Confused by the newest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie? No, probably not. It was pretty dumb, wasn't it? But that doesn't mean you don't still have some questions, and luckily we still have answers. Spoilers ahead!
What is the new TMNT movie about?
It's about how everything in the goddamn universe revolves around April O'Neil.
Okay. So reporter April O'Neil — who is a reporter in the sense she's on TV to do stories about jumping on trampolines — discovers the Turtles while spying on the Foot Clan for a big story. That's pretty much the same. What's not the same is that the Turtles were April's childhood pets. April's father was a scientist who experimented on his daughter's pet turtles with the movie's non-Shredder villain Eric Sacks, played by William Fichtner. April is the lynchpin of the movie around which every character revolves.
Hey, this is a movie about anthropomorphic fighting turtles. Why are you bitching about them suddenly being Megan Fox's childhood pets?
Honestly, I could care less about the coincidence; this is a series where the turtles have rocket-powered skateboards, after all. The problem is that it's really lazy, shitty writing. They clearly don't trust their script enough to make the audience care about their characters, so they shoehorn in dumb, trite connections between characters instead of trying to actually make quality content. That's the problem.
But TMNT is for kids. They can't tell good writing from bad writing. So who cares?
Just because it's for kids doesn't mean it needs to be shitty.
It's the Turtles. It's always been shitty.
That's not true. The recent cartoons have actually been pretty good. Now, the franchise has always been pretty goofy (minus some of the comics), which I would agree is a perfectly acceptable thing for a cartoon about turtle ninjas to be. And the movie does try to capture some of that goofiness with the rocket skateboards and the love of pizza and assorted jokes. That's fine.
So what's the problem?
It's that the live-action TMNT movie has a goofy element inside it and simultaneously wants to be a grim, gritty reboot of the Turtles. And these two goals are mutually exclusive.
Look at the character designs for the Turtles. Look how much work went into them, and how "realistic" they're trying to be. They're hyper-detailed, super-masculine turtles with creepy human eyes, creepier human lips, and nostrils, and every pore of their skin has been carefully animated over every muscle. Every thread of fabric in their masks is clear, every dent in their shells. And yet the movie has them getting stuck in doorways together and farting on each other.
But aren't realistic-looking Turtles a good thing?
I'm not saying this is a problem on par with Dragonball: Evolution; I'm just saying that there are parts of the movie, best typified by the ridiculous overdesigned, "realistic" Turtles, that clash with the film's desire to be kid-friendly fun. Parts like making Megan Fox gratuitously jump on a trampoline for an April O'Neil report. Or having 40-year-olds like Johnny Knoxville voice the Turtles. Or Michaelangelo making jokes about how much he wants to fuck April O'Neil.
Yeah. His line, upon seeing unconscious Megan Fox is "I can feel my shell tightening." Because he has an erection, you see. Because he wants to fuck her.
I see. Unfortunately.
Let me put it another way. Imagine a live-action G.I. Joe movie based on one of the dumbest original cartoon episodes, like the one where Cobra made a chain of fast food restaurants and then launched them all into space for some reason. This G.I. Joe movie follows this exact plot and adds absolutely no sophistication to it… but suddenly the action scenes are ridiculously violent and gory. They're like the beginning of Saving Private Ryan, with Joes dying and getting their limbs blown off. In a burger joint. In space.
This metaphor is a bit extreme, but TMNT has the same basic problem. And even if you don't consider any of this to be problematic, why use 20,000 computers or whatever it took to rendered these insanely "realistic" ninja turtles where you can see every thread in their bandannas when you're not going to bother to take anything else about them seriously? Why spend half a year of pre-production and $5 million in VFX if you're going to crap out the script during happy hour at an Applebee's?
Is it that bad?
Even by the incredibly forgiving standards of the classic animated TMNT series, Sacks and Shredder's plan is dumb. Now, Shredder and the Foot Clan — who are now generic masked terrorists of some sort because why bother to have the Turtles fight other ninjas — are trying to take over New York City for some reason that basically amounts to "We're bad guys; it's what we do." William Fichtner's evil CEO Sacks has the traditional supervillain "endanger the city and then sell them the solution" plan, in this case a gas that will actually kill most people in NYC. The Fichtner can sell the cure to the rest of the world — the cure, of course, being the mutagen in the Turtles' blood.
Hey. Wait. How is Sacks going to kill everyone in New York if Shredder wants to rule it?
You have come across a problem that does not seem to have occurred to either Shredder or Sacks. Certainly, there's no talk of Sacks going behind Shrdder's back or anything. Even more problematically, both Shredder and Sacks actually journey to New York City in order to release the gas in person… even though it's incredibly deadly and they haven't ingested any of the mutagen that would prevent them from dying.
That… that can't be right.
Maybe there's a deleted scene where the two villains drink that sweet, sweet mutagen and chat about how they'll be totally immune to the death gas they'll be releasing shortly, but if so, it was not in the theatrical cut I saw. At any rate, Shredder is detonating the gas bomb manually, and Sacks is on-site.
The Mutagen just mutates things, right? How the hell is it supposed to be a cure?
Excellent question. Well, we know for a fact that the mutagen turns turtles and rats into sentient, bipedal manimals. Apparently when humans ingest it, it give them Wolverine-like healing powers, which would seem to be unlikely given what it does to small animals but whatever. That's the least of the plot's problems.
Dare I ask?
Well, the bomb is on top of a spire on Sacks' NYC hi-rise. The Turtles manage to defuse the detonator, but then Shredder uses all his crazy blades to destroy the spire's supports, nearly toppling it over, but the Turtles hold it up.
Wait, they hold up a giant steel tower? By themselves?
Yeah, the Turtles are now super-strong and bulletproof for some reason, too.
Them being mutant ninjas wasn't quite interesting enough for the filmmakers?
Apparently not. Anyways, the turtles have to prevent the spire from crashing or else it's going to burst and kill everybody, right? Well, it crashes anyways. And… uh… there are no consequences to this. It's just fine, apparently.
Oh, and Splinter gets his ass kicked by Shredder earlier in the movie, so he's near-death. But the Turtles get some of the miraculous mutagen to him in time, letting his body heal.
I have some questions.
That's what I'm here for.
The mutagen heals Splinter?
Even though in the past the mutagen mutated him.
And this isn't a new mutagen, or an adapted mutagen. It's the same, original mutagen.
Straight out of the Turtles' blood.
Okay. This may be a silly question, but doesn't Splinter also have the mutagen in his blood?
He does indeed, being a giant rat-man and all.
So if the mutagen heals people, why does he need more of it?
I have no idea.
This does sound pretty terrible.
You haven't even heard the worst part. Remember how in all the TMNT media, Splinter was either a ninja master who mutated into a rat, or the pet rat of a ninja master, who mutated but remembered his owner's teachings? Guess how he and the Turtles learn ninjutsu?
They find a "How to" book in the sewer.
WHAT. THE. @#$%.
I know, right? Here's the most amazing thing about this new TMNT movie. It's about teenaged, mutant ninja turtles and somehow the new origin manages to shatter even the incredibly generous suspension of disbelief the audience has to give to watch it. A book! They learn from a book! In English!
Why does this feel so much dumber than the idea of them being taught by a rat who watched his human owner?
Because even if you've accepted a world where there's mutagen, and it can turn animals into giant, sentient, bipedal creatures, and that an evil ninja wants to rule New York City through crime for some reason, learning how to be a ninjas from a book is still fucking stupid. The existence of mutants and ninjas do not change this basic fact.
Is there anything good about this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie?
Uh, the Shredder's armor is pretty great. The fight scenes are good, especially Shredder versus Splinter, and the final fight, although Shredder pretty much kicks the Turtles' asses non-stop.
Well, that's something. Any other weirdness I should know about?
Yeah. When Megan Fox saves the baby Turtles and Splinter from the lab fire, she immediately releases them on a nearby sewer grate. Now, the movie — through Splinter — commend this as an act of heroism, that young April gave the TMNT their freedom. In reality, any kind of non-disturbed child should have probably tried bring them home to safety, because she cared about them. April O'Neil basically tried to flush her pets down the toilet, but she just couldn't be bothered to make it to an actual toilet. Don't be fooled!
Can you sum up the entire movie in a completely obnoxious one-word review?
Hey, you asked.