Making a Case For the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Reboot… It’s Not As Bad as You Think

TMNT Reboot 2014

I feel the need to preface this with a disclaimer:

This is by no means a traditional film review.

My sincerest apologies if that’s what you were looking for, but by now you can read about the critics ripping this flick to shreds (no pun intended… well, maybe a little) on hundreds of other sites if that’s what tickles your fancy. But I simply can’t help but feel that the highest praise  I can bestow upon this film directly correlates to the somewhat unique experience I had in the theater itself. One that I’d like to share with you now…

My family was “lucky” enough to score free passes to an advanced screening of the film. We rolled up 2 hours prior to showtime decked out in our turtley best hoping to snag our “official” tickets and then grab a leisurely bite to eat. Well, that is NOT what happened.

tmnt2

I’ve never in my life had a more degrading and horrific theater-going experience. 1 hour spent tightly packed into one line, only to be ushered to another line for an additional 45 minutes. Then being told upon arrival at the second line that no electronics of any kind would be allowed in the theater, so we needed to take those back to our vehicles… but in the same breath commanded that we were not to hold anyone’s place in line, so it was not guaranteed that you would even be allowed back in.

Another 20 minutes passed at a snail’s (or turtle’s, in this instance) pace, and the gruff, irritable, and unnecessarily rude people returned. Now they were announcing that all bags & purses would be dumped (not just searched, but literally dumped), down to the last pocket, if we chose to hold on to them, advising that we return those to our vehicles as well. Again, this came with the understanding that your re-admittance was solely up to their discretion.

Finally, the line moved forward and it was time to enter the theater. True to their word, they had a security team standing by to frisk you, subject you to a metal detector, and dump any personal belongings you had with you. After you got the “thumbs up,” you were free to hurriedly scurry to your seats, as that was by no means a guarantee either. Once we had settled in came the booming announcement that no one was to save seats, as they had given out more tickets than they had seating available. So if you had the need to get up for ANY reason, you inherently forfeited your seat. Because, in a theater filled with children, clearly no one would have to use the restroom or anything foolish like that after standing in a line that you couldn’t get out of for over 2 hours…

tmnt3

By now, we had been debating saying “screw it” and simply leaving at least 10 times over, with this heated argument still ongoing until about 5 minutes before the film was set to begin. Suffice it to say, I was not only poised to passionately hate this effin’ movie, but life in general by that point. Yet finally, after what Einstein’s theory of relativity would support as an eternity, the lights went down and screen lit up…

And then it was over. Everyone in the audience clapped and cheered, quite a few even going so far to give it a standing ovation. I took a quick glance at the faces of all those around me, and from the cynical teenagers to my left, to the single mom with 4 kids on my right, to the morbidly obese man in the ill-fitting TMNT shirt directly behind us, to my own family beside me… everyone – EVERY LAST ONE – was smiling. We had forgotten all of the ridiculous crap that we had gone through to see this movie and simply enjoyed the hell out of ourselves. THAT is the highest praise that I can give this film, and it begs the question “Isn’t that what entertainment is supposed to be all about?”

We collectively “ooh’d & ahh’d” at the action spectacles, laughed at the rapid-fire jokes (juvenile humor or not, this movie is HILARIOUS), cringed when the souped-up Shreddator got ahold of Master Splinter, and cheered when the turtles saved the day with the battle cry of “COWABUNGA!!!” And when the dust settled, the look on the audience’s face, young & older alike, was the same one that my 7-year-old self was wearing on March 30th, 1990.

mindBLOWN

So did they capture that “lightning in a bottle” mix of nostalgia, intelligence, and insanity that Guardians of the Galaxy did, showcasing something that feels completely familiar, yet wholly original at the same time?

Ummm… no.

This is a by-the-numbers origin story, peppered with a bit of an ’80s action flick feel to it. It plays its story straight for the most part, relying on the turtles themselves for wisecracks and throwing in quite a bit of self-referential humor.

Are there things in there that could potentially piss off the TMNT “purists” (which in & of itself is an oxymoron, given that every incarnation of the titular heroes in a half-shell has differed vastly from their predecessors)?

… Oh, yes.

tmnt4

As is always the case, the mythology’s been tweaked to better suit the story they’re trying to tell, and certain characters backstories have been altered a bit. But honestly there’s very little in the film that feels like a complete overhaul. Splinter still raised them to be ninja teens. Leonardo still leads, Donatello still does machines. Raphael’s still cool, but crude. And Michelangelo’s most definitely still a party dude.

Whether the shell-heads’ revamped designs irked you or not, the effects utilized to bring them to life does exactly that: bring them to life. Comparing these turtles to Jim Henson’s beautifully realized (but severely limited) puppets from our youth is like comparing Caesar & Co. from the newest Planet of the Apes installments to the ones in the Charlton Heston original. In fact, I’ll even go out on a limb and say that once you get past their grotesque, hulking, bulletproof exterior, these turtles are the most accurate in terms of individual personalities, as well as how they depict their relationship as teenage brothers, than has ever been seen in ANY of the previous incarnations.

tmnt5

It’s not a perfect film by any means, but it’s infused with enough of that good ol’ fashioned TURTLE POWER to at least satisfy even the most skeptical of TMNT fans, in my humble opinion. The press will demolish it because a) they’ve never been particularly kind where snarky mutant turtles with a penchant for martial arts are concerned, and b) it’s the hip thing to hate anything associated with Michael Bay right now (despite the latest Transformers installment recently crossing the $1 billion mark).

Point is, if you’ve already made up your mind to hate this film based on a producer credit, or the fact that it even exists, I’m nowhere near dumb enough to think that anything I can say will assure you that you’ll enjoy it as much as I did (though I will assure you that it’s far from the travesty most had predicted). All I can stress to you is exactly what I experienced: I walked into a theater with 200 other hungry, tired, annoyed, and generally pissed-off people… and every last one of us walked out with a smile on our face.

That’s a “cowabunga” in my book.

tmnt6

Written by Patrick Renfrow

Born of a conflicted age responsible for the greatest cartoons and popcorn flicks of all time, yet the worst hairstyles and fashion sense known to modern man, Patrick Renfrow was assuredly predestined to become an unrepentant man-child in every conceivable way. His struggles to function in modern society through a strict regimen of cheesy movies, violent video games, nostalgic toys, and demented animations (with a whiskey chaser) are infrequently chronicled at Leisure Suit Lucifer, and he can be found skewering the "thinking man's" pop culture on a regular basis at Pop Mythology.

and WhatCulture!

31 posts
  • The Sewer Den

    This review makes me happy. Very spot on with my feelings (and review) as well. I’m glad the film reversed the curse of waiting in lines and rude service! #TurtlePower

  • After seeing the trailers, I was fully on board. After seeing it, the best thing I could say for myself was that it was fine. I was able to enjoy it in the moment. The only thing that was difficult to look past on the night was *spoilers* removing all connection between Splinter and Shredder. To me, that was just a terrible storytelling choice. Lowered the stakes and emotional aspect in a huge way. Also required them to bring in a weird, overly coincidental plot-point featuring a ninja book.

    I fully get it, though, the film was not for me, it was for the modern audience. My daughter LOVED it. To me that gives the film just as much merit as me loving the original oh so many years ago. Because of this, I can’t complain that the Turtles were ruined..and surely not my childhood, that’s just a ridiculous argument to pose. Just try to avoid thinking too deeply about it on the drive home..because as a film, so much falls apart in the details. Just lose yourself in the moment, try to look past the flaws that bug you, it will be a fun time.

    Thanks for the review. I, too, was herded like cattle into a preview screening. All in all, it was worth it.

  • FlixtheCat

    The movie gets a big thumbs down and I was happy to contribute to the low RT score on Rotten Tomatoes with my review of it. I consider it a terrible movie.

  • Patrick Renfrow

    And yet, the sequel cometh, all the same…

    As is the case with everything, “terrible” films and “great” films are in no way dictated by the words of critics, but rather by the audiences that embrace them. And love it, hate it, or feel unrepentantly indifferent about it, the latest incarnation of TMNT has clearly found an audience. And that’s after nearly a year’s worth of bad buzz/press hanging over the production like a black cloud, as well as damn near universal panning by critics. So you can shake your head at the “fools throwing their money away, ensuring that Hollywood churns out more soulless crap” all you’d like.

    But me, personally?

    I’d rather sit back with a big ol’ grin on my face, because who doesn’t love a good underdog story?

    • FlixtheCat

      “Forget the critics, the movie made money, so it must be good.” Isn’t that on the letterhead on the Michael Bay fan club news letter?

      You’re perfectly aware that box office has little bearing on the quality of a movie. You know that, many people know that, it’s common sense. TMNT has a built in audience, as does Michael Bay, it’s not an underdog story by any definition.

      Guardians of the Galaxy was an underdog story. TMNT was a sure thing.

      • Patrick Renfrow

        No offense, but I say “forget the critics, period.”

        Sure, a critic is paid to express their (supposedly) educated opinion in regards to a film’s quality. But it’s still only that; an opinion. An opinion that is more often subject to personal tastes than not, and ESPECIALLY here around the Clubhouse, we understand that personal tastes vary greatly. From Grindhouse & Cult Cinema (that are arguably “terrible,” but beloved all the same) to more mainstream fare, there will always be someone that enjoys something others overwhelmingly feel they shouldn’t. So in the words of Billy Zane’s charming Demon Knight devil, “If it makes ya feel good, do it!”

        And yes, I’m acutely aware that box office numbers & quality do not always good bedfellows make. Some of the highest grossing films of all time (Avatar, Titanic, the Star Wars prequels, Spider-Man 3, Twilight, Independence Day, Indiana Jones 4, etc.) are not great films, by any means. But for every 10 people that hate them, there one that loves them. And it’s great when filmmaking can transcend conventions and truly become art… but sometimes it’s okay to just be popcorn entertainment too.

        Does TMNT have a built-in audience? Sure. But they were the ones that were the most vocal about the changes and redesigns, championing the fact that “Michael Bay is raping our childhoods!” and claiming they were boycotting this “travesty.” If you’re referring instead to the children that have no knowledge of the Turtles beyond the latest Nickelodeon cartoon, then by that theory, the same audience would’ve been there for The Last Airbender (It wasn’t). By the same logic you’re applying, the argument could be made that Guardians was a “sure thing” even moreso, given the fact that the Marvel brand is hotter & more profitable than ever right now. And going back to the critic argument, seeing as how I’ve provided an example above, they’ve never been positive in regards to anything TMNT-related.

        Point is, I never claimed it was Oscar-worthy, but I won’t jump on the bandwagon claiming that it’s not fun, because it is.