Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles


   I was absolutely one of those people who took one look at the trailer and said "Ew. No thanks." I avoided this movie for well over a year. It even cycled in and right back out of Netflix, and I wasn't even remotely tempted to see it. However, in the recent smattering of super bowl trailers, I noticed there was a new teaser for the sequel to this movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. I ended up reading the comments on it... and it was full of crotchety vitriol and rampant elitism. Did I ever sound like that when talking about these movies? Ugh. I immediately backpedaled and decided to form my own opinion on this movie so that if I was going to sound like an angry old guy, at least I'd know what I was talking about.

   Much to my surprise, the movie isn't awful. I think people were and are tired of their childhoods being mined for cash cow purposes. What they don't realize is that somewhere along the way, some well intentioned filmmakers get mixed up in all this and try to make the best of it. I do believe that director Jonathan Liebesman is one of those guys. Unfortunately, the movie suffers from an excess of... well, just about everything. Chiefly, it suffers from an excess of design. Everything in the movie is terribly over-designed. From the fabulous four themselves to Master Splinter and especially Shredder, who ends up looking more like a Tony Stark'd version of the Silver Samurai from The Wolverine. It's... obnoxious, to say the least.

   I found Splinter uncomfortable to look at. The designers actually tried to give him a samurai haircut- complete with major sideburns, a top knot, and a Fu Manchu stash- which would be fine if he didn't have lots of exposed wrinkly skin as well. He looks less fatherly and more like... a freakish creature from a bad B-movie. This is just an ugly and bad design. The turtles themselves suffer from the same fate, but to a much lesser extent. I was able to get over their awkward and unsightly noses with time, and otherwise the turtles admittedly look neat- if not a lot like overly complicated concept art that could've been much more refined. Splinter and the turtles are excusable, but Shredder is a real Achilles heel of the movie.

   They showed the man under the armor, Oroko Saki, as a complete badass. Superbly skilled and exceptionally competent. Then they stuff him into a glorified Iron Man suit for the rest of the movie, with veritable underarm wings made from gigantic knives... that shoot out, and then come flying back to him with the click of a button. You know how movies have action figures based on them that end up being so extremely exagerrated with their toy-ness that they end up being nothing like the characters they're supposed to be fashioned after? Yeah. That's what Shredder looks like, a shiny, chrome, and ridiculous looking 'deluxe' action figure come to life. Thus, he seems less like a serious villain and more like just... a special effect. No es bueno.

   The turtles on the other hand are positively alive with personality and rhythm. They feel like the characters I know and love, and they were a ton of fun to watch. Megan Fox as April O'Neil is... alright. I mean, she's not bad in the role, but I'd prefer someone else. Though I kinda wonder if that's not my inner angry old man speaking again. She's serviceable, and she really put a lot of energy into her performance. William Fichtner plays a bad guy here, Eric Sacks, and he's in full scenery chewing mode. They introduce him as a good guy, but it's almost laughable because he's so obviously evil. It's adorable in a pathetic kind of way. Anyways...

   Back to the whole suffering from excess problem... The story also suffers from excess- and laziness. The movie tries to tie the turtles' origin story into April O'Neil's past, which in turn ties into Eric Sack's past as well. It's all insanely thin, unnecessary and really strained. It functions well enough from scene to scene but it's still weird when you think about it. It's just too much. Too much story, and way too much plot. Then there's the laziness. (Going to ingore the fact that Splinter basically learns ninjitsu from a book he just happened to find in the sewer...) The same overly elaborate backstory that needlessly connects all the main characters also ends up generating a very tired story that hinges on a 'magic blood' plot device like... well, just about every other major sci-fi blockbuster in recent memory. From The Amazing Spider-Man to Star Trek Into Darkness- magic blood is a hot commodity in Hollywood these days and I'm sick of it.

   Worse yet is the abundance of other stock plot devices like a toxin that the villains are going to unleash on the city (The Amazing Spider-Man again! Damn!), cliche timers, countdowns, and such. It's all kind of ridiculous. Anywaaaays... under all of that logic-devoid nonsense is a big bubbly center that understands what has always made these turtles so much fun to watch. The movie is full of scenes that perfectly capture the energy, heart, and humor of the turtles that has persisted no matter which iteration you're fond of. For example, a scene where all four brothers are in an elevator together on their way to the climactic showdown of the movie, when they all start beatboxing together. It's just a fun and silly moment and I loved it.

  Then there's the action scenes which are about as hyper-kinetic and over-the-top as you'd expect, but there's a certain stupid charm to it all. I found myself actually trying hard to not enjoy the action sequences in the movie. Eventually I caved and just embraced the crazy overblown CGI kung-fu madness. It's wild, electric, and in-your-face. It too suffers from excess, but this might be the one area of the movie where you can't help but admire the excess. It's a bunch of fun if you leave your inner angry old man out of it. Which goes for the movie as a whole. It's actually very enjoyable if you can meet it on it's own terms. They brought the heroes in a half shell to life and they're bursting with vibrant color and personality.

   The movie has definitely got charisma and energy and while it is admittedly pretty damn flawed, it's also irrepressibly fun and undeniably good-natured in it's efforts to entertain. It succeeds despite itself, and it's a real shame that so many people dismissed it based on bad press and trailers that failed to sell the movie the way fans needed to see it. Nevertheless, I felt the urge to blast Vanilla Ice's Ninja Rap when the movie was over and hop around doing karate yells and jump kicks like a 8 year old on a sugar high. If that's not how a Ninja Turtles movie is supposed to make you feel... then I don't know what is. I'll be seeing the sequel, and probably in theaters too. If for no other reason than the fact I could use less crotchety vitriol in my life and more good, clean, stupid, cowabunga fun.

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