***Spoilers below as I will discuss plot elements from a movie featuring six foot tall turtle men who know how to ninja fight.
I am a huge fan of the ninja turtles, going back to the 5th grade when my friend Kreg showed me a picture he drew of an anthropomorphic turtle with elbow and kneepads, a red bandana and ninja weapons. If my calculations are correct, this would have been around 1988 (if my calculations are incorrect, it TOTALLY DOESN'T MATTER). I was hooked. I started out with the toys and cartoon, and then as I got a little bit older I graduated to the original Eastman and Laird comics that spawned the turtles.
I can't tell you how many ninja turtles I have drawn over the course of my lifetime. They pretty much filled my pop culture platter for the rest of my intermediate and high school career. I even created a few anthropomorphic comic book characters myself. I've always come back to them to check out the various iterations, and am amazed that they are still around after all these years. It has been a great pleasure to share them with my six year old daughter as well.
So anways, meandering back to the point of this post: I liked the new movie. I still think that the story and overall tone of the 1990 movie was much better. Not to mention the fact that it stayed much closer to the origin story presented in the comic book. It has held up surprisingly well, even with some slightly antiquated practical puppetry effects, I mean wizardry, by Jim Henson and co.
I was very apprehensive when the first news that broke regarding the reboot was that the boys in green would now be space aliens. I like to consider myself a practical purist (TM) when it comes to movie adaptations of books/comic books/video games that I love. This means that I have a certain threshold of foolishness that I am willing to accept when changes to an origin story or an established continuity are made. If it serves the story in a way that I understand and appreciate I am usually cool with it. Example: Spiderman having organic web shooters in the First Raimi film. Totally cool with that.
But space aliens? What possible reason could you have for making the ninja turtles space aliens? Thankfully this was changed, no doubt because of fan uproar. However, there were a few changes that made to the TMNT mythology that made no sense to me, and ultimately seemed unnecessary. I will detail them below:
1. There is no longer any connection between Shredder and Splinter's master, and thus by extension, the turtles. In the original story a pre-mutation Splinter learns ninjutsu from watching his master, Hamato Yoshi train. Hamato is ultimately killed by a jealous Oroku Saki (Shredder) as Yoshi had absconded with a woman they both loved. Upon seeing his master killed, Splinter attacks Saki before escaping. In the 2014 film there is no Hamato Yoshi, and thus there is no significant connection between Shredder and Splinter, and the cool revenge angle is completely removed. How does Splinter learn ninjutsu in the new movie, you might ask? From a book he found in the sewer. Yep, major plot downgrade.
2. The turtles and splinter were kind of April's pets. You see, her father and the big bad rich white dude, Eric Sachs (an anglicization of Oruku Saki, anyone?) are experimenting on the turtles and Splinter to create some kind of regenerative cure or something. April painted their shells the same color as the head bands they would later wear, and fed them all pizza. April's dad finds out that Eric Sachs is bad in some vague, unexplained way, so April's dad burns down the lab. April rescues Splinter and the turtles and then DUMPS THEM IN THE SEWERS. Why on Earth would she do that? Was she afraid that Eric would come after them? Also, why would April's dad set fire to the building if his daughter was in it? And last, the movie clearly shows April's dad surrounded by, and apparently being overcome by flames. Yet later on Eric Sachs says he shot April's dad. What?
3. William Fichtner (Eric Sachs) initially announced that he was playing Shredder. This was a problem for me as I feel that the fact that Shredder comes from Japan is integral to his character. Plus there seems to be a Hollywood trend of "white-washing" characters, or replacing characters that are historically non-white with white dudes, and I am definitely not down with that. Long story short: nerds across the world collectively freaked that Shredder was now a rich white dude, and not a super angry Japanese warlord. Ultimately, In the new movie Shredder is clearly played by an Asian actor. But something still doesn't feel right. I think that the story originally included Eric Sachs as Shredder, but due to the fan reaction they changed it by shooting some scenes with an asian guy playing Shredder, and re-cutting the ending to feature both Shredder and Eric Sachs as separate entities. The changes in the turtles' origin story would facilitate the change in shredder's identity as it removes the original connection between the turtles and Shredder. If that's the reason why the origin was changed, then returning Shredder to an asian dude renders the origin story alterations unnecessary and confusing. Not to mention the fact that it technically makes April O'Neill the ninja turtles' surrogate mother, which makes things super awkward when Michelangelo proclaims that the sight of April is making his "shell tighten".
There were a few other plot holes (why did Shredder beat the crap out of Raphael, then walk away? Shouldn't he have stayed to make sure that Raphael was dead (he clearly wasn't)? Why did Eric Sachs want to release a toxin into the air in which they did not have a viable antidote for? Also, why would you want to release a toxin that would pretty much kill everyone in the city you want to rule?)
That being said, I thought that the movie was really fun and visually appealing. At first I didn't really dig the character re-designs and would have preferred something more traditional, but I definitely didn't hate them. They look great, hand's down. The voice acting was alternatingly excellent (Mikey and Donnie) and baffling (Johnny Knoxville as Leonardo, whyyyyy?). Plot holes aside, there were some funny lines, and the downhill snow scene was pretty darn cool and a nice departure from typical action fare. Shredder's suit was pretty awesome. I mean, if you are going to have a grown man don a suit with knifey (TM) shoulder pads and shin guards, you might as well go all in and give him like seven-thousand knives, and I assure you, they did! A sequel has already been green-lit. Perhaps they can address some of the heinous plot holes from the first movie.
Will I go see a sequel? Yes I will. I prefer Roger Ebert's reviewing style, in that he considered what kind of movie he was reviewing and what it was trying to accomplish when he rated it. My six year old daughter was a little "freaked out" by the character designs, and there was one jump scare that lit her up pretty good, but otherwise she really enjoyed it. if you are an 8-13 year old person, or a nostalgic fan, you will enjoy your time.