equality / Feminism / gender / movies / review / sci-fi

Almost Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Let me start by saying I initially had no interest whatsoever in watching this movie. I had grown up with the cartoon and remember vaguely enjoying it, and I think I may have watched one or both of the old movies, but I never really felt a burning urge to see the Turtles return. Secondly, though possibly more importantly, I really hate Michael Bay who is on as Producer for this movie. Every time I watch one of his films I get sick and want to scream at the screen “just stop spinning the gorram camera!” – seriously, what is that about?! Michael Bay STAHP!

I was also not in the least expecting this to be a good film. In fact I was expecting it to be barely watchable.  I was not planning on watching this film. Ever.

However, I received a text from my sister (Kimbot) this morning, who had won free tickets via a competition on Jack FM. I agreed to go, purely because I love going to movies and it was free.

What I hadn’t known was that this was a special night. It was actually the opening night of the new XPlus screen as well as the TMNT opening night open only for press and special guests.

Inside was an actual red carpet and outside was a blue one. Fancy!

Inside was an actual red carpet and outside was a blue one. Fancy! (pic taken by Tuesday Laveau)

This in itself was an interesting experience – we each had a goody bag on our chairs with a bottle of water, small popcorn and 3D Turtle glasses. It was at this point that we realised it was 3D… and that the glasses wouldn’t fit over my own, so I watched most without the 3D glasses and actually it was watchable (perhaps in part because of the massive screen).

Kimbot and I were both Michelangelo

Kimbot and I were both Donatello

So, that’s some scene setting for you – and now to my almost review.

SPOILERS AHEAD

Cowabunga!

Cowabunga!

After all that preamble you might guess that in fact, despite expectations, I really enjoyed the movie. It isn’t about to go winning any awards, but it is one of the better popcorn movies I’ve seen in a while. I know, I was shocked too!

Keep it simple

This is actually the first 12A certificate film that I’ve seen in a while that truly felt family friendly – no swearing and comparably less graphic violence than most. Along with that came a very simple, easy to follow, but not too tripe, story line. In short, baddy Shredder heads up a terrorising gang of criminals which are being plagued by vigilantes – which April O’Neil (played by a surprisingly watchable Megan Fox) discovers are in fact the titular Turtles.

Investigative Journalist in the making!

Investigative Journalist in the making!

In an attempt to avoid the sort of sprawling story found in other mediums, which rarely works well in a standalone movie, ends are neatly tied up, or rather, together. April’s dad is actually one of the scientists responsible for creating the turtles in the first place, and his partner scientist is the baddy student of sensei Shredder whose own underhanded reasons for creating the mutant turtles (and rat Splinter). This links back to the nasty gang and Shredder’s nefarious plans to poison New York, and April kind of being caught in the centre of it all.

On top of this there is a small and forgettable side story of the Turtles not quite gelling and Raphael seemingly wanting to strike out on his own. This is only lightly touched on and when it is resolved as the Turtles save the day you sort of remember that was happening. The movie isn’t really missing anything for not exploring this further.

It really is the essence of a clear cut popcorn movie, and this works very much in the movie’s favour. It is simple enough for the younger viewers to grasp, whilst the occasional references to older TMNT material and pop culture, kept the adults entertained. On top of this, with a good humour and fun moments, some of which even had me really laughing out loud, it is an enjoyable ride.

99 Cheese Pizza

With the references to “heroes in a half shell” and the like, it is unsurprising that this movie comes with its fair share of cheese, which again works in the movie’s favour. It knows it’s being cheesy and it knows where to draw the line, which means that you laugh rather than groan at the jokes and references. The infamous cowabunga line is actually delivered totally on the money, when you might really expect it wouldn’t be.

Expect no answers!

Going hand in hand with being simple and easy watching, is the unspoken rule not to ask too many questions of the plot. So I’m happy not to pry about the coincidence of April discovering her once pet turtles are the vigilantes. I’m not going to mention the throw away line about the substance that mutates the animals being of alien origin (?!) never to be touched on again.

However, you will find a couple of questions constantly jumping to your mind –

Who makes glasses big enough for Donatello?

Those are not normal sized glasses!

Those are not normal sized glasses!

How do Raphael’s sunnies stay on THE WHOLE DAMN TIME! EVEN DURING ACTION SCENES. AND WHY IS HE EVEN WEARING THEM ANYWAY?!?!

It's not even sunny out!

It’s not even sunny out!

And seriously, how the hell do they get pizza delivered to a sewer, much less remain secret from humans?!?!

99 CHEESE PIZZA!!

99 CHEESE PIZZA!!

Girl Power? 

Finally, I’m going to tell you something about this film that made me happy.

April is the star.

Sure you might think its the Turtles, but actually the whole movie is focused around her and for the women and girls in the audience this is awesome. She is a much more developed character than any of the Turtles, which often feel like a collection of tropes (shoe on the other foot is it?!).

And now, brace yourselves…

She isn’t overtly sexualised.

I know! Catch your breath! You Ok? Good, let’s carry on…

Look, clothes! ACTUAL CLOTHES!!

Look, clothes! ACTUAL CLOTHES!!

On the downside, there are only three other female talking parts – one baddy, boss Whoopi Goldberg, and very minor character housemate. They do talk about things other than men, so it does pass the Bechdel. If this were many other films where actually the primary female is in reality a secondary lead and her main purpose is romantic, I would take issue with the lack of women. But I have to give it it’s dues – April is kick ass, brave, holds her own and fights the good fight. She is in fact a pretty positive role model.

None of her relationships with men in the film are romantic or sexual – yes, pick your jaw up off the floor. Her colleague Vern (nicely played by Will Arnett) kind of fancies her but this never goes anywhere, and Michelangelo has a teenage boy crush on her which she obviously finds endearing. And that’s it. Oh, except this one bit. She leans out the window of a vehicle to take a picture and Vern gets an unexpected view of her rear – and then promptly crashes.

At this point my sister turns to me and says exactly the words that were in my head – “Well that’s what you get, asshole!”. Not wrong sister.

Kimbot and I kinda did this...

Kimbot and I kinda did this…

The only actually vaguely sexualised moment is at the end credits where two of the Turtles hide by clinging to a billboard in such a way as to mimic the breasts of the model in the advert.

Verdict?

I was expecting to sit through a couple of hours of tedious shit and instead I had a really great time! The movie was better than it had any right to be, and it ticked a lot of boxes for me in terms of representation (non male, non-white characters). On top of that it was sweet, family friendly and funny.

An arguable downside of the film was the lack of character development of the Turtles themselves. If I didn’t already know their names I would have instead known them as Leader, Goof, Nerd and Moody. But as mentioned above, it you view April as the main character it doesn’t seem so bad.

One downside was nothing to do with the film at all. Yes, XPlus is a big screen but the seating was terrible, with only aisles up the sides, and rows so close together they were difficult to maneuver in and of even when empty. They packed us in to fill the back first with us in the middle back row. This was a bit of a struggle for Kimbot, who is so called as she has a replacement hip and reconstructed knee following an accident a few years ago. It was a great size screen for 3D, so maybe just be aware of trying to get good seats if you check XPlus out yourself.

This film I would totally recommend to parents of young girls – the nine year old sitting next to me absolutely loved it, and I was so happy to (again unexpectedly) discover that she was watching a movie where she would be able to identify with the main character and that character wouldn’t make her believe that women’s roles in movies (or life) are to be objectified. If I’d seen this movie at her age I would totally have wanted to grow up to be April O’Neil! I may have to buy the action figure for my desk!

Roll on payday!

Roll on payday!

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