I’ve decided to go back and watch a bunch of movies based on comic books. No real reason, just something I thought would be fun. This time it was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles remakes.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
IMDb Rating: 5.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes critics: 22%
Rotten Tomatoes audience: 51%
My Rating: 4/10
This is not a very good movie. Some of my reasons for thinking that may be colored by my love for the original live action movie, but given the rotten tomatoes score, I don’t think it plays that big of a part.
There are two really big flaws in the movie. The first is how it tries to make everything bigger. In the comics, the turtles are only about 3 feet tall. In the cartoon and first set of movies, they’re between five and six feet tall. Here, they’re seven to eight feet tall, four feet wide, and bullet-proof. There are scenes where Raphael looks more like the Hulk than a turtle. Of course, since the turtles are these behemoths, the Shredder also has to be bigger and badder. Unfortunately, instead of making him smarter or more skilled, the writers just decided to give him robotic armor with a seemingly infinite number of blades attached to it that can return to him on command. I think the point to these changes was to raise the stakes and make the battles more dramatic, but instead it just strained the suspension of disbelief due to lazy writing. An eight foot tall, 4 foot wide turtle isn’t going to fit through a three foot manhole, and that’s the most subtle problem.
The other big issue was with the changes to the backstory. Involving April in the Turtles creation seemed like a lazy way to connect her to the team. Suddenly, instead of her learning about them through competent reporting, she gets this artificial relationship with the turtles and the villain. Everything just seems so contrived. It strips April’s character of depth and just makes her the unfortunate woman who coincidentally gets sucked into the plot.
There was some good in the movie. Mostly it was how distinct the turtles were. In many of the previous live action movies, the personality of each turtle was really subdues. Raphael was often the most developed, followed by Leonardo. Donatello and Michelangelo were often just background characters. In this version, every turtle is fully developed. Each turtle has a unique strength, and each is on display during parts of the movie. Unfortunately, this wasn’t as developed as it could have been, because they rarely use those strengths to complement each other in the battle scenes.
Given the initial fear over how Michael Bay was planning to set up the movie, the fact that it ended up being a mediocre movie is actually a bit of a relief.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
IMDb Rating: 6.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes critics: 38%
Rotten Tomatoes audience: 49%
My Rating: 4/10
While this installment wasn’t much of an improvement over the first one, it was an improvement. Most of the inspiration for this movie seemed to come from the 1987 animated series, which helped keep the movie lighter in tone than the first one. Bringing in well-known characters like Baxter Stockman, Bebop, Rocksteady, and Krang also helped. The filmmakers also toned back some of the excessive changes from the first movie. Shredder wasn’t a giant mechanical monster and the turtles weren’t quite as hulking (though their size did seem a bit inconsistent throughout the movie).
April O’Niel is still a problem character. She’s too integral to the series to take her out, but she doesn’t really contribute anything to the story either. Vernon is a much more useful sidekick, even if he’s a reluctant one. Like the previous film, the turtles are well developed, and to an even greater extent this time around. Donatello gets to show off his technical expertise, Leonardo shows his struggles in learning how to be a leader, Raphael is as moody as ever, and Michelangelo continues to be the goofball, but starts to learn the consequences of that behavior as well. Casey Jones is also introduced in the movie, but he was a disappointment.
The villains in the movie were a big draw. Not only was Shredder back, but they added Bebop and Rocksteady, while throwing in Krang as well. That’s a lot of new pieces, and overall, the balance was good. The biggest issue was that none of the villains really got to show why they were so bad. Shredder is kind of in the background. Bebop and Rocksteady have one big fight scene to show off their strength, but were mostly treated as comic relief, and Krang just talked a lot about how smart he was without ever actually outsmarting anyone.
Of the two movies, this second one was better, but it still wasn’t very good. It also has the dubious honor of being the only movie based on these characters that probably didn’t turn a profit. Even though the quality of this movie was better, the franchise is fading. I would expect a third movie to be planned, but I won’t be disappointed if it doesn’t happen. Take that as you will.