Monday, August 18, 2014

Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Dudebros at Chunky's Cinema Restaurant

On Saturday morning, I saw something most people will never get to experience: Someone unironically enjoying Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Granted, it was a seven-year-girl, and granted, she soured on the movie a little over halfway through, but there was one brief, shining moment where someone, other than the producers counting their huge piles of cash, derived some kind of enjoyment from this movie.

We saw the movie at Chunky's Cinema Restaurant. I'll have some notes on Chunky's at the end of the review.

Nerds wear glasses, right?
I'll open with some good things about the movie. I liked the design of the Shredder's armor. I thought the design of the turtles was surprisingly decent, with the exception of Donatello. (Jesus, dudes. Self identified nerds make up a substantial percentage of your audience. Are you sure you want to keep laughing at us?) Will Arnett was entertaining. The fight scenes had good choreography and pacing, and the camera work was okay.

Okay, done saying nice things.

I was a little too old to be swept up in the TMNT phenomenon of the late 80s/early 90s. That's not to say that I didn't watch the cartoons; I had younger siblings and they were into it, and I'll generally pay some attention to a cartoon if it's on in front of me. So I absorbed some turtle knowledge simply by virtue of being around it. (Also, I loved Erick Wujcik's TMNT RPG, though that was based on the comics, and then, only loosely.)

 Back in the 80s, Ninjas were everywhere. It was a legitimate cultural phenomenon. This was a thing.
(Pvt. Joe Armstrong chooses to enlist in the US army rather than go to prison and finds himself fighting off ninjas on a base in the Philippines. When he saves Patricia, the base colonel's daughter, from kidnapping but loses everyone else in the platoon, Joe's popularity with his colleagues drops precipitously and he becomes the target of revenge of the lead ninja.)

Ninjas had conquered pop culture. The TMNT, originally created as a one-off parody of popular elements in comic books, reflected that. Another review pointed out that the original TMNT movie was done in the fashion of an 80s Ninja movie I think that's the reason that it worked as well is it did.

Now, ninjas have waned, becoming one of many elements awkwardly spliced on to other properties (see also: Steampunk, zombies, Nikola Tesla), but the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles remain a media juggernaut in their own right. It has its own mythology now, and several competing and incompatible continuities.  Arguably, TMNT has taken the place in the cultural consciousness once occupied by ninjas.

With all that in mind, I have to ask,"Who is this movie for?" It teases us for a long time, obscuring the nature and appearance of the turtles, but anyone sitting down for a movie titled "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" has a pretty good guess at what to expect. So, it's for the fans? But then we get an entirely new origin story, like TMNT mythology needs another one of those, and that just seems pointless.

I liked the original version, where Splinter was originally a rat who emulated his master's movements. Kind of corny and unrealistic, but in the same way everything else in the book was. But, in this version, Splinter finds a book on Ninjitsu and uses that to teach the turtles, and it says something that "Rat mimicking his master" is the more realistic explanation. Ugh. Jesus.

I think the biggest problem with this movie is Megan Fox. She's attractive, certainly. She's not a great actor, but she's not completely lacking in technical proficiency, either. But she utterly lacks screen presence. I thought the little girl who played young April in the flashbacks had twice the charisma. I look at Megan Fox, and feel nothing.

And like Megan Fox, this movie is pretty, but empty. There's no joy to it. I know, that's vague, and impossible to quantify, but, well, went I was watching it with Tim and Lily, Lily's reaction went from laughing out loud and squealing, "THIS IS AWESOME" to to "People don't smile much in this movie, do they?" to "Can we leave now?"

The movie is essentially a bunch of keywords mashed together, but the plot is basically that the Foot Clan (no longer ninjas, but generic paramilitary jerks) are being evil. April O'Neil, up and coming reporter, is on to them.  She goes down to "the docks" where this kind of bullshit always takes place, and sees the turtles thwarting an attempted robbery of chemicals used in biomedical research. Of course, since the villain owns a large biomedical research company, you'd think he could acquire this kind of stuff more easily through legitimate channels, but nope, he sends in a bunch of goons in balaclavas to steal it.

The turtles lack the depth of the characters from the original cartoon series, which was created to justify a toy line. Leonardo is an absolute blank slate, Donatello is the kind of nebbishy nerd that exists in the mind of people who have never talked to a smart person  (Leonardo: Donnie, what are the odds of surviving this? Donatello: 0.00003%!), Raphael is an angry thug, and Michelangelo really, really wants to fuck April.
"Imagine this is a used condom, brah!"

April follows the turtles back to a roof and snaps a picture. She faints when they take off their masks and they erase her phone while she's unconscious. As an aside, I know the ACLU has an app that automatically uploads videos to a secure server, and which can't be erased through the phone. I'd assume a good reporter would use something like this, but April O'Neil is a shitty reporter. When she barges into the newsroom with claims of Ninja Mutant Turtle Teenagers, and her editor humors her and asks her for some "Who, What, Where, Why and When?", April is like "Herp Derp. I don't know any of that. But you're totes being mean for not running with this story!"

William Fichtner is the scientist turned corporate mogul and the secondary antagonist. He's needlessly sinister and delivers the worst line in the film, "Drain every drop of their blood, even if it kills them." He also recounts a story about a warlord poisoning Japan's water supply. I suppose such a thing is possible, but Japan is an archipelago, an island chain. Wikipedia says there are 6,852 islands composing Japan, and I imagine that their water supply is somewhat...decentralized. It's not like everyone draws water from a communal well, is what I'm saying.

Anyway, predictable plot, needlessly complicated scheme from the cartoonishly evil villains, same shit you see in every terrible movie. Somebody (Fichtner's character, I think?) calls the turtles "freaks". Jesus. Is that a word that really exists outside of the "Sworn to Protect a World that Hates and Fears them" genre of movie? The only time I ever hear "freak" in real life is when somebody substitutes it for "fuck" if they don't want to swear in front of a kid.

Minae Noji as Karai was especially poorly cast. She's called by name once, and you could be forgiven for not knowing who she's supposed to be, as Karai has previously been portrayed as a teenager or a young adult. Noji is forty-one and looks every minute of it. Stockard Channing in Grease was a more convincing teenager. (Or a I suppose that in this continuity, Karai is not a badass ninja warrior, but a bored Japanese hausfrau.)

The only good part about the movie was that we saw it at Chunky's. The leather seats come from a Lincoln Town Car, the ticket prices are reasonable (a good dollar or two cheaper than most places), and the price and quality of the food compare favorably to the chain restaurant of your choice. I really enjoyed that part of the experience, at least.


  1. The thing that really bugged me about this movie (aside from "all of it") was that, after April gets her recently wiped phone back from the turtles, she takes another picture of them--and then promptly forgets she has it when she's talking to her boss like a crazy person. Before getting fired, you'd think April would--I dunno--maybe show her boss that picture of the turtles? (You know, the same picture she showed to the scientist guy in his house, a few scenes later?)

    Anyway, yeah. The movie was awful, and I only watched it because a friend wanted to see it and was willing to do so at one of my favorite theaters.

    1. I missed the part where she showed the pictures to the scientist guy, but I did notice her taking them, except I dismissed that as insignificant almost immediately. "She's taking pictures in the dark, with a cell phone, of subjects rapidly moving away from her. She's not going to get anything but four green blurs."