TMNT: Out of the Shadows and Mikey’s Cloudcuckoolanderness

One of the many, many aspects of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows that was a massive improvement on the not-very-good first film was Michelangelo. To put it bluntly, in the first movie Michelangelo came across as a budding sex offender – pretty much every single line he uttered revolved around his extremely sexual obsession with April O’Neil, often in very tonally inappropriate places. It was, to put it simply, creepy.

And yes, I know previous iterations of Michelangelo (the 1990 and 2003 versions) have asked “Can we keep her?” about April as well…. but that seemed a lot less sexual and lot more childlike.

Well, thankfully they dialed that back to a single joke line in the sequel (which he is immediately tased for), and Mikey even seems completely cool with the idea of April dating Casey Jones. Instead, he’s rewritten to be more in line with many other depictions of Michelangelo – a pop-culture-loving, skateboarding, soft-hearted sometimes-cloudcuckoolander, the most childlike and most loving of the four Turtles.

And they definitely made him a cloudcuckoolander, at least some of the time. In fact, it initially seems a little inconsistent – sometimes he’s just a little flaky and sweet, and sometimes he’s absolutely spaced out of what is going on around him and has no idea what people are talking about. Take the scene where Raph is running his master plan past April and Casey – Mikey’s only contribution is a strange, staring-eyed declaration of “You’re right,” and then he spends the entire scene eating pizza and not noticing what anyone else is saying.

And after rewatching the movie a few times, I think I’ve nailed down why. Mikey becomes a cloudcuckoolander and detaches from what is happening around him when he’s suffering some kind of emotional distress.

About halfway through the movie, Mikey overhears Leonardo and Donatello secretly discussing a purple alien goo that might be able to turn them into humans, or at least make them look human externally (the movie is little vague). Mikey then goes to Raphael and tells him everything – not because he actually wants Raphael to do anything, but because he just needs to vent his feelings. When Raphael predictably blows up and goes off to confront Leo, Mikey physically tries to stop him because he desperately doesn’t want his brothers to fight. It’s played for laughs, but his distress is very obvious.

Unsurprisingly, Leo and Raph end up angry at each other, having a fight, and eventually Leo and Donnie leave on a mission without Raph and Mikey. When Raphael rages about how he’s going to get his hands on the purple goo without Leo, Mikey… well, he agrees with Raph, but emphasizes repeatedly that he does not understand what Raph is doing.

This seems to be the first of the two situations in which Mikey goes cloudcuckoolander: strife in his family. He’s always at his best when he and his brothers are united, and when they work together, he seems fairly sharp mentally. But he seems to actively withdraw from the world around him when his brothers are fighting, because he cannot cope with it, and he cannot fix it by himself.

This also applies to taking part in Raph’s plan. Mikey goes along with Raph’s plan because… well, he’s kind of a people-pleaser. But he withdraws from the conversation when Raph is scheming behind Leo’s back, and drawing Casey and April into his plan. This is clearly not something Leo will put up with, so Mikey withdraws rather than taking an active role.

The other situation is after Raph and Mikey’s plan to infiltrate police headquarters goes boobies-up, and the brothers are all exposed to the eyes of the entire NYPD. Exposure is less upsetting to Mikey, however, than the reactions of some of the cops: they’re called “monsters” and treated with fear, horror and hate. This visibly hurts Mikey from the very moment it happens, even though it’s coming from total strangers.

When they return to the lair, Mikey reveals his hurt and misery to his father Splinter, who tries to reassure him, but obviously nothing your parents say is going to overcome rejection by the entire human race. And about a minute later, when Donatello identifies where Bebop and Rocksteady are, Mikey has become a cloudcuckoolander once again, giving a silly answer that doesn’t make any sense. Once again, he’s withdrawing from a situation that is hurting him, and only reemerges in subsequent scenes, where he and his brothers are more or less getting along and there are no non-villainous humans to hurt him.

I don’t know if this pattern was deliberately placed in the script by the writers, but it definitely does exist, and it honestly makes Mikey feel like a much more vulnerable and sweet-natured person. He just hates conflict among people he loves, and he wants to be loved and accepted for who he is rather than what he is. And who can dislike that?

All meditations on Mikey aside, I recommend Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows very highly. It’s not what you’d call a very good movie, or a particularly smart one, and it bungles the character of Casey Jones. But it does have a lot of love for the franchise and characters in general, and it makes you really like and feel the connection between the brothers.

And it enjoys throwing in over-the-top spectacle, such as the Turtles battling Rocksteady and Bebop on a crashing plane… using a tank. It’s wonderful. It’s just a fun popcorn movie, and no, you don’t need to have seen the first Bayverse movie to understand it.

Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Okay, something I have to get out of the way when discussing the live-action reboot of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”: the redesigns of the Turtles are pretty awful. First, they decided to make them big — the Turtles are reimagined as being at least six-and-a-half feet tall, but they move in a strangely weightless manner… because CGI.

Secondly, the designs are far too busy. You can see every bump on their skin, which is pretty unappealing. Furthermore, very Turtle is slathered in characteristic adornments and pieces of clothing that do nothing but distract. Why is Raphael wearing a belt with other belts hanging off it? Why is Leonardo wearing wooden chest armor? Why is Michelangelo carrying around a pair of sunglasses that won’t fit his head?

Thirdly, their faces… look kind of like stretched noseless human faces. It trips the uncanny valley meter.

But even if you can get past the weird appearances of the Turtles, the live-action “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” reboot is not a very good movie. The Turtles’ origin story is filled with inexplicable holes, and the characters are thinly-developed at best — including the Turtles themselves, but most of all the villain, whose motivations can be summed up as “he’s rich and he wants to get richer.”

Reporter April O’Neil wants to tackle serious reporter stuff, like the gang wars that are being thwarted by mysterious vigilantes. But alas, nobody takes her seriously because she’s played by Megan Fox. But one night when the terrorists known as the Foot Clan attack some random people in a subway, she encounters those four vigilantes — giant mutant turtles who also happen to be elite ninjas. And get this: they were her childhood pets. Not kidding.

April’s search for the Turtles — and an explanation for how they ended up mutant ninjas — leads her to the obviously evil Eric Sacks. When the Turtles capture April so that they can explain their origin story to her, she inadvertently leads the Foot Clan directly to them — and I wish I could say that their sworn nemesis Shredder attacks, but in this movie he’s not so much a bitter foe as…. some guy they don’t really know.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is… not a terribly good movie. One of its biggest flaws is that it is less a story about the Turtles than a story about April O’Neil. Oh, the Turtles are important parts of the story, but the main arc is actually April’s — and so is pretty much the entire first act, in which the Turtles’ roles are basically cameos.

It also has a plot that is both simple and full of holes — it has all the hallmarks of several rewrites (Splinter and Shredder recognize each other despite never having met), and has some head-slapping idiocies (Splinter teaches the Turtles ninjutsu… from a picture book). The central conflict with Sacks especially feels like it was neutered somewhere along the line, given that the villain role is split between two people. And, you know, the fact that Sacks’ motivation is very stupid.

All the characters are pretty thin. This is especially shown in the Turtles — they each have one stereotypical character trait and not much else. Donatello is a nerd, Leonardo is vaguely leaderesque, Mikey seems like a budding sex offender who wants to kidnap April and keep her tied up in a dungeon, etc. Raphael has the most uneven characterization — he basically is just angry for most of the movie, only to vomit up the rest of his characterization in thirty seconds at the movie’s climax.

That said, most of the voice acting is pretty good, especially Alan Ritchison as Raphael and Tony Shalhoub as Splinter. The exception is Leonardo — for some reason, they decided to dub over Pete Ploszek’s voice with Johnny Knoxville, who sounds like a very unheroic fortysomething with an alcohol problem. As for the humans, Fox is not terribly good as April, but not unbelievably bad either, while William Fichter is profoundly meh.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” tries to give a new spin to the Turtles’ origin story, but the thin characters and abundant plot holes make it more of a chore than a delight. Also, Mikey is creepy.

Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 1: Change is Constant

In 2011, IDW Comics made a very exciting announcement: they would be publishing a brand new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book series, completely separate from the series that had been published before.

And I have to say, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 1: Change is Constant is a promising launch for this new series. While the basic story of four ninjutsu-practicing anthropomorphic reptiles (tutored by a wise old rat) is there, Tom Waltz and Kevin Eastman (yes, the guy who co-created the Turtles) add some new elements to the franchise even as they remix some stuff from previous iterations.

Every night, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Leonardo, Donatello and Michelangelo – search for their missing brother Raphael, and fight off the street gangs of the mutant cat Old Hob with their father Splinter. However, the Turtles are beginning to lose heart, and Donatello is convinced that their father’s quest for Raphael is motivated by guilt at losing one of his sons, and that Raphael is probably dead.

He’s wrong, of course. Elsewhere in New York, Raphael wanders the streets as a shunned vagrant, unaware that his brothers even exist, and rooting through trash for basic sustenance. Then he stumbles across a man beating his teenage son Casey Jones, and rushes in to the rescue. He and Casey strike up an instant rapport, but their nightly excursion takes them into a dangerous confrontation with Old Hob’s gang.

And through flashbacks, we see how the Turtles came to be what they are – as adorable little lab experiments at Baxter Stockman’s genetics lab, and given their Renaissance names by an intern named April O’Neil. But something sinister is afoot at StockGen, and the four Turtles – plus Splinter, who is smarter than any ordinary rat – are swept up in a bizarre attack that transforms them forever. Shockingly, it involves glowing green goo.

As a start for a new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic book series, Change is Constant is a good pretty good launchpad. It throws the audience right into the action and quickly establishes where the central four characters are and what they’re doing – which is particularly important when one of the Turtles has been separated from his brothers for his entire mutant life and doesn’t even know about his family. Why yes, it is really wrenching to see poor Raphael wandering the streets alone, looking like he’s about to cry.

And it smoothly introduces new versions of classic characters (April O’Neil, Casey Jones, Baxter Stockman) as well as a handful of new ones, particularly the vicious mutant cat Old Hob. The story unfolds both in the present and the past, and by doing so, Waltz and Eastman weave in a number of moments that either make you go “Oh, so that explains it” (such as why Old Hob hates Splinter and the Turtles so much) or lays groundwork for future plot developments. The latter includes a rather mysterious line of Splinter’s about how he is the Turtles’ father and sensei “as before.” Stay tuned.

It also does a pretty good establishing the Turtles’ personalities, rather than just relying on readers’ familiarity. Leonardo is the dutiful, filial one who does sword practice in his spare time, Donatello is a pragmatist and has a rather antagonistic relationship with Leonardo because of it, Michelangelo is the easygoing and peacemaking one, and Raphael is the lonely brawler who lights up when he makes his first friend.

Dan Duncan provides some decent artwork here – the art style is rough but decent, and character designs are lanky and weedy and, in the case of the Turtles and Hob, pretty muscled. The only flaw is that… well, for some reason he makes the Turtles’ eyes completely white… when their masks are off. They look possessed.

But despite the eyes of the demon disciples, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 1: Change is Constant is a pretty solid start to an excellent comic book series, whether for newcomers or longtime fans who can spot all the references.

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