Movies and TV
The Contradiction of April O'Neil in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Nick Hurwitch | 8 Aug 2014 19:00
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teenage mutant ninja turtles 1990 april

In the original live action movie, we meet April at her most hard-headed, getting tossed out of the office of the chief of police. I thought there for certain, in what is still the best TMNT movie, that April would be at her strongest. Instead, after her initial discovery, she functions as a provider of sanctuaries: Her apartment, until it's destroyed, and her father's Hampton farmhouse until the turtles are recovered and again ready to kick ass. Rough and handsome Casey Jones, as he is wont to do, steps in as a love interest surrogate, since the turtles are, ya know... teenagers. That's gross.

The live action sequels -- which are barely worth mentioning -- are more of the same. In Secret of the Ooze, the turtles crash in her apartment while they look for another sewer, and in TMNT III she gets lost in feudal Japan, from which the turtles must save her. It's not even clear if she's still a reporter.

In each interpretation, as a person, April functions as an audience surrogate. She is people, like us, and she becomes friends with the turtles, as we would like to. But as a woman, April functions as a token. With very few exceptions, she is the only female character in the TMNT universe. She's therefore left to oscillate between self-sufficient career woman and damsel in distress, mother figure and love interest, Splinter's fresh pupil and delicate flower who faints at the sight of him.

Perhaps the April that gets it best is the current Nickelodeon series. She's not quite a scientist of her own, but a research assistant in her father's lab (a la the original comic). She isn't uniformly bemused by the turtles' actions, speaking up when they get it wrong. Eventually, she takes up martial arts tutelage under Splinter. Perhaps most importantly, she's a teenager for the first time. If nothing else, this makes the inevitable crush from one of the four teenage turtles less weird (Don, in this case), but also puts her on their level and clarifies the confusing sex interest / sister / mother figure carousel her character normally rides.

When I add it all up, though I was disappointed in the ways the latest reboot thwarted its own good intentions, Megan Fox's April O'Neil is a close second. If there's a sequel, maybe Liebesman will resist the urge to ogle with the camera for a joke and hopefully April will have more to do than provide turtles a place to crash and a pretty girl to save.

Maybe then we'll have the April O'Neil we've always expected, but never had.

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