Monday, June 9, 2014

Blast from the Past Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)

Awhile back I did the first "blast from the past movie review," for the 1998 Godzilla. Now it's time for a second one. I just got back from watching the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film for a friend's movie-review podcast (actual podcast link here), so I'll review that one tonight.

The movie begins with a crime wave wracking late 1980s/early 1990s New York City, with most of the criminals never even seen. Rumors spread throughout the city, in particularly that of the Japanese immigrant community, that the infamous Foot Clan of ninja thieves have come to America. Television reporter April O'Neill investigates the clan, earning the ire of the clan's deadly leader the Shredder, but finds allies in a mysterious group of green-skinned warriors.

I saw the movie in theaters when I was a little kid (I would have been five years old) and I remembered some bits very clearly for over two decades, including the Shredder's telling Splinter, "You will hang there until you die." Since Nick's podcast is basically about watching childhood movies to see how well they've aged (something I did before with The Secret of the NIMH, which I saw in kindergarten class and I remember scaring me to death), I was all for seeing this one.

The Good

*The movie is quite often hilarious. Granted, a lot of it is due to it being an incredibly goofy rather than it being deliberately funny, but it's still entertaining.

*It's a superhero story (for a certain definition of "superhero") that isn't an origin story. The recent Batman films started with Batman's origin, we've seen the birth of Spider-Man twice in the last decade-ish, and most of the recent Marvel Cinematic Universe films were origin stories (Captain America, Iron Man, the Avengers for the team as a whole, etc). Only Spider-Man is really egregious, but seeing the origins of the Turtles explained as flashbacks as part of a larger plot rather than being the plot is refreshing.

*I like the interpretation of the Foot Clan as being a martial-arts based youth street gang, with the Shredder and his henchman Tatsu as being a sort of co-Fagins a la Oliver Twist. They have a clear motive as well--stealing goods and then fencing them for profit.

*Although we first see the Shredder as a silhouetted figure ordering April be silenced, when he's first seen in the full it's incredibly well-done.

*Splinter's origin as the mutated pet of a Japanese immigrant makes a heck of a lot more sense than the various television shows' depiction of him as a human being who has somehow mutated into a humanoid rat.

The Bad

*The fight choreography hits and misses--and mostly misses. I'm not going to claim to be the greatest martial artist in the world--I did take Choi Kwong Do and Ho Shin Do for several years in elementary school and that's it--but still. The TVTrope of "Mook Chivalry" (i.e. if there's a whole bunch of bad guys present, they attack one at a time) is present in rooftop battle where the Foot Clan takes on Raphael, or at least a substantial part of it. It's most blatant in the rooftop confrontation with Shredder at the end, where the Turtles repeatedly attack one at a time and the Shredder beats them off one at a time. He then stands there allowing them to have a huddle where they discuss the situation.

*The movie does drag a fair bit in the middle, after the Foot force the Turtles, April, and vigilante Casey Jones to flee the city to an old house Jones' family owns in the country. That does make some sense given how Raphael is injured and both the Turtles' lair and April's apartment have been wrecked by the Foot, but it stretches on for far too long. And then there's the completely random astral-projection thing by Splinter.

*There's a romantic plot between Casey and April that doesn't really work. They argue a lot and at one point Casey pushes a shoulder massage on April, but as far as I can tell that's the only basis for their big dramatic kiss at the end. I might've missed some of the material given the amount of Mystery Science Theater 3000-style commentary and laughter when we were watching the movie, but still.

*Some things don't exactly make a great deal of sense. On at least one occasion April's boss Charlie comes to her house with his teenage son Danny in tow, either to discuss business or see to her welfare after she's attacked by the Foot. Does anybody in this world have telephones? It does seem rather inappropriate for a male boss to visit a female employee the way he does. It does provide a chance for the audience to see that Danny has become involved with the Foot clan, but that could have been done another way.

*The father-son plot with Charlie and Danny could've been explored more. I liked how Charlie's involvement with the Foot stemmed from his desire for a father figure (a void that the Shredder and Tatsu filled), but just why this situation exists in the first place could have been explained. A throwaway line about a divorce (we never see the mother anywhere) or Charlie not attending his son's activities to instead focus on work "Cat's in the Cradle" style would have been helpful. This is especially important given how Danny's "father hunger" plays a role in the kidnapped Splinter plot.

*Finally, the New York City police chief is just ridiculous. I would expect someone in his position to have a much thicker skin and not lose his mind just because a reporter is asking him some tough questions.

The Verdict

It drags in places and its hilarity is mostly from how bad it is, but it's entertaining. 7 out of 10.

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