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The UnPopular Opinion: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

THE UNPOPULAR OPINION is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATHED. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Enjoy!

****SOME SPOILERS ENSUE****

I was prepared to hate TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES from the moment I heard the name Michael Bay. I grew up with Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael. The original animated series was a staple in my afternoon viewing and I had all of the toys. One of the first things I ever learned to draw was a Ninja Turtles face. I was the first in line to see the original movie as well as each of the less than stellar sequels. I hated THE NEXT MUTATION series and really enjoyed the CGI animated TMNT. So, when I heard there was a chance the new film would eschew all of that history in favor of a revamped origin and all sorts of nonsense that would basically make the new movie a monstrosity, I was ready to join the angry mob. But then I saw the movie.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES is far from perfect, but it is the closest realization of the original comic books than anything we have seen before. Yeah, their faces don't look exactly like the toys or the emotion-less muppets from the 1990s films, but these are your classic Ninja Turtles in the most realistic manner we have ever seen them.  And, this is the most spectacularly un-Michael Bay production I have seen in a while.  I mean, the advertisements are not so in your face as to jerk you off and the camera work is less spastic than usual.  All in all, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES is incredibly watchable.  When compared to TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION or even the big summer hit GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES is the most kid appropriate film released this year that came saddled with a PG-13 rating.

Ninja staring contests can last for hours.

And that is the key.  TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES may have started as a comic book aimed at an older audience but it evolved into a cartoon and toy series aimed squarely at children.  While studios have turned TRANSFORMERS and G.I. JOE into franchises for older teens, Jonathan Liebesman has managed to give the Turtles an edge without sacrificing a movie that can be appreciated by all ages.  I am a fan of Marvel's cinematic endeavors and even the darker edge given to a lot of them, but CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER was clearly not a family appropriate movie.  GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY had a handful of swear words and some dark imagery, but TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES is a movie that can be watched by kids both in age and at heart.  It is just a fun time at the movies.

Everything that should have gone wrong with the movie in fact works well on the big screen.  Megan Fox, an actress whose face bothers me since she ruined it with plastic surgery, has never been known for her acting ability as compared to her physical assets, but she manages to pull of a take on April O'Neill that is stronger than prior versions of the character while still being some eye candy.  Yeah, she may not be the animated redhead, but she can hold her own better than in past films.  The supporting human cast including Will Arnett and Whoopi Goldberg and by the book creations but neither is the travesty I was expecting them to be.  Arnett especially plays his role sarcastically and provides a decent amount of comic relief. 

That is one lucky bike seat.

On the villain side, I was excited at the prospect of William Fichtner playing Shredder despite it changing the origins of the iconic bad guy.  But, finding out he was only a lackey to the actual Shredder was a double-edged sword.  On one hand, it reduces a great actor to a henchman rather than a true foe but it also keeps the plot intact for fans bitching and moaning about such a drastic change to the mythos they have come to know and love.  In fact, the entire revised origin that has April connected to the four turtles from their inception feels very reminiscent of what Marc Webb and Sony tried to do with THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, but it works in TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES.  Some may complain that it is an unnecessary change to the story, but it deepens the bond between the brothers, Splinter, and April while also forging a bigger animosity between the heroes and the villains in the film and eventual franchise this will create.

Make no mistake that TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES has some holes.  I am not blind to what doesn't work in this movie.  But, so much more does work here that makes it worth the ride.  The action scenes are well choreographed and brightly shot, giving us our best look at what real ninja turtles would look like in battle.  I didn't like the design for Splinter as it makes him look gross and less approachable, but Tony Shalhoub's voicework won me over.  As for the four turtles, the actors in the mo-cap suits delivered exactly who each of these turtles are.  Raphael is brooding but annoying like he so often is portrayed.  Michelangeo is the typical dude we know and love while Donatello gets a geekier edge that works well.  Leonardo is once again a strong leader and Johnny Knoxville's voice work does not overshadow the character.

That is a surprisingly spacious elevator.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES may not have a memorable song like Vanilla Ice's "Ninja Rap" but it does give us a memorable Shredder and distinct and lasting impressions for each of the Turtles.  Like AVATAR or Any Serkis as Gollum in THE LORD OF THE RINGS, you believe that the Turtles on screen are physical beings rather than men in rubber suits.  There is a tangible nature to this movie, even with the massive mountain chase scene and the closing set-piece that feels organic and not artificial.  This is a big movie that succeeds in being an exciting spectacle without going into TRANSFORMERS level sensory overload.  This is a movie that TMNT fans should embrace because of what it means can be done in sequels and further adventures.  You leave TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES feeling invested in what Jonathan Liebesman and, yes, even Michael Bay, have put on screen, ready to see what comes next.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for The UnPopular Opinion I’m always happy to hear them. You can send along an email to [email protected], spell it out below, slap it up on my wall in Movie Fan Central, or send me a private message via Movie Fan Central. Provide me with as many movie suggestions as you like, with any reasoning you'd care to share, and if I agree then you may one day see it featured in this very column!
Source: JoBlo.com

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