Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie Review

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has been unanimously slammed by the critics, but its been a box office hit. Here’s what I thought of it:

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a fun reboot that mostly feels authentic. The Turtles look great and there are some excellent action scenes. Unfortunately Michael Bay’s blueprint is present and will likely upset as much as please fans of TMNT.

There’s a new crime syndicate in New York, the swat team samurai group, the Foot Clan, led by the evil Shredder. Eager to prove herself as a serious journalist, April O’Neil is determined to get the scoop on the elusive group. Her antics get her into trouble with the clan but she gets rescued by four giant Ninja turtles giving her news pitch a level of crazy and zero credibility as no one has ever seen the Turtles.  But as the clan’s evil activities grow, the Turtles are forced to come out of hiding to take down the evil Shredder. We get to see the turtles grow up, learn how they came to be giant turtle men things, see them train under the tutelage of Splinter the Rat and watch them kick Foot Clan and Shredder butt. It’s directed by Jonathan Liebesman and Patricio Farrell and produced by Michael Bay. The turtles have got steroided up, looking gigantic and they all annoy as much as they entertain, but for the most part, when you remember how awful each live action TMNT movie was, this isn’t so bad except for a few things.

TMNT is updated to the 21st century with gadgetry and pop culture references such as ‘Oh look, he’s doing his Batman voice’. It also boasts some excellent CGI, but it remains locked in the decade it came from with an ugly level of Bay style outdated and offensive misogyny. Megan Fox must get pretty frustrated as she’s expressed that she was keen to avoid this kind of thing. Before the film’s release Megan Fox had an in interview with Entertainment Weekly about the O’Neil character. She said:

“She’s more of a leader when she explores her relationship with the turtles instead of just the human companion that gets dragged along on the adventure. It’s more representative of a modern woman […] I’m completely clothed for the entire movie, there’s no gratuitous skin or sexual anything. Jonathan was really insistent on not wanting her to be sexualised or to take that sort of typical role we’ve seen women take in movies thus far, and that I’ve taken in particular.”

Well sadly, it still happens here. There may not be ‘gratuitous skin or sexual anything”, but there’s plenty of other things that reinforce this crap instead. In the course of the film she gets called a ‘complicated chick’, labelled as  ‘my girlfriend’ by the unfortunately very creepy and pervy Michelangelo who says when he first sees April, ‘She’s so hot, I can feel my shell tightening.’ She also constantly gets perved on by Will Arnett’s lame camera man and the movie’s cameras too, clothed or not. She gets called ‘a little girl’ by Shredder and told she has ‘daddy issues’. How many demeaning things does Megan Fox have to go through if she accepts a film that Michael Bay is involved in?

It’s a big shame, as the rest of the film is enjoyable, and could probably generate an increase in TMNT popularity. But its backward schoolboy attitude offensively and clumsily asserts this as an utterly stupid boy’s film for boys and manchilds only, who are awkward around women. That’s not to say girls can’t or shouldn’t enjoy the film, it’s just not made the most pleasant of viewings when there is a level of objectification in the film. It’s particularly frustrating as this should be and is a kid’s film. So why is there this unpleasant creepy humour intruding into the picture?  It’s also annoying as Megan Fox isn’t bad as April O’Neil. In fact the actor shares the character’s plight in many ways, trying to maintain integrity while she constantly has to do demeaning things.  She suffered equally in the first two Transformers films and did not return for the third. It’s clear then, that while Michael Bay may not have been in the director’s chair, his smutty OMG women have boobs attitude is smeared all over the film he’s produced.

If this doesn’t make you mouth vom, or you love TMNT enough to bypass the intruding shitstorm of Bayhem that does sadly permeate through the entire picture, then there is fun to be had here. There’s certainly a thrill factor in seeing the Turtles reinvented in this way. They feel alive and their design is top notch. Raph is in full grumpy loner mode, and Leonardo is the tough leader he should be. Donatello, also charms with a nerdy genius presence. But Michelangelo . . . Oh Michelangelo, my favourite of the Turtles when I was a kid . . . . is just tragic. He’s reduced to just being dumb and horny and the amount he hits on and pervs on April O’Neil gets uncomfortable. It’s as if Michael Bay was set loose on Michelangelo and just turned him into his teenage self. I’m sure Bay finds this ‘reinvention’ of the character hilarious. Everybody else will likely be cringing. It might be fair to say that a lot of teenage boys are like that, but it irks in the film and just feels awkward. Splinter’s characterisation and art design is great though and the relationship between him and his turtle ‘sons’ is fantastically pitched.

The core relationships and story arc works well and the action scenes really impress. I particularly enjoyed the backstory to the turtles and the scenes of them growing up. Seeing baby and kid turtles is pretty awesome. And don’t worry, there’s no naff stuff about them being aliens. So what about Shredder and the Foot Clan? Well, sadly this may well be another point of contention for fans. Personally I enjoyed the clan and Shredder. But they’re different from the traditional TMNT, particularly in style. The clan are very militarised and Shredder is bling’d out in knives and mechanics. I know he’s called Shredder but he seems to have been slightly Transformered.

If you can get past the Bay blueprint that farts its way through the film, then there is lot of fun to be had here. It’s nowhere near as bad as it looked like it was going to be. But it also could have been much better. You’ll likely enjoy the action and the kids will really enjoy it too, it’s just a shame there’s the creepy moments. Let’s hope that if sequels follow, Michael Bay is appropriately kept at bay from the production.

Original article on I’m With Geek at: http://www.imwithgeek.com/film/teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-review

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Hercules: Another massive misfire or a step in the right direction? A look at the new Hercules film and how it responds to different incarnations of the hero, classical and modern

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Popular entertainment has not been kind to the Hercules myth. Ancient Greek’s most beloved Demi-God has long been the lovable, brainless, joke buffoon of popular entertainment. From the juggling strong man Hercules of the circus to television’s Hercules: The Legendary journeys, and cinema’s animated Hercules from Disney. The sell of Hercules has long been that he’s big, dumb and fun. But in Ancient Greece and Rome, he was a dichotic character comprised of hero worship and unbearable tragedy. Whilst he was the heroic figure of the twelve labours and champion and inventor of the Olympic Games he was also a vicious barbarian and child killer, who slaughtered his own family in a God-driven blind frenzy. He was also originally called Heracles. Hercules is the adapted Roman name.

But the Hercules that most people know today is the cheesy Hercules portrayed in popular entertainment: The Kevin Sorbet hunk-a-Hercules, the Disney ‘zero to hero Herc’ and even Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ‘Nice chariot, but vhere’s yor horses?’ ancient demi-god stuck in the big apple, Hercules in New York. How then, do you present a version of Hercules that is closer to the myths but will also please fans of Hercules’ pop culture history? Of all the possible people, Brett Ratner and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson seem to have provided somewhat of an answer: You compromise.

The result is still a dumb swords and sandals cheese fest, but it’s the closest Hercules has ever been, in modern popular entertainment, to his beginnings. Could this be the start of the popular image and understanding of this figure changing?

For fans of the Hercules myth, informed through pop culture or even historically and academically, Ratner and Johnson’s Hercules should prove rather enjoyable and possibly surprising viewing. As this Hercules is not just a poppy swords and sandals romp. It is largely that, for sure, but it also provides a study of the Hercules myth as a whole, incorporating a good selection of chapters from his illustrious career and exploring the possibilities of the man behind the myth. Where did the myth come from? Was there a real man who was famous for killing a dangerous lion, killing a big boar and doing various other fantastic things? Were his actions exaggerated and did he become the Demi-God myth that we know him as now? That’s what this new incarnation of Hercules tries to explore. And the mere fact it’s been attempted is refreshing.

The movie is an adaptation of Steve Moore’s and Admira Wijaya’s Hercules: The Thracian Wars; a series of comics published by Radical in 2008. It’s in a similar vein to that of Neil Gaimon’s revisionist Beowulf graphic novel and Frank Miller’s 300; Pop culture successes that are, to some degree, historically informed and revisionist.

In fact, Steve Moore’s Hercules: The Thracian Wars, is very well informed. The writer has clearly studied and understood the Hercules myth and tried to create a faithful adaptation of the character in his story. In an interview with Mike Conroy, Steve Moore, explains that ‘the whole story is set, as far as possible, in an authentic Bronze Age setting, c.1200BC.’ Setting it at this time, which is when the original myth stems from and when the classical Greeks set their stories and plays about him, allows us to understand that this man, wearing his lion skin and fighting huge animals, is essentially a barbaric caveman. Throughout history, the Heracles/Hercules character has been adapted and civilised, even by the Ancient Greeks. But what Moore has attempted in his comics is to explore this original barbaric character and present him faithfully, creating something fresh, by looking back to the original stories the character came from and the historical context that surrounded them. Moore’s story is not about a hero, it’s about the barbaric man the Hercules character originated as. Moore comments, ‘I’m not trying to turn Hercules into “a comic book hero” . . . in fact most of the time he’s far from heroic . . . I’m telling a Hercules story that happens to be in comic book format, but even so I’ve thrown out some of the conventions . . . and I’ve tried very hard to avoid intrusively 21st century dialogue or contemporary references’. What then must Moore think of Brett Ratner and The Rock’s poppy crowd pleasing Hollywood Studios movie version?

Moore adds in the interview, before a film was on the cards, ‘. . . if you look at the ancient stories, Hercules was a murderer, a rapist, a womaniser, subject to catastrophic rages and plainly bisexual, and I’ve tried to accommodate all those aspects in my characterization. So if there ever was a human being behind the Hercules stories, I’d like to think he was something like the character portrayed here, rather than the cleaned up “hero” of other comics and TV. Mind you, I wouldn’t have wanted to spend much time in his company.’

It’s unlikely that Steve Moore is overly thrilled with Ratner’s movie interpretation: Ratner’s and Johnson’s Hercules is precisely ‘the cleaned up hero’ Moore had avoided in his story. Ratner’s adaptation is a cop-out really, designed to please the masses. It’s a shame the project wasn’t taken up by the team behind the HBO Game of Thrones’ series, whose characters, like their original book counterparts, are anything but ‘cleaned up’ heroes. Instead Ratner’s is a disappointingly safe interpretation of the hero. The film has a 12A rating and the protagonist is, through it all, an out-and-out good guy.

But then so was Euripides’ protagonist in his tragedy of Heracles; the play from 400BC, where much of our understanding of the Hercules myth, comes from. His Heracles was good. He just had terrible things happen to him. In Euripides’ Heracles, or Heracles Gone Mad, as it is sometimes called, Heracles returns home after completing his final labour to retrieve the three headed dog Cerberus, from the Underworld. But when the hero reaches home, he finds his kingdom has been taken over by a tyrant and his wife and children are about to be murdered. Heracles saves his family and kills the tyrant in his own family home. But just as he is about to perform the cleansing ritual, he loses his mind; thinks his wife and children are his enemies and brutally murders them. He then falls unconscious and when he awakes, is completely unaware of what he has done. That is until he finds what remains of his family. The context surrounding Heracles’ actions is that the Goddess Hera, has put a spell on Heracles and driven him mad. That being the only way she can see to successfully harm him. (Hera hates Heracles as he is the bastard son of her cheating husband, the king of the Gods, Zeus. The Hero’s name, Heracles, means in honour to Hera; a clumsy decision from Zeus in the hope it would appease Hera. It didn’t, and she spends all of Heracles’ life, trying to destroy him) But in modern readings of the play, we can associate post-traumatic stress disorder to Heracles’ actions. And indeed this is the context that surrounds most new adaptations of the Heracles play. At the end of the play, Heracles understandably wants to kill himself, but his friend Theseus, stops him and convinces him to come to Athens, where he will care for him. Theseus is indebted to the hero as Heracles had saved his life, retrieving him from the Underworld when he stole Cerberus.

Euripides’ Heracles was a moralistic figure loyal to family and to his people, and whose suffering and ability to live through it was a symbol of strength aided by friendship and support of the Athenian people. That is one of the earliest incarnations of the character we have. Ratner’s Hercules rings relatively true to that incarnation. As Ratner’s Rockules, is a moralistic hero, who has had terrible things happen to him. Of course, ultimately, Ratner’s movie finds a cheap loophole out of Hercules’ uglier moments. But then there’s room for that when the whole idea of this Hercules is revisionist, questioning what might have been true and fabricated about a possible real man behind the myth. It’s just a shame post traumatic Stress disorder isn’t a more prominent them in the movie. But then, that might not sell as many tickets as the Rock’s new Schwarzenegger wrestler turned actor persona evidently does.

The Hercules from ancient myth has still not been faithfully presented in mainstream entertainment and it’s rare that his tragedies are performed on the stage. Though the plays based on him are fantastic; Euripides’ Heracles was a masterwork of tragedy. Seneca’s Roman version, Hercules Furens, portrays a fascinating analysis of possible post traumatic madness and in a 21st century version of the play from Simon Armitage, called Mister Heracles, our protagonist is a government owned soldier programmed to lose his mind should he desert. But each interpretation is difficult, ugly and rarely performed. Oedipus, Antigone, Medea and Electra are the tragedies of choice in popular theatre. But now Hercules is once again in the foreground of the public consciousness. He’s back in pop culture and for once he is there in a depiction that at least glimpses at the hero’s darker connotations, and is aesthetically closer to the original caveman-like figure of ancient Greece, wearing his lion skin and fighting with a giant club.
What Ratner’s Hercules does do well is bridge the gap between the cheesy Hercules of pop culture and the ambiguous figure from Ancient Greece. Perhaps now the way has been paved for the popular representation of Hercules to be changed from 2 dimensional pop culture icon to the intriguing myth from which he originated. For now though, he’s just The Rock . . . in a Brett Ratner film . . . but still, it’s a step, all be it a big, clunking, clumsy one, but still a step, in the right direction.