In her review of the otherwise-inexplicable manga series Knights of the Zodiac, my friend Shaenon Garrity said, “this is exactly what the inside of a preteen boy’s head looks like.” I swore at the time to steal that line when the opportunity arose. I believe I may be able to do so, finally, in the course of this post. Look for it.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is damned goofy. It is not goofy the way that the 1960s Batman TV show was, though, or any number of other superhero movies and television shows that followed it (like the Phantom movie of the mid-nineties) — Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is very specifically not campy. Camp is an adult perspective, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles does not truck in anything adult. Its goofiness is completely in earnest. For example, when we hear the titular turtles using fake Hollywood surfer-speak, like grody and cowabunga and, constantly, dude, we are not supposed to think: how silly that those turtles think that that tired vernacular is cool. I am glad that I am superior in my thinking. We are supposed to think: the way those turtles talk is cool. Dude! And it is, if you let yourself think so. Give yourself to the turtles. Once you’ve done that, you will be in the right frame of mind to enjoy everything there is to enjoy about this movie.
And there’s a lot to enjoy.
In one early scene, we are introduced to the evil villain’s lair, where he lures good boys into a life of crime.
“You can have anything you want,” says one jaded youngster to two new recruits. “Anything at all!”
“You got … cigarettes?”
Cigarettes are the most desirable and evil thing these kids can imagine. Generally, the sins committed by the bad kids in this movie — smoking cigarettes, stealing wallets and portable electronics, disrespecting parents, skateboarding aggressively — are kid crimes, by which I mean to say that they’re in the realm of mundane reality for any ten year old boy, who has probably either done some of these things, or knows some kid who has. That’s not to say they’re not crimes.
Like the crimes, the heroism in this movie is also kid heroism: easily distracted, random-looking, and quickly victorious. If you’ve ever played “superhero” with a young boy — “Look! A bad guy! I’ll beat him up! Blam blam blam! Okay we win!” — you’ll key right in to the rhythm of this film.
So yeah: goofy as goofy gets, characterization on the level of “The Three Stooges,” a senseless, rambling, melodramatic plot, and special effects so leaden that the protagonists are almost never seen in actual action on the actual screen (much of their fighting takes place in the dark, or in fog). How does this get placed above supremely competent Hollywood film-making like Hellboy 2, or even vastly influential B-movies like The Crow and RoboCop?
I dunno. It’s my list. And I like it better than those. What can I say? I know! Look at these highlights:
Roger Ebert called it the best possible Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie. What can I possibly add to that? Only that if you’d like to know what it’s like to be inside a pre-teen boy’s brain, this movie is probably a better way to achieve that understanding than some weird old manga about dickless dudes. Dude!
As you might imagine from the title, this post is the fifth in a series of ten. You will find more posts in this series behind the “More” link, below.