Why I Refuse to watch the new Ninja Turtles Movie
Any child of the 1980’s and onward could look at four humanoid turtles holding weapons and recognize immediately who they are. This bizarre image is of course, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. These four words seem like something that wouldn’t fit together and even sound like something one would expect from a 1950’s B science-fiction movie. Couldn’t you imagine a movie featuring grotesque turtles that people would fear as their martial arts creates destruction wherever they roam.
Before 2014, I sure wouldn’t have expected that picture.
What the world got instead were four brothers that were innocent with their adolescent mindset, large in strength with their ninjutsu training, and most importantly, different enough that it’s stories would inspire prejudice within it’s own universe and of the real world.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles got their start as an independent comic for Mirage, that was far away from the child friendly imagery that people know them from. The black and white stories printed showed a set of Renaissance-named turtle warriors that were protectors of the streets of New York, but without the boundaries of ratings and focus groups that would have made it’s presentation on television and film more difficult, the overall feeling was much more audacious. The foot clan was more vulnerable to the turtle’s ninja weapons, allowing for Leonardo’s swords to fully slice people, Michelangelo’s nun-chucks to bash concussions into skulls, Donatello’s staff to create bruises more purple then storm clouds, and Raphael’s sais to land an infinite amount of stabs. The darker tone was meant to parody the already popular Marvel comic, Daredevil, adopting the same noir-look not to mention that the foot clan was comparable to the hand clan. The comics brought it’s own version of what four turtle brothers can do with the art of ninjutsu against a crime syndicate run by a fellow martial artist, the Shredder.
That is until the toys changed everything.
Like any popular comic book superhero, if the material sold well, then the next step would be to take it into the action figure phase. To the mind of an adult, the turtles were still dark and willing to kill people. But to the mind of a kid, with their imagination not yet exposed to the harsher side of reality, the turtles were friendlier and even goofy. That of course wouldn’t alter the adventures that the turtles would be a part of. If anything, the children that bought the turtle toys would be able to expand the world the turtles lived in. Like most of them, I too had the turtle toys and thought, “If these mutant creatures exist, then shouldn’t more bizarre things exist as well?”.
Thanks to the cartoon series and what has to best very lucky timing, the world got a big yes as the answer.
The late 1980’s saw the debut of the popular Saturday morning animated series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. To cater itself to the ever expanding family audience, the turtles were now given broader personalities (and different colored bandanas to tell them apart); Leonardo, the calm and level-headed leader, Donatello, the intelligent and creative innovator, Michelangelo, the carefree easy-goer who brought a sense of fun for the group, and finally Raphael, the toughest in skill and of the mindset, creating a more cynical attitude then the other brothers. The show was an immediate hit, and exploded even further within the merchandising. It wasn’t just the mountain of Turtles toys that would fill every 80’s bedroom. They were also on clothes, books, stickers, cards, and even food like cereal and cookies (both awful tasting).
The turtles then hit the big screen in 1990 for the first time in live action. Though despite being the biggest cash cow for children no studio was interested in producing it. Warner Brothers, Paramount, Disney, and MGM all said no, so the movie ended up becoming an independent movie. Though this certainly limited the reach that big name studios had, this allowed total creative freedom. So along with Jim Henson designing the turtle costumes, they produced a film that took the elements of the comics and animated series to create a perfect middle ground. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was not popular with film critics, but something like that really shouldn’t have been understood by older adults. Siskel and Ebert are intelligent people, but they are also not likely to sit in front of the TV on Saturday morning to watch children’s cartoons. Regardless of opinion, the movie did better then expected after New Line Cinema (which would later be acquired by Warner Brothers) picked up the distribution rights. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ended becoming the highest grossing independent movie until The Blair Witch Project came around.
I consider the 1990 movie a genuinely good film. I however didn’t see this back in the 1990s. In fact, it was only when I was in my second year of high school in 2003 that I saw this at a friends house. What I got was a great mix of the darker broadness that Tim Burton’s Batman created, yet still had a 1980’s silliness that was undeniably contagious. Sure, we never get a full explanation on what Shredder was doing recruiting boys a part of the foot clan and what all the city-wide stealing was for. I think what made this odd formula work was that the movie full embraced the absurdity right from the beginning. Had they tried to open with a realistic New York City and then ease into the Ninja Turtles living underground, that wouldn’t have worked. The story simply starts by giving us a choreographed pickpocketing scam that gives an impression that the foot clan already have a strong grasp on both the youth and of the metropolis. Now that is both silly and smart.
Now so far, the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the only good movie with these characters. The second, third, and animated fourth movie (TMNT) tried, but failed to recapture that same mixture of dark and goofy. I honestly believe that achieving what the first movie got is like capturing lighting in a bottle. That’s not to say that it cannot be done. It would take a really big fan of the franchise and a strong writer knows how to take advantage of the material given.
What we got was Michael Bay.
The filmmaker had scored a series of mega-hits with the Transformers franchise. Despite making millions at the box office, the series (with the exception of the first movie) had never been popular with neither critics nor with the fan base of the 80’s cartoon series. One could go on about the bad acting from the human actors, the overabundance on computer-generated imagery, and especially the juvenile comedy. The one thing that can easily be a contributing factor to the bad storytelling of the Transformers is the fact that despite the title, the autobots themselves are never the main focus. They may be in the center with all the fights, but either whiny Shia LaBeouf, non-caring Megan Fox, or totally lost Mark Wahlberg take control of a project that belongs to the robots. If an entire CGI cast of toys in Toy Story or a CGI ghost in Casper can do well playing the lead, then what’s wrong with doing the same thing for Optimus Prime and the autobots?
When it was announced that Michael Bay would be producing a new series of Ninja Turtle movies, the hatred was felt everywhere you went online.
“DAMN BAY FOR RUINING MY CHILDHOOD!
“HE’LL TOTALLY DESTROY THE TURTLES!”
“MICHAEL BAY IN CHARGE OF THE TURTLES? THERE IS NO GOD!”
Forums and even entire websites were in opposition of Paramount (who at this point, bought the rights to the Turtles franchise) letting this guy tell his story of the mutants. As much as people hated the idea, they were also curious to see what kind of response he’d have. He knew that people disliked the later Transformers movies, so maybe he had learned his lesson. Would he reveal he was a major fan? Was he going to let another fan handle the turtles?
And then he simply announced,
“Chillax, wait till you see what we do.”
That statement became the first sign of trouble. I couldn’t feel anything but disgusted. “Chillax”. The use of that word was both desperate and arrogant. That immediately set in that he didn’t care about the real fans of the turtles. It even set the record that he was already confidant that people would pay to see his movie anyway no matter what direction it took.
The summer of 2014 gave us grotesque turtles that people would fear as their martial arts created destruction wherever they roam.
The reaction from the general public was mixed. Some appreciated the newer take on the pizza loving heroes and got past the butt-ugly design. They liked how today’s technology was able to pull off more impressive designs. They even respected the changed backstory that gave April O’Neal an earlier connection to the turtles. The ones that didn’t like the movie couldn’t even make it without throwing up from the monster-like imagery of the turtles. They hated how boring (and how robot-like was the design) the Shredder was. They knew that the climax ripped off the same climax from The Amazing Spider-Man.
What got me on the hate train was how the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles weren’t even the main focus in their own movie. Sure, there was something about the importance of brotherhood as said by Raphael, but when you really get down to it, the whole thing was about Megan Fox as an aspiring reporter. She was the one who brought the foot clan (or foot, gun-strapping, non-ninja, terrorist group) to the public attention, uncovered the evil plan from the real villain William Fichtner, and even delivered the final blow to the Shredder.
That wasn’t Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That was Hot Smart News Reporter featuring some Steroid Monster Turtles.
As soon as I finished watching the movie, I was filled with anger as the audience of families was clapping. I somehow walked from the movie theater to my car, still shell shocked (no pun intended) from the events I saw. Watching that movie felt like going through a bad break up with your best friend. What I thought was a funny yet friendly set of buddies you could count on were front and center of an awful movie. I decided to let the movie sink in for a few days, to see if my opinion would change and that my thoughts were just simply a product of my passion for the earlier movie.
My final consensus was that while the movie was probably not the worst Turtles movie (you can read my review here:...), it was still the most heartbreaking to watch. I was in a state of deep depression which didn’t help when I received news that the movie was a box office hit. I can excuse the families that went to this as their kids were going to want to see this, but what got me was that the fans that claimed the movie was already horrible still made the decision to surrender their money to catch a glimpse.
Not surprisingly, a sequel was announced and I was ready to strike back. The trailer debuted and though it was going to try and please fans by bringing in Bebop, Rocksteady, Baxter Stockman, and Krang, my conscience told me that the upcoming product was going to be another repeat of the first movie.
By this time, I had seen the Nostalgia Critic episode of him reviewing the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles along with the Angry Video Game Nerd. Their opinion stated that the movie was bad, but also that this was simply another incarnation that we just had to live with until the next one. Now rather then wait, I’d rather see my new incarnation as soon as possible. The only way to do so is to ensure that the latest ninja turtles movie doesn’t make money.
So I’d like to emphasize that if you want to see better movies, then DON’T go to the bad ones you know your not going to like.
One ticket less for this is money that Paramount will never see. So don’t go saying that one person’s wallet doesn’t matter. In a business that relies on pleasing the fan base, then one person’s thoughts DO matter. When one person is pissed, it’s likely that more people are going to share that opinion. When more people are on the same board, then that’s another pile of cash that the studio won’t be able to touch.
I know a good Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie is possible, so why and let Michael Bay be the one to say that he has that power. We too have power. Just don’t go if you know your not going to like it.
If you are a part of that crowd that enjoyed Michael Bay’s Turtle movie, then good for you; more movie for you to enjoy.
As for myself, I’ll stay one this weekend, watch the original 1990 version, not give my money to the movie theater, and wait for the Turtles to come out of the sewer once again.