Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Hank McCoy (Before the Fur)

I'm wondering how well Michael Bay’s TMNT is going to bring this distant but treasured relic of our childhood back into the centerstage of pop culture. I couldn’t sit here and say I love absolutely everything the guy did with Transformers, but mostly I think Bay gave us an experience that was worthy of what we wanted out of a big screen movie. What I’m worried about are some of the liberties that he might take with the Turtles and how we might end up with something only sort of resembling the thing that we loved. But I’m cautiously optimistic.

I’m not afraid to admit that I am currently a big fan of the latest TMNT animated show. I really think this one kind of hits the nail on the head in that it’s a very CLASSIC incarnation of what you loved about the green ninja’s when you were a kid. It’s surprisingly well written and features Krang(s), Baxter Stockman and other bits and pieces of Turtle lore.

But most of all?

It’s FUNNY. Like laugh out loud funny sometimes!

This has always seemed, to me, the essence of what made TMNT great. It IS dramatic and hardcore, but the tension is broken up by moments of levity. And the levity really is embodied in the fact that the Turtles are, and act like, teenagers. They’re glib, goofy and witty, the way teenagers are.

The show takes plenty of time to showcase each Turtle’s strengths and weaknesses too. They’re all growing into adults and into fighters as well and you kind of get the bird’s eye view of seeing who’s good at what in their fighting style. Leonardo is the most polished and practiced fighter. Raphael is by far the most dangerous in that he combines old-school ninjutsu with new school street fighting. Michelangelo might seem flakey but sometimes has surprisingly keen instincts, a la Drunken Master. Donatello sizes up his opponents very logically.

So TMNT is funny. But actually, it’s funny in this way in which it takes the absurdity of itself completely seriously. It’s like an amalgam of every schlocky 80’s martial arts character and flick you ever watched wrapped up and delivered in this really strange package. Seeing Splinter nurture each Turtle and watching how they learn and grow is sort of what makes the whole thing work, for me any way.

It isn’t surprising that Leo and Raph butt heads very often given their personalities and I wouldn’t rule out a good old fashioned Leo and Raph brawl at some point in the middle of the film. Actually, in the original incarnation of the comics, Leonardo demonstrated the restraint he does in every version of the franchise’s continuities. But it’s also clear to you that Leo can be very, very dangerous if he lets himself go.

He’s the one who’s most dedicated to understanding the philosophies underlying ninjutsu and the one who demonstrates the most respect for just how lethal his abilities can be. Leo is sort of like what you always fantasized ninjas would be like as a kid; powerful, honorable, stoic. He goes about the business of fighting his opponents with equal parts determination and respect for the opposing side. Of course, it’s seeing Leo start to overcome some of his own rigidness and inflexibility that makes him interesting. In one of my favorite exchanges from the most recent show:

Master Splinter: "I am impressed Leonardo. You proved to be an effective leader under the most difficult circumstances."

Leonardo: "Thank you, Sensei. I think I know why you made me leader."

Master Splinter: "Oh? And why is that?"

Leonardo: "Because you sensed in me a true warrior spirit, that could forge us all to the great heroes we're destined to become."

Master Splinter: "No."

Leonardo: "No? Then why did you make me leader?"

Master Splinter: "Because... you asked."

Leonardo: "That's it? But you seemed so certain you were right."

Master Splinter: "As a leader you will learn that there is no right and wrong, only choices."

Leonardo: "So you could have chosen any of us?"

Master Splinter: "Yes."

Leonardo: "Even Mikey?!"

Master Splinter: "No... That would've been wrong."


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