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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Review of Michael Bay's Ninja Turtles Movie

I am a somewhat casual fan of Mystery Science Theater, so I have seen some fairly awful movies over the years. Most of these are technically poorly done, meaning some combination of bad camera angles, poorly synched music/mood and or timing/stunts, odd premises, large plot holes, and bad acting with even worse dialogue-writing. Most of these movies at least have the excuse of being made by C-list teams (actors, directors, writers, etc.) with low budgets: they are the type of films for which being called "B-list" is an aspiration, and to become a cult classic is the upper limit of their intended potential.

For reasons which I cannot fathom, Michael Bay is not a B-list director. Nor is Megan Fox a B-list actress, for reasons which I can fathom. And while the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie which these two have made might be billed as a summer blockbuster, it rightly belongs with the awful movies which once made Mystery Science Theater's lineup.

Normally, I would warn my readers of spoilers here, but
  1. I am writing this review a little late to warn off the opening weekend crowd.
  2. I am mostly inclined to warn people not to go see it.
  3. There are so many plot holes that I do't think I can ruin it by revealing anything.

I won't get too much into technical details: the movie was bad enough that I will focus mostly on the plot holes and similar comments. I will say that the soundtrack is forgettable (which is true to the 1990s' movies, which really were B-list). As with those movies, there is one scene in which the turtles showcase their "musical talents"—this time it's beat-boxing in the elevator, a scene which Stephen Greydanus calls the high point of thefilm, and not inaccurately. And I suppose that I should here also acknowledge the critique that others' have had about the design of the turtles: they are too big, and their faces are wrong (they really do need snouts).

Before getting to the worst, I might as well mention some of the best parts. There are a couple of scenes which are reasonably well-done as tributes. When the turtles are returning to the sewers after taking on the Foot Clan as a group for the first time, they leap from a low rooftop into the open manhole in a scenic homage to the opening title of the 1990's cartoon. Elsewhere, Leonardo slices a pizza with his katana, serving the slices to each of his brothers and ending with a single slice landing upon Splinter's head. Also, the decision to make each of the 4 turtles unique in form was a good artist choice, in my opinion: Raphael is the large and bulky bruiser of the bunch, Donatello the lanky awkward nerd, Michaelangelo the laid back surfer dude, Leonardo the athletic team captain.

So, what are the plot holes from which this spectacle suffers?

The mutants turtles and rat turn out to be a science experiment created by April O'Neil's father, who was working on a mutagen which could regenerate cells as use in an anti-dote. It turns out that the father's boss, Sacks (derivative of Kreng from the cartoons?) is planning to use this antidote (along with a poison) to hold New York hostage. He has placed the poison in a large container in an antennae tower on top of his building, with plans to release it into the city, followed by providing the cure at high cost. This plan is scrapped when the lab creating the mutagen is set on fire, and O'Neil's father is killed. The incident is blamed on the Foot Clan.

There are many plot holes here already. First, the turtles and Splinter are saved from this fire by April O'Neil as a little girl. She releases them into the sewer, where they will be "safe". Yet, April's father supposedly dies in this fire, to her knowledge? A little girl is able to enter the burning lab and get the turtles and the rat out, but a grown man is unable to make his escape? And for that matter, she never actually seems to notice that her father is in the burning lab. She is a young journalist with a knack for asking questions, yet she never really questions any of this part of the narrative?

It later turns out that her father actually started the fire because he had discovered his boss' plans for the mutagen. Sacks discovers this and shoots and kills him, presumably in the fire. He then fails to rescue the turtles or Splinter, despite the premise that in their blood is the last remnant of the mutagen, a remnant which is apparently duplicated by the turtles as they grow and which is apparently so stable that he is willing to capture them to drain their blood and extract the mutagen? And he fails to notice young April when she enters the burning lab and rescues the turtles, just as she fails to notice him?

Sacks spends the next 15 years trying to reproduce the mutagen, without success. And apparently, he has decided to keep the container of deadly toxins on top of his building ready to use without an existing antidote for the entire period of 15 years, thus endangering himself and the city for nothing. I know, he's the villain, he doesn't care about the safety of the city. But doesn't he at least care for his own safety, to say nothing of the soundness of a plan which requires sudden dispersal of the toxins which could potentially begin to leak out? Granted, the toxin has to be vaporized first, but under a liquid form it would still release some vapors which would presumably place everyone in the building at risk, not to mention that it places his grand plan at risk for being discovered when his employees start turning up dead with mysterious lesions all over their bodies.

So much for holes in the main premise. Now let's looks at some of the bizarre lapses of judgment throughout the movie. The Sacks and his mentor, the Shredder*, discover that the turtles are alive and well and thus deduce that the mutagen-antidote is still to be found in their blood. The therefore determine to capture the turtles and to drain their blood, and then to extract the mutagen from this blood. This, I suppose, makes some sense as a possibility, but in the movie it is treated as an absolute certainty, and treated moreover as if it is expected that the turtles themselves are producing more of the mutagen—the initial draining seems to ear out this assumption, since they obtain about a liter or so of mutagen from the three captured turtles.

Then comes the first inexplicable error: Sacks decides to drain all of the turtles' blood instantly, rather than keeping them captive for a period and thus being able to extract a larger quantity of antidote. He has no other sure method for replicating the mutagen**, of which somewhat more than a few liters would be necessary if he is to carry ouf his plan of providing it as an antidote for the city. Which brings up the second related bizarre lapse of judgement: after capturing Leonardo, Donatello, and Michaelangelo, the Shredder leaves Splinter for dead (can the mutagen not also be extracted from Splinter's blood?), and does not even bother to bring Raphael's supposed corpse along to be similarly drained of blood/mutagen.

Raphael then goes to rescue his brothers from Sacks, with the aide of April O'Neil and her erstwhile partner, driver, and cameraman, Vernon Fenwick. He thus comes face-to-face with the Shredder, who promptly mops the floor with him, pointing to the four cells containing three turtles, and stating that the fourth cell is for Raphael. Then, inexplicably, he abandons his fight with Raphael and leaves him for a second time, actually leaves the premises to go carry out his and Sacks' evil plans. Oh, and he does this without bothering to wait for his Foot Clan thugs to arrive on the scene to cage Raphael.

In the meantime, April and Vernon free the other turtles. These other three are weak from being drained of so much blood—but a quick injection of adrenaline solves that problem, and with no crash later! Thereafter, the turtles experience no ill effects from blood loss—a side effect of the mutagen, perhaps?

They then make their getaway, in pursuit of the Shredder and Sacks. Having the pick of a jeep and several hummers, and knowing that they will be largely going off-road in ice and snow down a mountain side, they pick... a semi-truck and trailer***. And, during the ensuing chase scene, Vernon takes a breakform driving tocheck out April's butt, which result in his plowing the truck through a snowbank. There are no words.

Next up is a rooftop fight between the turtles and Shredder, who is easily more than a match for them [4]. They then team up and play a version of their childhood game (bucky-buck or something like that), which inexplicably allows them to beat him and knock him off of the building. Donatello is able to stop the toxin's release, but the Shredder has meantime made it back onto the roof and cuts the supports holding up the tower with his magic claw-knife/remote-controlled projectiles. The turtles then support the entire antennae—all 5 tons of it—on their backs, while Leonardo tells them not to move. Given that the only other person on the roof at the time is the Shredder, so it seems unlikely that they will be relieved of this burden anytime soon.

And here is the last inexplicable plot-hole (of sorts) which I will note. Inexplicably, the turtles are able to stand still while the Shredder in his robo-armor attacks them. This is the same Shredder-in-robot-armor who was previously mopping the floor with them as a group (let alone one-on-one). Also, his missile-claws have apparently stopped working, because here he only punches and kicks at Leonardo for a few moments before April arrives with the container of mutagen to simultaneously save the day and become the damsel in distress.

The previews for this movie suggested that it wasn't going to be great. Heck, it's the ninja turtles, for crying out loud. I went in to it not expecting much, thinking that it didn't show much promise. It still managed to disappoint; and if the PG-13 rating isn't enough to warn parents that this is not a movie to bring the small ones too, then my say-so probably doesn't mean much, but this is definitely not a movie for small children. Actually, one wonders what audience this movie is meant for. I can think of few for which it is suitable, save possibly prison inmates whose sentences seem a little too light.

*By my best guess, the Shredder must be about 80 years old in this movie. Sacks is born at a military base in Okinawa, and then loses his father in Vietnam. The Shredder becomes his mentor/sensei/father replacement at this time. It is strongly implied that this is the early parts of the war, and that the Shredder is already a well-trained martial artist. Assuming that he was 25 years old at this point, and thus on the young side of being able to fill this role for the young Sacks, and assuming that all of this occurred in the first few years of the war, that would make the Shredder 75 now. For that matter, one wonders how it is that Splinter knows this backstory.

**For that matter, they never really bother to test it on human subjects to see how it works there. Apparently, litigation is not an issue in this world. Come to think of it, I don't think they ever test it in any way to see whether it actually cures the toxins at all.

***The trailer is empty, and the reason for the truck's presence at all is kind of vague.

[4] After all, Splinter learns ninjitsu from a thin book on the subject, and they learn it from him. Shredder, on the other hand, is an accomplished master ninja wearing a complete set of robotic body armor complete with remote-controlled magic knife blades.

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