Friday, November 14, 2014

Movie Review #44: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Curiously, much like the Terminator series, I think I mostly just watched the second movie in this series as a kid, completely skipping the first. So, when I saw the original live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on Netflix, I figured it was worth actually checking out.

Short review: Released in 1990, this movie perfectly captures the transition from 80s to 90s. It doesn't seem certain of its audience; some parts are way to violent or thoughtful for kids, but other parts are way too cheesy for adults. It seems to me that they were aiming for both and managed to hit neither, but the box office sales belie that assessment. The fact that Michael Bay eventually took over this franchise makes a lot of sense to me now, though.


In New York, crime is running rampant. People are having things stolen from them left and right, and they seem to have no idea who or what's behind this crime wave. Reporter April O'Neil is trying to get to the bottom of it, having traced the situation back to a similar event in Japan involving a group called the Foot Clan, but she's facing pushback from the police chief and her own boss.

After a run-in with some of the criminals, she's unknowingly saved by the Turtles, who have recently completed their ninjutsu training and are ready to start fighting crime on the streets in secret. After ward, Raphael, the rebellious loner, goes off and gets himself in trouble, meeting Casey Jones and saving April again in the process.

Eventually they must all team up to bring an end to the Foot Clan and their leader, the Shredder.


Clearly the goal of this movie is just to show these popular characters fighting bad guys, but underneath that there's a semblance of a plot--specifically, how the Foot Clan has used cult tactics to lure young misfits and rebels into this "family" of criminals. How a bunch of young punks managed to get so efficient as thieves is a mystery, especially since they almost never seem to get caught. But still, the movie's unsung main character seems to be Danny, a boy who joins the Foot Clan out of frustration, but slowly realizes on his own that he's uncomfortable with these people and what they do. In the end, he learns to appreciate his real family.

Nobody else has a real character arc. Sure, the Turtles eventually jump back into action after they finally sit and meditate as Splinter told them to do, but the effect is cheesy and shallow, and none of the Turtles seem to be permanently changed as a result.

The music and attire in the movie seem very 80s, while the Turtles themselves seem to be harbingers of the radical 90s culture that followed. As the highest grossing film in history at the time, I think it's safe to credit the movie as having that level of effect on American culture, though the movie was itself a result of the existing popularity of the Turtles by the children who would grow up to shape the culture of the 90s.

Anyway, the movie pretty much ends with one of our heroes, Casey Jones, casually hitting the button to crush the Shredder to death in the back of a garbage truck. "Oops," he says unconvincingly, as we get to watch the Shredder's helmet getting crushed by the machinery. There's no blood there, just as there's practically no blood in the rest of the movie, but although I think the sequel immediately reveals that the Shredder was not, in fact, killed there, the audience here has no doubts--that dude was just violently murdered by the "good guys." It's no wonder they immediately followed the movie up with that far more lighthearted and kid-friendly sequel.

In any case, I haven't really been a Turtles fan since before I was 10 years old, and this movie did little to win me back into the fold nearly a quarter of a century later. It was a fascinating time capsule, though, that effectively represented pop culture at the time.

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