Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
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.