On the surface, the latest iteration of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a blatant callout against big pharma. Corporations shovelling meds and pharmaceuticals down our throats and up urethras for diseases and ailments they’ve created or are squeezing through patents.
You could say that. And you could say it’s about political lobbying gone out of control. Creating shells of representatives and having rich men control everything in order to bankroll their interests. That would be superficial and a bit of a stretch. We are talking about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as directed by Jonathan Liebesman from Michael Bay’s production company after all.
There is no dragging out the first act with a laboured origin story for the turtles. No, they’re just given some graphic artwork with a voice-over for their intro. Instead that drolling through the coming of innocence is thrust onto April O’Neil’s (Megan Fox) bicycle and camera phone. She’s pedalling her way to the middle of some journalism career on the heels of the Foot Clan’s crime wave.
Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) here is nothing more than some foreigner who speaks in a tongue you need captions for and dresses up in a weird garb while running around attacking our way of life. He is in this instance, nothing more than a henchman for Eric Sacks (William Fichtner). Sacks being a well-to-do and filthy rich man in a suit. Fichtner takes that sleaze and owns it.
Amid the balls out action scene in the mountains of snow what we’re really seeing here is a film that addresses the issue of using boat people as political leverage, but not brave enough as to be forthright with this angle. And then to couch the message in juvenile humour and banter that befits a cartoon.
It’s quite brazen to engineer a threat, showing all signs you’re the one behind it, and then to proffer your services as the cure-all against the invading peril. But if you’ve got one large section of the media in your pocket, you can ride all the elections to victory as you sink those leaky ships or haul the refugees into gaol cells on a remote island.
The fight and action sequences are great visual fodder. The spectacle is as you would explosion and the camaraderie and family bond between the turtles is on point. There are a few times Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles feels like it wants to get dark, but shies away as they punch in with a joke, however low brow. Mostly it’s a patchwork.
If you’re a fan of the current iteration of TMNT, where Michelangelo shouts “booyakasha” every time he runs into battle, then you’ll be in the mood for this. (It’s back to “cowabunga” in this movie.) If your memories go far back as the ones that led kids to haunt sewers with the Heroes in a Half Shell theme song, then like all meds that have been sitting in the cabinet for too long, maybe it’s not what you quite remember. Do you actually remember what the TMNT cartoon from the 80s-90s was really like, or do you think you do from all the hipster in your system?
Which brings us another subtext, as played out between Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) and O’Neil, where an older man creeps on a younger woman. And isn’t that really what happens in cases like these, and in My Little Pony? You might not be the audience, and the target demographic on the nubile side, but that won’t stop you from trying to get one in.
For a film that throws you back into your childhood while splashing it with a coat of the new, Guardians of the Galaxy is still the better choice.
Reviewed on Sunday, 31 August 2014