Monday, August 11, 2014

The Cinema File #375: "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" Review

Over two years before its eventual premiere, the announcement of a live action, Michael Bay produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot was met with some of the most ridiculous Internet amplified nerdrage in recent memory. Legions of devoted fans jumped up to decry Bay for once again raping their childhoods just like he did with those other movies that still always seem to make billions of dollars despite the betrayal, defending the artistic integrity of a joke premise that has been radically different in literally every one of its many incarnations across every medium, all because the already intentionally absurd title might now implicitly include the word “Alien.” If only they’d stuck to their guns. At least if they’d made them aliens, there’d be something interesting about this movie.

If I have to explain the story of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to you by now, you’re likely too old to give a crap, and if you have kids, chances are they’re going to make you see the movie regardless, and you still won’t give a crap. It seems to me that to make a movie about giant anthropomorphic reptiles who know martial arts and fight crime that’s this boring and predictable, you actually kind of have to try hard. Sure the elements are all there and relatively well known after so many relaunches and reboots, but those components are so crazy that I would think just setting to the task of putting them together into a story that makes any sort of sense should invariably lead at least to something entertaining as an absurdity. The juxtaposition of something so silly taken so seriously is supposed to be the charm of this premise, but here it is drained of all of its insane creative energy.

Even for a Michael Bay movie, which this technically isn’t  but might as well be, the plot is painfully paint by numbers. Girl in yellow finds the Turtles, Turtles meet and fight Shredder, Turtles win, sprinkle in references to pop culture and pizza throughout as needed. Even the few things that seemed exciting from the outset, like William Fichtner as The Shredder, are just disappointing. He’s not The Shredder, for the record, but rather a supporting villain aiding an actor we only see in shadows and who was likely cast for his martial arts training, which quickly becomes irrelevant once he gets in the suit literally the second time you see him and becomes a walking special effect. The cyber Shredder design is actually pretty cool, sporting Wolverine-like claws each as big as a sword that can be launched and magnetically drawn back at will. I assume even this change has die hard Turtle heads apoplectically shitting their pants.

Speaking of nerdrage induced defecation, the Turtles look a lot different this time around as well. Like, they have noses. You know, like the original characters did. And like, you know, actual fucking Turtles do. Admittedly, these new Turtles are a bit off puttingly ugly, but then I think they would be given their origins, and apart from the motion capture CGI polish, its all well in keeping with the darker portrayal of these characters in the original movie, which out of all of this property’s many incarnations is the only one that was ever any good anyway, and the only one that still holds up to this day. This movie takes place in our modern, post-Giuliani sanitized New York, far from the grimy wasteland that was its own character in the 1990 film, and the movie as a whole exists in the same context, where all of our entertainment has been scrubbed, homogenized, and Disney-fied. Even if its just a visual reminder of better times, it seems to me that a little ugliness is something to be commended. Its a shame they didn’t go any farther with it.

If Michael Bay had actually directed this new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie instead of just producing it, perhaps his characteristic brashness and immunity to criticism might have actually led to it having some balls to do something new and different. Okay, maybe not aliens, but something. You almost have to feel sorry for the people behind it, given how resistant to change so many fans of this franchise apparently are. In the wake of the epic freakout, its as if all innovation was curtailed and the safest movie possible was spewed out instead. This is why we can’t have nice things. Fandom can sometimes be its own worst enemy, especially when it denies the need to evolve, which can only lead to stagnation and extinction. This is the movie the fans demanded, the same rote story we’ve seen a hundred times before, nothing too risky, just bland, inoffensive familiarity. I hope they're happy.

Also, still no Krang, and in case you were wondering, Megan Fox is still terrible. Figured that went without saying, but just in case, there ya go.

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