I for one never had that much an issue with Michael Bay’s whirring, vorping, clanking and exploding face lift for 2007’s Transformers – after all, who better to make a movie based on an advert for a bunch of shape shifting toys than a man who makes every film he’s ever made into a 3 hour action trailer? We won’t go into details about how the franchise spectacularly tail-spinned into near-unwatchable noise pollution, but Bay’s always been about splashing a shiny coat of paint all over retro franchises: especially as a producer. When he wasn’t rebooting horror icons against their will (Freddy, Jason & Leatherface all got dubious “glow ups”), Bay tried to breath life into those other childhood favourites, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles The second the news dropped, the internet girded it’s loins, howling in rage everytime a bit of news slipped out: The Turtles would be aliens? Shedder would be played by the notoriously un-Asian William Fichtner? Megan Fox would be April O’Neil? What the hell were the filmmakers playing at? At this rate, surely this reboot would be nothing short of being cowa-bungled, right?
Channel 6 reporter April O’Neil is sick of putting together puff pieces for the news network and dreams of sniffing out a real story and eventually finds it thanks to the crime wave currently being inflicted on New York by the criminal organisation known only as the Foot Clan. However, as April seeps deeper, she stumbles on a group of misshapen vigilantes who deal out suprisingly brutal beatings on the criminals (getting decimated by a shipping container that’s being swung like a baseball bat is surely a no-return ticket to the morgue, right?) and who have vowed to fight for justice. So far, so Batman – but the twist is that these champions of good are four massive, mutant turtles who has transformed thanks to some mysterious mutagen and have been taught martial arts by their similarly mutated, rodent sensei/father, Splinter.
Not only does April take to this admittedly strange news rather well, but it also turns out that the Turtles and Splinter where laboratory animals where her father worked, she named the turtles as a child and even saved them from the fire that killed her dad (rolls eyes…). Going even further to prove that apparently there are no accidents in movies, the Foot Clan is being run by the fearsome Shredder who plans to hold New York to ransom by use of a dangerous chemical created by Eric Sacks, an old colleague of April’s dad (continues to roll eyes until the blood vessels burst). After Shredder launches an assault against our heroes in a half-shell that leaves Splinter gravely injured and Leonardo, Donatello and Michelangelo captives so Sacks can drain the mutagen from their blood in order to make his chemical weapon (boy, movie science is stupid); the remaining brother, Raphael, teams up with April and her cameraman Vernon to break his siblings out and put a stop to the Shredder’s plan before the Big Apple succumbs to yet another devastating comic book movie plot.
So, I’m obviously not going to sit here and tell you that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a masterpiece, because it’s not; but in a turn your brain off kind of way I found the bloody thing really appealing to my inner twelve year old. Now I’ve mentioned this aspect of my brain before and how it’s somehow managed to leech pure entertainment out of such big budget dope-fests such as G.I. Joe and it’s similarly brain-dead sequel; well guess what – it’s done it again and I found this new version of TMNT to be somewhat of a grin inducing guilty pleasure.
Director Jonathan Liebesman obviously had as much control over this flick as Richard Marquand did while making Return Of The Jedi (Liebesman even apes Bay’s super flashy style) but considering that his previous films were Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, Battle: Los Angeles and Wrath Of The Titans, maybe that’s just as well… that being said, TMNT 2014 was one of those rare occasions where the filmmakers listened to the outraged braying of fans terrified of change and altered the script from Sacks being the Shredder to something more comic accurate. The bad news is that the change forms a sinkhole sized plot discrepancy which causes the Foot to make absolutely no sense whatsoever: why on earth would a towering killer samurai run a machine gun toting military unit who don’t seem to know ninjitsu at all and want to rule New York with a man-made gas?
The script also strains it’s muscles to breaking point when trying to unnecessarily tie April to absolutely everything that’s going on and, in a movie about giant vigilante amphibians, ends up being the most unbelievable thing n the movie. Just one of the coincidences? Sure, fine, whatever. But having previous connections to Sachs, the Foot, the Turtles AND Splinter (not to mention naming them) just seems fucking weird.
However, once the film manages to muscle it’s way through the inescapable molass of it’s own backstory, a remarkable thing happens… the second Leo, Raph, Donny and Mikey emerge from the shadows and take the reins of their own movie, things hugely improve and the fun factor increases tenfold.
The main reason for this is the Turtles themselves; realised with the same performance capture technology that gave us Avatar, the fighting foursome have never felt so natural in “live action” and their interactions (filmed live on set with the actors) feel genuine and give the film the heart it so desperately needs. Our turtle boys feel perfect and the CGI means that for once they actually look like brothers and not weird clones wearing differently coloured bandanas. Their body types are noticeably different and their shells and bodies are decorated with brick-a-brack and knick-knacks picked up from their time spent in a shit encrusted sewer. At the time, audiences picked up on their slightly more “human” faces – and yes, turtles with lips are a little strange… but aren’t we forgetting the “mutant” part of their names?
If the turtles are as swole as hell, the the Shedder is an absolute fucking unit, looking like someone built a Darth Vader suit out of Bowie knives and then brought it to life with the Transformers’ AllSpark Cube, he looks absurdly formidable and the final battle feels suprising bruising considering it’s piles of pixels doing the fighting.
However, the crown jewel of the movie is a truly magnificent extended chase sequence where most of the main cast plummet down the side of a wintery cliff and beat the shit out of each other as they go. It’s tremendously thrilling, although while I’d be the first to admit my geography isn’t exactly on point, I’m curious to know where exactly you would find a gigantic snowy mountain in spring that’s barely a 20 minute drive from New York that features prominently in the sequence…
As a fun blast of neo-nostalgia as the film is (the Turtle Van is fucking cherry!), it can’t help sometimes falling into the bad habits of it’s producer and the much publicised making up between Bay and Megan Fox leads to some predictable pervy teenage stuff that the actress weathered during her Transformers days. She’s nearly killed when Will Arnett’s Vernon crashes a truck into a snow drift because he was staring uncontrollably at her butt and weirdly, her character doesn’t seem to have much of a problem with Mikey’s blatantly obvious crush – in fact the first words he says while first laying his eyes on her is to make a comment about “feeling his shell tightening”… did Howard The Duck teach us nothing?
There’s a sizable contingent of the Turtle fan community that doesn’t share my view of this spare-almost-no-expence reboot but I personally found it nowhere close to being a turtle disaster.