Sunday, May 31, 2015

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Until I watched Michael Bay's Transformers movies, I was not a Transformers fan. Sure, it was something I knew existed, but as I mentioned in the Transformers review, my main exposure to the franchise has been the toys and the live-action films.
Having not grown up with Transformers, some would say that I only liked the two live-action movies I did because I've never seen anything better in relation to the franchise.
And when it was announced that Michael Bay would be working on a movie based on something that I am a lifelong fan of, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I had people telling me that I'd change my tone once I saw him "ruin" something I loved.
I've read the comics, I've watched the '80s series and the '03 series, the '07 movie, and all three of the previous live-action movies.
I haven't seen the live-action TV series or that weird "Coming out of their Shells Tour" thing, or the Japanese OVA where The Shredder looks like Wolverine, but my love of Ninja Turtles is still unwavering.
To be clear, I don't think this is a bad film. It's got some issues, but it's a decent movie. Certainly much better than the 2007 movie, and I'm not sure which continuity that's supposed to fit into.
I remember thinking that Jennifer Lawrence would have made a better April O'Neil than Megan Fox would have while I was watching Mockingjay, and while that's true....
Well, I'll go ahead and talk about the film now.
For you Ninja Turtles fans in the audience, let's round up the changes they've made to the origin. Or rather, what kind of origin do the turtles have this year?
First off, they're not going with the 1980's cartoon origin. Splinter is not Hamato Yoshi in this. Unfortunately, he also wasn't Yoshi's pet rat, and as such, the entire revenge-angle he has with The Shredder has been removed.
The only reason I mention this is because it's always been a huge part of the character. In the comics, Shredder killed Yoshi and Splinter wanted revenge for his friend's death. In the '80s TV show, Splinter was Hamato Yoshi, but called himself Splinter while he was a rat, and The Shredder had killed their Sensei and pinned the murder on Splinter. In the movies and 2003 series, Splinter was Yoshi's pet rat, who had learned Ninjutsu from watching Yoshi practicing.
In this, Splinter is just a regular lab-rat. He's got no connection to Oruku Saki, and yet he still knows all about what Shredder is and what he can do.
Yes, this is the internet-age. Yes, the Turtles are shown to have access to the internet, and television, and lots of technology. But without Splinter's Shredder history, I don't know what the point of him knowing as much as he does about The Foot in this film is.
The Turtles aren't just pet-turtles that got dropped into the sewer and exposed to mutagen, they were raised in a lab alongside Splinter, having been exposed to the mutagen by April's father.
This means that Splinter had to learn Ninjutsu from a book that was dropped into the sewers, instead of having mastered it prior to becoming somewhat human-sized.
What was the point of that, anyways? Yeah, you can make the Turtles lab-experiments. That makes some kind of sense. But Splinter's whole origin is inextricably tied to Oruku Saki, you can't just remove something like that without making something look kinda stupid.
Speaking of stupid, the voices. Splinter is voiced by Tony Shalhoub, who I really like. But the voice he uses for Splinter doesn't sound anything like any of the other Splinter's.
That's not the only issue with the voices. The Turtles themselves don't always sound right. Raph and Mikey's actors are the only ones I noticed were able to consistently keep their voices similar to previous actors.
Leo wavers back and forth, sometimes sounding like his '03 counterpart, sometimes not. And Donny hardly sounds like he should.
I hypothesized that, since this movie is a Platinum Dunes/Nickelodeon Pictures co-production, that maybe they were using the voice-actors from the 2012 Nick CGI series, but that's not the case.
Quick note about the TV series, they have two former Raph actors voicing other characters in that series.
And that leads me to this criticism. Younger fans of the current TV show will be left wondering why the characters sound different in this movie, let alone why they look so much different.
Just like I was when I saw the '07 movie. While some of the voices sounded similar, there were enough subtle differences that my ear for sound was able to tell that they weren't the same.
Hell, even fans that have less interest in the film-making process or the behind-the-scenes will probably wonder why these guys don't sound like The Turtles are supposed to.
My favorite series are the live-action movies and the 2003 TV series, so of course I wouldn't be entirely pleased unless Mike Sinterniklaas was playing Leo, Sam Riegel was Donny, Frank Frankson was Raph, Wayne Grayson was Mikey, Darren Dunstan was Splinter, and Scottie Ray was Shredder.
Hell, I'd settle for the cast of the 2007 movie.
That's not to say this new cast is bad. Far from it. They do manage to capture the personalities of the Turtles without over-doing it. My main complaint is Tony Shalhoub's Splinter, as I said before. He doesn't sound anything like any of the Splinter's I've ever heard, and as such, sticks out like a sore thumb.
Speaking of which, the new designs. I don't hate all of the new designs, but Splinter doesn't look his best here. Yeah, the Turtles look a little over-muscled and a little too big, but they look distinct, and they don't look bad.
And this brings me to The Shredder.
Oruku Saki is essentially Iron Man without the flight capabilities. The Shredder outfit is a mechanically powered suit with a lot of weapons. Yeah, it diminishes how threatening Shredder actually is, since usually Shredder has nothing but armor on, and he's still a force to be reckoned with. But I love this suit. It's glitzy and flashy, and it's a little garish, but it looks awesome.
Yes, a more tactical suit in the second movie would look cool too. But this serves its purpose as an awesome-looking suit that can stand toe-to-toe with the Turtles and come out on top, especially since they've made the Turtles super-strong.
By the way, despite The Shredder speaking a ton of English in every single appearance, he primarily speaks Japanese here. I'm not sure why. Yeah, he's supposed to be Japanese in pretty much every appearance, but he's also a crime boss in the United States.
And yes, he does speak English in this movie, but he's also got very few lines, he doesn't gloat, and he doesn't have the right kind of charisma that Shredder is supposed to have.
In fact, the main villain is't even really Shredder, it's an original character.
The weird thing is that in the original version of the script, that original character was supposed to actually be Oruku Saki, but for some reason they changed it. I don't know why, because that seems like something that would make sense. That character even killed someone who Splinter could have feasibly looked up to.
All they'd need to do is make April's father some sort of martial-arts enthusiast, and have his dojo next to the lab that Splinter and the Turtles were housed in, and that would solve all the problems with the plot. It reinstates Splinter's ties to Shredder as a plot-point, and means that they don't need to hand-wave why Splinter knows martial-arts.
Hell, to top it off, make April's father's first name Josh and make him part Japanese and you'd have the entire origin down pat.
The good thing is that they never actually identified the character of Shredder as Oruku Saki, so they might be able to still have that original character become the new Shredder eventually.
Probably not in the next film, since it looks like they've already cast the new Shredder for TMNT: Half Shell, and that original character isn't going to get any kind of payoff on that angle.
So, while it seems like they had a couple of last-minute rewrites and re-casts, the movie itself is solid, and it's well worth the hour and forty-minute runtime.
As with all the Turtles media, the movie is a hodgepodge of concepts from other Turtles media and original ideas. Some things make a little more sense than others, and some don't make sense at all.
The good thing is that I pretty much got what I expected out of a Michael Bay Ninja Turtles movie. There are a lot of good moments, great-action, and some good story to behold.
While the story has been changed a bit to make April a little more involved in the Turtles' back-story than she has been before, she was always a big part of the Turtles franchise, and she was always useful to the plot.
Sam Witwicky was an original character with an established family name who was useful for a total of one film and then lost all character as time went on. Since April has history as a character, then could mean that she's got less of a chance of having her character ruined.
All in all, while the movie has some small issues, most of which have to do with the weird production history of the film, it's still a fun movie. The Turtles are pretty faithful to their established personalities, Megan Fox actually proved she can act and be funny without making me cringe, and everything manages to keep a decent pace.
I give the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot a 9.8* rating.

Image from