love – and the love Netflix and Nickelodeon reboots have fostered in your kids – of crime-fighting, pizza-loving, boom-box carrying, kick-butt action turtles. The inside jokes are few, and the origin story is new; it’s an attempt to bring the TMNT (not to be confused with TMNT) to 2014.

But it’s that newness, juxtaposed with all the elements you remember, that makes the film an enjoyable two hours. It feels like a four episode cartoon arc with enough grown-up characters to keep Mom and Dad from falling asleep in their bucket of popcorn whilst never crossing the violence or obscenity line (unlike How to Train Your Dragon 2, or Transformers: Age of Suck My Balls). You already know it’s the holy grail of movie ratings at PG-13, but the violence is comparable to The Avengers.

Turtles is surprisingly un-sexist (is that a word?): it passes the Bechdel test; there are no less than THREE strong, named, female characters, and Megan Fox remains fully clothed the entire movie. No lens flares extenuating the thigh gap! It should be mentioned that there is a brief scene in which Fox jumps on a fitness trampoline, but it’s mostly played for laughs, and definitely juvenile. If Michael Bay had directed the movie, she’d probably be dressed in a bikini, but alas no luck, cleavage lovers. April is rarely a “damsel in distress,” often saving the day for her companions. She’s brave and selfless at times, and for the most part, fairly smart. Her boss (cameo by Whoopi Goldberg) is a capable adversary of a character that would normally be played by a Perry White type. Shredder’s (he’s the bad guy for those who’ve never seen the cartoon) main henchman is a woman (Minae Noji), and no one takes their clothes off or tries to seduce any of our heroes at moment. That’s even a triumph over most Marvel films, and you guys know how much I worship at the altar of Stan Lee!

Megan Fox is not going to win any awards for this performance (unless…are the MTV Movie Awards still a thing? [Ed. note: They are, but she’d never beat Scarlett Johansson.]) But she does her best, and I forgot — at times — that I was watching Mrs. Brian Austin Green and gave in to her April O’Neil. Will Arnett, however, steals every scene he is in. Even silly gags that would fall flat in less capable hands are effortlessly landed by Arnett. The voice actors — particularly Tony Shalhoub (Splinter) and Alan Ritchson (Raphael) — do their job adequately, allowing their characters to have more dimensions than one would believe going in. Raphael’s continued jealousy and competitive attitude works better in this film than previous entries.

If you completely throw physics out the window, all of the action scenes are edited well and provide satisfactory thrills when the predictable plot starts to wane. Turtles is no The Mask of Zorro or Mission Impossible 2 when it comes to believable action (sarcasm!), but a chase in the mountains (where it is snowing outside New York City…you’ve got me) delivers the goods.

You’re probably screaming at your computer in disbelief right about now, but truly, I did not hate this film, and if you open your mind up a little and don’t take it even a little bit seriously, you might not either. The problem I have with other clunkers I’ve seen this year (The Other Woman, Neighbors, Transformers: Rob Me of My Soul) is that they pretended to offer something innovative or — at least — fun, and instead left me empty and annoyed. Maybe it’s the timing of Ninja Turtles that gives it a passing grade for me…I have already sat through so much fluff and “froth” – you’ll get that joke if you spend the $7.50 (matinee) to see this film – this year that I am willing to excuse a little nonsense.

Grade: C. Yep. A passing grade! Here’s the thing: my kids not only liked this movie — they loved it. Sometimes it is all about sitting together with a bucket of popcorn and enjoying some much needed silliness.

** Oh, and don’t worry…I think they’re saving Casey Jones for the sequel. (Whew!)

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