5 Things the new TMNT movies got wrong and right
With Teenage Muntant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows having tanked at the box-office, a new entry in the series seems very unlikely. This is a little sad since, for all their faults, both movies were at least very entertaining.
Sure, I had plenty of pet peeves about both – but generally, I enjoyed both way better than the New Line Cinema film adaptions from the 1990s. A big part of this was probably that the films got borderline pandering to the fans of the 80s/90s TV adaption at times, but who cares, it was a hoot.
Therefore, because these movies seemed destined to now be a duo-ology, I’ll just quickly run down my least favourite and favourite parts of the movies. Let’s start with the lousy stuff…
Now, there was a lot to complain about with these films. There were definitely annoying amounts of the “transformers syndrome” with the lack of interaction between the humans and CG characters, lots of action-scenes with shaky cameras (albeit, they were much more tolerable when viewed on TV), convenient story-moments and some cringe-worthy comedy. However, it was more the adaptions’ approach to the characters that usually irked me the most so that’s probably gonna show here.
5. The CGI Shredder in TMNT1
Shredder was played by excellent actors in both movies, but especially in the first film, his appearance really annoyed the hell out of me. Although, I sort of understand the filmmaker’s intention, making Shredder all CG, thanks to the power-armour he uses just made him way less threatening. I was okay with Rocksteady and Bebop being CG, because so are the Turtles, but Shredder is a human character and thus I would have preferred that he was performed entirely by a human actor.
The finale bout also presents my biggest complaint about the CG Shredder: “If the main heroes and the villain are both CG, why does anything in the film need to be in live action?” This is really frustrating but luckily the film-makers seemed to have learned from their mistake by the time of Out of the Shadows.
People might have not enjoyed Megan Fox as April O’Neill – but as far as her performance goes, I don’t think you can chalk up April’s unmemorable appearances to Fox’s lack of trying. Instead, I think the screenwriters just consistently threw April under the bus when it came to giving her any lasting story-telling purpose.
Now, the first movie’s first act focuses heavily on April and partly because of this, and partly because the Turtles enter the scene so late, she has more of a presence there. Once the Turtles take over, it’s their movie. It’s a little unfair to April but at least sort of justifiable as she’s not a match for the Foot Clan anyway. However, in Out of the Shadows, she’s literally just background fodder for the Turtles, Casey Jones and even frickin’ Vern.
I really do think the screenwriters could have made April more involved with the conclusions of both movies.
3. Krang’s Screen Time
Now, I want to stress that I’m not criticizing Krang himself (portrayed by Brad Garrett) but rather the way he’s used in the second TMNT movie. Krang is sort of the ultimate nemesis of the Turtles in this film, but that considered he spends about 90% of the movie with his tentacles up his ass in Dimension X. I really felt Krang was supremely under-utilised in the movie. Combined, his very brief introduction scene with Shredder and the final battle, his collective screen time amounts to about 15 minutes. He doesn’t even give menacing calls to Shredder or interact with anyone else of importance for large chunks of the film.
This honestly felt like a waste considering how freaky he is.
Baxter Stockman is, admittedly, not one of the TMNT characters that I get particularly excited for. He’s a classic Turtles character, true, and he was fairly memorable in the 90s cartoon adaption to the point I sort of liked him – but he is not a character I find essential to the mythos of the TMNT franchise (I feel the same way about Casey Jones). And with characters like this, the pressure is on the film-makers to make them stand out from the rest of the cast.
In this, Tyler Perry’s very vanilla evil nerd portrayal of Baxter is honestly quite weak. He has almost no memorable lines and, in fact, the most memorable scene with him is where he’s taken away by the Foot Clan and Shredder quips how no-one will remember him. Can you smell the irony?
Perry apparently enjoyed his appearance and would have liked to have returned as the Fly Man version of Baxter in the sequel. Baxter only really gets this high for being so utterly unmemorable.
1. Don and Leo in TMNT1
The real challenge of TMNT in my view has always been to give all the turtles adequate screen time without just resorting to giving each a throw-away gag line at some point in the movie (ála the New Line Cinema adaptions). And with Raph and Mikey being the default favourite Turtles of most TMNT fans, it’s understandable Don and Leo usually get the shaft when it comes to screen time.
My favourite Turtle is Leo by the way, so I’m used to him not being the centre of attention for the vast majority of whatever TMNT media we’re discussing and I expected as much with the first TMNT film. What I was more shocked about was how Donnie was basically reduced to a techno-babbling coat-rack without any personality. I can’t help but feel lots of fans of the purple turtle must have felt super neglected by this portrayal.
Don and Leo were way better portrayed in Out of the Shadows but were still pretty downplayed. Mikey and Raph even had their own little rogue mission in the middle of the film, while Don and Leo just sit around the lair waxing philosophical. I get everyone wants to see Mikey be the party dude and Raph being an insufferable sour-puss, but c’mon!
Alright, all complaints aside, I was fairly impressed how both movies dealt with the family dynamics of the Turtles. This is the theme that always appeals to me most about TMNT in general and I even felt there were moments of brilliance in the plots of these very action-heavy movies (I honestly wish they could have taken some of these story-ideas, such as the purple ooze, a bit further than they did).
As I said, Megan Fox performed admirably as April and I think it was only her lacking story significance that was really the problem with both movies. However, she does have a really big part to play in the origins of this iteration of TMNT and this was one of the seriously impressive parts of the first movie.
In almost every adaption of the Turtles, April has had no real connection to the heroes in a half-shell before they drop into her life through whatever story setting is applicable. In the first movie, April is revealed to have been the original owner of the turtles and splinter and was the one who saved them from her father’s lab when it burns down. Splinter reveres April for her courage to the point of calling her the Hogo Sha, a guardian spirit.
I felt this was a cool and very moving way of introducing the connection between April and the Turtles. It’s honestly a shame it wasn’t really followed up on in the sequel but at least there seemed to be some genuine effort to tie April firmly into this TMNT version’s storyline.
When it comes to Splinters, I’m extremely biased to Peter Renaday’s portrayal of Splinter in the 80s/90s TV adaption, with his mighty deep voice giving the rat master true gravitas. Most other Splinter adaptions just have him speak like a stereotypical Asian man but I think it takes true talent to perform Splinter in a way that is convincing.
In this, Tony Shaloub did a brilliant job of making Splinter funny without being over-the-top and extremely warm yet firm. Hell, I didn’t even realise it was Shaloub doing the voice until I checked the cast list. I’m so used to his wimpy role on the TV show Monk, that his portrayal of Splinter just slipped past me.
Unfortunately, Splinter’s role in Out of the Shadows was quite minimal but still good.
3. Will Arnet’s Vern (both films) & The live-action Shredder in Out of the Shadows
Vern is yet another character from the TMNT mythos whom I never particularly cared for (and who is only ever shown in the 80s/90s cartoon adaption). However, Will Arnett’s amazing performance just made him one of the stand-out characters of the first TMNT film. I was amazed because I didn’t honestly expect him to be that memorable. His very small contribution to the second film was also excellent but perhaps a little weak to get him this high on the list.
Which is why I lumped him together with Brian Tee’s excellent live-performance of Shredder in Out of the Shadows. All due respect to Tohoru Masamune’s excellent performance in the first film, but like I said, the fact that Shredder was CG for most of the movie really took the impact out of the performance. In the second film, Shredder was way closer to what I expect of him.
2. Rocksteady and Bebop
Another delightful surprise in the form of characters previously only seen in the cartoon adaption, Rocksteady and Bebop were definitively the reason I consider Out of the Shadows to be the better of the two TMNT movies. They further addressed my complaint about the CG Shredder, where the CG Turtles now had genuine CG characters to face.
Gary Williams and Sheamus’s performance as the human versions of these characters was excellent enough but when the warthog and rhino step into the picture, it’s a real hoot. These guys just brought a lot of comedy to the plate. The comedic writing of these films was a bit hit or miss, with Mikey getting a few cringy jokes along with a lot of good ones in the first movie. With Rocksteady and Bebop now also getting their fair share of the comedy, this took some of the cringe factor off Mikey as a result, since the bumbling bozos are more likely to make cringy jokes anyway.
1. The Turtles’ Personalities
Finally, the thing I was by far the happiest with in both TMNT movies is how the different Turtles’ personalities really came through. This was something I had a big problem with in the New Line Cinema adaptions, where (with the possible exception of the first film) the Turtles were pretty much interchangeable and lacking much personality (partly due to writing and partly due to those horrifying costumes).
The CG Turtles really embodied their characteristics. Leo is a serious ninja, Mikey is a fun-loving dude, Don is a nerd and Raph is a roided up mountain of rage. Even if the screen time ratio was a genuine cause of complaint for me, I do feel these films did the Heroes in a Half-Shell justice.