A lot of people are going to blame Michael Bay for what he’s done to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And I can’t blame them. However, let’s not lose sight of the fact that he’s only producing this attack on a once treasured childhood gem. We can also blame director Jonathan Liebesman. It’s sort of like shooting fish in a barrel considering his last two films were the awful Wrath of the Titans and uninspired Battle Los Angeles but hey, I love shooting fish in a barrel!
So in this “movie”, sadly titled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as opposed to Teenage Mutated Sewer-schooled Turtlesque Creatures, the familiar faces are all back … only they’re horribly disfigured in probably far too costly CGI. I mean, are these turtles? Are they? Yuck. Oh, and I’m just going to assume you know who these characters are and if you’ve seen the first live-action movie, you’ll have a good idea of the plot as it’s largely rehashed here. They reinvented how it was that Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Donatello, and Splinter become their anthropomorphic selves. Instead of wandering into a pile of discarded toxic waste, here they were once lab animals (though what kind of serious lab has 4 turtles and 1 rat as the sum total of their test subjects is beyond me) and are injected with the mutagen that will transform them. The Foot Clan are the basically the same, only with knock-off masks from the movie 300.
To figure out what the characters would sound like this time around, the casting department went for recognizable names and voices … oh, wait not really. We’ve got Tony Shalhoub voicing Splinter and Johnny Knoxville as Leonardo but the other three turtles get people I’ve never heard of before. And that’s fine, I don’t blame the voice actors, it’s tougher than one might think to bring a character to life that way. However, I don’t know why you bother casting a few people one might recognize and then stop short in the middle. Either simply cast for the best voice or cast names the audience will recognize.
Then there’s April O’Neil. So … umm … Megan Fox? Here’s the weird thing. Like all of those concerned with what was being done to this nostalgic franchise, her casting was one of the most baffling. Putting aside the notion that she and Michael Bay would ever be listed in the same film credits ever again, no one confuses her with a serious actress. Her version of April O’Neil is a woman who wants to be a serious journalist but is stuck doing light, fluffy pieces for the local network because she’s perceived as less than anchor material (to no one’s surprise but her own). While I’m not a fan of this change, casting her makes sense for what they did.
What also makes sense from a cliché script perspective are the characters played by William Fichtner and Will Arnett. Fichtner is no stranger to Michael Bay productions so his inclusion here is no great surprise, nor is his character’s true intentions. He sleepwalks through the paint by number tasks he’s assigned. In lieu of bringing in the character of Casey Jones, Arnett is cast as April’s camera man/wannabe love interest. He too is able to coast through the proceedings without any challenge from the formulaic and predictable script.
Wait a minute … where’s the rage ranting … where’s the anger you might have been expecting from this review? Honestly, I’m all angered out right now. I think you can tell I’m no fan of what’s been done here and I wish the movie didn’t exist at all. I think the look of the Turtles is stupid and aside from having shells on their back it’s often hard to remember these are supposed to be turtles. Splinter looks like a dime store comic stereotype of a kung fu master and Shalhoub’s voice made pretty much anything serious he had to say end up sounding more comical than was probably intended. And Shredder is basically a dude in a special armor suit that somehow doesn’t slow down his movement with all that metal. Meh.
All in all, this is a bad, bad movie. However, by sticking to the basic three-act story structure and simply plodding along as CGI enables these “turtles” to do all sorts of things that are well beyond the realm of biology and physics, this reboot does qualify as a movie despite its frequent use of deus ex mutagen to work their way out of any roadblocks in the plot. The kids in the audience seemed to enjoy it and as sad as it sounds, this is kind of where we’re at when it comes to creating Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for this generation. I weep for them because I think it’s crap but I’m not the only arbiter of taste.
Now again, before you think I’ve been replaced by some robot version of myself, I don’t like this movie. In fact, I hate it. I’m never going to watch it again, and should sequels unfortunately materialize, I’m likely just going to skip them because I can do a lot of better things with my time. However, to some degree the flood of these recent reboots of nostalgic properties has simply eroded some of my usual ire with their frequency and mediocrity. That, and having watched Into the Storm earlier this week it’s hard to get that mad about two movies in the span of three days … I just don’t have that kind of energy.
All I can say is please don’t watch this new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film. It’s stupid and wrong. There are much better films out in the marketplace right now (*cough* Guardians of the Galaxy) and seeing them a second, third, or fourth time are far better ideas than seeing this once. And don’t take the grade I’m giving this film as acceptance; I’m simply acknowledging that this technically contains all the necessary elements of a movie. I think you can tell that I certainly don’t condone or like Michael Bay’s latest twisting of established material.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles opens in theaters on August 8, 2014 and is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence.
– Reviewed by Ian Forbes
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