12 – 97mins – 2014
Two years before Paul Feig powered up his proton pack for this summer’s unduly controversial girl-powered Ghostbusters reimagining, four more of my childhood action heroes received a big money, blockbuster makeover, courtesy of new rights holders Nickelodeon Movies and Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company. Cowabunga, dudes!
While Wrath of the Titans director Jonathan Liebesman’s half shell overhaul never received quite the same ferocity of fanboy fury as Feig’s fright-fighting femmes, there were still some contentious changes to the longstanding continuity which irked franchise purists (Sensai Splinter, for instance, was never a human fighting champion but a lab rat who learnt his ninja skills in the sewer), while the so-called aesthetic ‘realism’ of the mo-capped CG amphibians was rightfully lambasted as flat-out ugly.
“I’m a snapping turtle, fool!”
From humble comic book beginnings to animatronic live action movie stars (via countless small screen ventures), the sheer volume of conflicting incarnations the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have endured over their 35 year history has perhaps softened any shellshock I may feel towards any minor mutation to their origin story. However, I must confess to being impressed by the cohesion to the character’s backstory in Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec and Evan Daugherty’s script, with News Reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) made personally responsible for saving Leo, Donnie, Raph and Mikey from a lab fire at her father’s facility back in 1999.
This efficient streamlining extends to the villains of the piece, too, with human antagonist and billionaire CEO Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) established as April’s deceased pa’s former scientific colleague working towards “Project Renaissance”, with grill-chopped lead villain Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) their power-hungry, mutagen-mad boss. Now there is a driving force behind the degeneracy, rather than simply ‘because they’re bad guys.’ Sadly, Shredder’s overarching portrayal is reduced to mere faceless weapon, with his iconic caped-costumed excessively pimped out to make him look like a “Robot Samurai” in Transformers cosplay.
Elsewhere, the characterisation is strong, with the pizza lovin’, pop culture obsessed teenage bro’s distinctive personalities solidified early on (leader, brainbox, rebel, comic), leading to some sparkling banter. Megan Fox was certainly a curious casting choice for the usually ginger, yellow jumpsuit-wearing reporter, but she manages to keep the justice-chasing go-getter grounded and deliver more than just “a little froth,” while Channel 6 cameraman Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) is charmingly fleshed out as a nervous, hopeless flirt crushing on his leading lady.
Upon leaving the multiplex back in 2014 my response was one of apathy, but with a sequel surfing into cinemas at the end of the month I decided to take another trip to the sewers of NYC, and I liked hanging out with these Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a shell of a lot more than I remembered.
“Tiramisu for everybody!”
I concede that it has a rather messy, hyperactive tone (“MC Mikey” can’t even ride in a lift without making some noise, while a camera-swooping cliff-drop set piece is constantly narrated by wisecracks) and its ‘gritty’ desire to detail large-scale devastation is elevated to Man of Steel proportions, but I was far more invested in these “fairytale vigilantes” second time around and found far more favourable factors than frustrating faults. I plan to revisit all of the motion picture outings in the lead-up to Out of the Shadows’ May 30th release, including 2007 CGI dud TMNT – wish me luck, compadres.