Skip to main content

Tonight, I dine on turtle soup.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
(2014)

I didn’t much care for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first time round, and I was still (just) a teenager myself then. The popularity of Steve Barron’s movie far exceeded its quality, but at least it had cheerfully cartoonish approximations of the comic book quartet going for it, design-wise. And, of course, the magnificent Elias Koteas. This reboot comes from the perspiring mind of perpetual adolescent Michael Bay, a director-producer with a perpetual boner for both lingerie models and, it seems, ‘80s kids’ properties he can “improve” with bizarrely inappropriate doses of photo-realism.


I’m not sure anyone outside of Bay, 12-year old boys and Kelsey Grammar (guest star spots in blockbusters do pay well) can claim account for the absurd success of Transformers, four movies down the line and counting, with a guaranteed a billion dollar global gross each time. He brings the same “magic” to his over-designed and continuity drivel-driven Transformers to this Turtles reimagining. There was much controversy within Turtle fandom (Turtledom?) over early versions of the script, in which the martial arts foursome were revealed to be from outer space, or another dimension. Bay had this dropped, presumably in response to the outrage and the realisation he hadn’t a clue what he had bought, and his trio of writers reverted to something approximating the actual reptile genesis (albeit with Bay semi-regular Megan Fox’s reporter character April O’Neill now intrinsically linked the Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Donatello).


The plot is as rudimentary as they come; the turtles show up, kick the Foot Clan’s arses, get captured, and rally to stop the villains from spreading a deadly virus throughout New York. The villains being Shredder, and major domo scientist William Fichtner. Bay has drafted in Platinum Dunes golden boy Jonathan Liebesman to call the shots, and he dutifully delivers Bay-lite quick cut confusion masquerading as direction. Liebesman is one of the new generation of Hollywood journeymen. Whereas once they were stolid and laborious, now they are frenetic and display all the symptoms of ADD. Does anyone recall how great Liebesman’s work on Battle Los Angeles and Wrath of the Titans was? I didn’t think so.


Liebesman ensures the proceedings are messy, ugly, humourless (they should be, Johnny Knoxville lends himself to one of the turtle voices) and self-important. Nothing on his résumé suggested a talent for comedy, and he goes on to proves his lack of flair. He stages the fights as if he’s facing Transformers off against each other (low angles, slow-motion smackdowns), and is saddled with the most banal, tedious exposition-riddled dialogue to grace a Hollywood blockbuster in many a moon. Brian Tyler contributes one of his less elegant scores (actually, Iron Man Three is the exception in his back catalogue, in that its exceptional), attempting at a rousing theme but failing miserably.


And the design of these turtles is horrific. As others have commented, they look like Goombas from Super Mario Bros. with added steroid abuse. The result is a nightmarishly botched re-imagining of the beloved martial artists. As for Splinter, the rat mentor of the turtles, he resembles the Sumatran rat monkey from Peter Jackson’s Braindead, which I’m guessing was not the intention.


Fichtner can usually be relied upon, but he’s lost at sea (Whoopi Goldberg also appears, dialling up the Whoopi Goldberg). Fox is hopeless, entirely lacking in presence but cast to give the ever hormonal turtles a pretty girl to leer at. And for Will Arnett to leer at. Arnett is April’s loyal cameraman, and he’s too good a comedian not to milk a few laughs out of this. And, no doubt his kids love him for playing a semi-heroic character in a film they can actually watch. Although, the best gag is very much on the lewd side (and a dig at Bay, so that makes it almost okay; unless it was his idea, which makes it rather creepy), as the turtles conceal themselves within a bra on a Victoria’s Secret billboard. Since that’s the last shot of the movie, the laugh wasn’t worth the wait.


It’s also symptomatic of Bay’s knuckleheaded, inspiration-free approach to movies that he saves the signature line, “Cowabunga”, for the last scene; that’s what they did in the Bond “reboot” after all.


Platinum Dunes, Bay’s production company, ran into the ground a succession of horror remakes, from Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Presumably he now will scour the landscape for previously untapped toy lines and comics for his next goldmine. I didn’t think Turtles would do very well; the response to the design was (rightly) poisonous, and the all-CGI 2007 version fizzled. Perhaps it comes down to this; Bay’s big, empty head is equivalent to the not quite as big but equally empty head of the average teen, and as such he has a ready insight into what they like on tap.


So, if hyperactive teenagers bantering, arguing and goofing off is right up your street, you might love this. Or you still might think it’s a massive pile. It’s a noisy, depressing affair. Like The Goonies, but without any endearing qualities. Or that lousy Inspector Gadget movie, where you reach the end credits (if you’re able to) and you’re left wracking your brain trying to work out how and why anyone went to see it in the first place.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Oh, you got me right in the pantaloons, partner.

The Party (1968) (SPOILERS) Blake Edwards’ semi-improvisational reunion with Peter Sellers is now probably best known for – I was going to use an elephant-in-the-room gag, but at least one person already went there – Sellers’ “brown face”. And it isn’t a decision one can really defend, even by citing The Party ’s influence on Bollywood. Satyajit Ray had also reportedly been considering working with Sellers… and then he saw the film. One can only assume he’d missed similar performances in The Millionairess and The Road to Hong Kong ; in the latter case, entirely understandable, if not advisable. Nevertheless, for all the flagrant stereotyping, Sellers’ bungling Hrundi V Bakshi is a very likeable character, and indeed, it’s the piece’s good-natured, soft centre – his fledgling romance with Claudine Longet’s Michele – that sees The Party through in spite of its patchy, hit-and-miss quality.

They'll think I've lost control again and put it all down to evolution.

Time Bandits (1981) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam had co-directed previously, and his solo debut had visual flourish on its side, but it was with Time Bandits that Gilliam the auteur was born. The first part of his Trilogy of Imagination, it remains a dazzling work – as well as being one of his most successful – rich in theme and overflowing with ideas while resolutely aimed at a wide (family, if you like) audience. Indeed, most impressive about Time Bandits is that there’s no evidence of self-censoring here, of attempting to make it fit a certain formula, format or palatable template.

I never strangled a chicken in my life!

Rope (1948) (SPOILERS) Rope doesn’t initially appear to have been one of the most venerated of Hitchcocks, but it has gone through something of a rehabilitation over the years, certainly since it came back into circulation during the 80s. I’ve always rated it highly; yes, the seams of it being, essentially, a formal experiment on the director’s part, are evident, but it’s also an expert piece of writing that uses our immediate knowledge of the crime to create tension throughout; what we/the killers know is juxtaposed with the polite dinner party they’ve thrown in order to wallow in their superiority.

I'm an old ruin, but she certainly brings my pulse up a beat or two.

The Paradine Case (1947) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock wasn’t very positive about The Paradine Case , his second collaboration with Gregory Peck, but I think he’s a little harsh on a picture that, if it doesn’t quite come together dramatically, nevertheless maintains interest on the basis of its skewed take on the courtroom drama. Peck’s defence counsel falls for his client, Alida Valli’s accused (of murder), while wife Ann Todd wilts dependably and masochistically on the side-lines.

You must have hopes, wishes, dreams.

Brazil (1985) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam didn’t consider Brazil the embodiment of a totalitarian nightmare it is often labelled as. His 1984½ (one of the film’s Fellini-riffing working titles) was “ the Nineteen Eighty-Four for 1984 ”, in contrast to Michael Anderson’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from 1948. This despite Gilliam famously boasting never to have read the Orwell’s novel: “ The thing that intrigues me about certain books is that you know them even though you’ve never read them. I guess the images are archetypal ”. Or as Pauline Kael observed, Brazil is to Nineteen Eighty-Four as “ if you’d just heard about it over the years and it had seeped into your visual imagination ”. Gilliam’s suffocating system isn’t unflinchingly cruel and malevolently intolerant of individuality; it is, in his vision of a nightmare “future”, one of evils spawned by the mechanisms of an out-of-control behemoth: a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. And yet, that is not really, despite how indulgently and glee

A herbal enema should fix you up.

Never Say Never Again (1983) (SPOILERS) There are plenty of sub-par Bond s in the official (Eon) franchise, several of them even weaker than this opportunistic remake of Thunderball , but they do still feel like Bond movies. Never Say Never Again , despite – or possibly because he’s part of it – featuring the much-vaunted, title-referencing return of the Sean Connery to the lead role, only ever feels like a cheap imitation. And yet, reputedly, it cost more than the same year’s Rog outing Octopussy .

Miss Livingstone, I presume.

Stage Fright (1950) (SPOILERS) This one has traditionally taken a bit of a bruising, for committing a cardinal crime – lying to the audience. More specifically, lying via a flashback, through which it is implicitly assumed the truth is always relayed. As Richard Schickel commented, though, the egregiousness of the action depends largely on whether you see it as a flaw or a brilliant act of daring: an innovation. I don’t think it’s quite that – not in Stage Fright ’s case anyway; the plot is too ordinary – but I do think it’s a picture that rewards revisiting knowing the twist, since there’s much else to enjoy it for besides.

Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know, if you ripped the fronts off houses, you'd find swine? The world's a hell. What does it matter what happens in it?

Shadow of a Doubt (1943) (SPOILERS) I’m not sure you could really classify Shadow of a Doubt as underrated, as some have. Not when it’s widely reported as Hitchcock’s favourite of his films. Underseen might be a more apt sobriquet, since it rarely trips off the lips in the manner of his best-known pictures. Regardless of the best way to categorise it, it’s very easy to see why the director should have been so quick to recognise Shadow of a Doubt 's qualities, even if some of those qualities are somewhat atypical.

I don’t like fighting at all. I try not to do too much of it.

Cuba (1979) (SPOILERS) Cuba -based movies don’t have a great track record at the box office, unless Bad Boys II counts. I guess The Godfather Part II does qualify. Steven Soderbergh , who could later speak to box office bombs revolving around Castro’s revolution, called Richard Lester’s Cuba fascinating but flawed. Which is generous of him.

I think you’re some kind of deviated prevert.

Dr. Strangelove  or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964) (SPOILERS) Kubrick’s masterpiece satire of mutually-assured destruction. Or is it? Not the masterpiece bit, because that’s a given. Rather, is all it’s really about the threat of nuclear holocaust? While that’s obviously quite sufficient, all the director’s films are suggested to have, in popular alt-readings, something else going on under the hood, be it exposing the ways of Elite paedophilia ( Lolita , Eyes Wide Shut ), MKUltra programming ( A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket ), transhumanism and the threat of imminent AI overlords ( 2001: A Space Odyssey ), and most of the aforementioned and more besides (the all-purpose smorgasbord that is The Shining ). Even Barry Lyndon has been posited to exist in a post-reset-history world. Could Kubrick be talking about something else as well in Dr. Strangelove ?