Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

2016 #48
Jonathan Liebesman | 97 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English & Japanese | 12 / PG-13

While I was killing time waiting for my coffee to brew before I sat down to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, 2014 edition, I drafted the introductory paragraphs to this review. Yes, before I’d even started the movie, so sure was I that I would dislike it. Naturally they took an appropriately condemnatory tone, talking about how it was a product and not a movie, designed primarily to sell tie-in plastic to grown men who wish they were still children, etc etc. Unfortunately writing those paragraphs was a waste of my time, because I can’t use them, because — shock of shocks — I actually quite liked this movie.

Now, let’s immediately throw some caveats on that, because it’s clearly riddled with flaws. The story is slight and so filled with over-familiar tropes that it barely bothers to play them out in full. On the bright side, that does mean it rattles along. However, the grand plan/climax is lifted straight from The Amazing Spider-Man. The action is often poorly directed, a too-close whirlwind of pixels. That said, there’s one sequence so OTT crazy that — if you ignore that the film is supposed to be live action and embrace the wild camerawork, physically impossible antics, and mind-boggling speed — it’s almost impressive. The CGI is variable: the Turtles themselves actually look alright, maybe even good, but Splinter is piss poor.

Megan Fox is miscast, not that she can act anyway. She’s clearly only there because producer Michael Bay thinks she’s hot (bit too plastic for my taste). Shredder is Bay-ed to the max, essentially becoming a Transformer made of knives. The Turtles’ personalities are pretty one-note, but not unfaithful to the original — the franchise started life as a spoof of things like Daredevil, after all, not a realistic character drama. That said, turning Mike into basically a turtle version of Michael Bay — i.e. he’s focused on lusting after Megan Fox and occasionally causing explosions — is a little cringe-y. Quite a few bits are a little cringe-y, actually; but they’re tempered by a few comedic bits that hit home, and a general veneer of “well, it could’ve been worse”.

“Well, it could’ve been worse” is pretty much the definition of “damning with faint praise”, but for all those many problems, I actually enjoyed myself while watching the film. It was funny enough, it was exciting enough, it was almost well-made enough. It’s not a good movie, but I did think it was an “entertaining enough for a couple of hours on a particularly lazy evening” kind of movie. And, despite the weak reviews it’s been receiving, the trailers for the second movie make it look better. I’m not going to fork out cinema prices to see it anytime soon, but on the strength of this first one, I will eventually. Which may not please the plastic-pedlars, exactly, but is a better result than I’d expected.

3 out of 5

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is in cinemas worldwide now.

Jonah Hex (2010)

2011 #59
Jimmy Hayward | 81 mins | Blu-ray | 15 / PG-13

Jonah HexJonah Hex is not a good film. Let’s just establish that, before I start being nice about it.

In fact, you don’t need me to be nasty about it — there are plenty of reviews that do that already. Those I’ve read are largely accurate. Despite that, I kind of liked the film, and not because I wanted to. I’ve read a few of the recent comics and enjoyed them, but this version isn’t really like those — they’re straight Westerns, whereas this iteration returns to a supernaturally-tinged version of the comics from some time in the past.

It’s difficult to know where to begin trying to praise Hex because, as I’ve implied, there isn’t much to praise. Unless you’re a 12-year-old boy, that is. Horses with Gatling guns! Giant cannons firing explosive balls! Corpses coming to life! Megan Fox’s corset-boosted cleavage! The undemanding pre-/early-teen is well catered for here. Possibly the undemanding child-minded adult too. I don’t think that’s why I enjoyed it though.

The movie is unrelentingly comic book, if one can use “comic book” as an adjective. Look at that last paragraph again: horses with Gatling guns? The physics of that boggles. But it has a certain Cool. The same for the ridiculously huge cannon that fires some kind of magic exploding cannonball. It doesn’t make historical sense, or even modern-science sense, but it is… well, it’s a Big Gun that makes things Blow Up. Awesome! A horse. With Gatling guns.Much of the film rattles on in this way. And rattle it does: 73 minutes before credits. As blockbuster running times spiral out of control, such brevity is almost welcome. It doesn’t feel exceptionally short, mind, except for when the plot occasionally jumps forward.

As the lead, Josh Brolin growls along marvellously. He deserves a better film. The character does too, actually. The President wants him to save America; he doesn’t care, except for that the person who needs stopping murdered Hex’s wife and child. Handy coincidence, that. There’s surely some drama to be wrung from that situation — grief, vengeance, all sorts — though no one involved seems to know how to go about it properly. The closest we get is a weird dreamy hallucinogenic fistfight. You’re right, that’s no substitute, but I did say closest.

John Malkovich does what he does as said villain. He’s been worse. Michael Fassbender is completely wasted as a henchman. I hope he was well paid. Megan Fox isn’t in it much. Her prostitute character, Hex’s new lover, is woefully underwritten and underused, turning up now and then to further the plotMegan Fox. Who has breasts. — usually improbably — or generally be a female. By “female” I mean “cleavage delivery device”. Considering her acting ability, her lack of presence is no real shame.

Jonah Hex isn’t good enough to be a guilty pleasure (like, say, The Transporter), nor bad enough to qualify as so-bad-it’s-good (like, say, Flesh for Frankenstein). Yet, while being fully aware it’s rubbish, I enjoyed myself. Not a massive amount, but a bit. Maybe it is one of those after all, then. It has a certain kind of B-movie charm, which is then intriguingly undercut by the A-list budget/promotion and awards-worthy cast. If it had been shot in Italy in the ’60s, a certain kind of person might just love it. Shot in America in the ’00s, however, its appeal probably lies with 12-year-old boys and… well, me, clearly.

2 out of 5