Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Review

http://invisiblekidreviews.blogspot.de/2014/08/teenage-mutant-ninja-turtles-review.html


After the travesty that was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3 movie, no movie studio really knew how to handle the four iconic heroes in a half-shell for several years. Seeing that the four Ninja Turtles had their prime mainly in the late 80s and early 90s, the Turtles lived through countless reinterpretations through the years. Whereas some updates on the TMNT formula got hit with more positive reactions from fans and critics, and others got radically panned, all the reimaginings of the Turtles remained on the small screen (or comics) and therefore only occasionally broke through the TV barrier into cinemas (like the 2007 TMNT movie).
Yet, seeing how much money lies behind popular comic characters and nostalgic cartoon shows, Paramount Pictures quickly grabbed the rights to make another TMNT movie. And of course, it's a reboot. And while there's nothing wrong with updating the formula to fit today's age, fans of the Turtles quickly lost their faith in the movie when they heard of the involvement of none other than infamous director Michael Bay in the project.
Fearing the same critically panned disaster to come out like Bay's Transformers franchise, there were big worries floating around this reboot right from the get-go.
Now, that the Turtle gang is back on the big screen, how do they hold up in CGI and being produced by Michael Bay? Is it really as bad as many thought?
 



The plot:
Darkness has settled over New York City as Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) and his evil Foot Clan have an iron grip on everything from the police to the politicians. The future is grim until four unlikely outcast brothers rise from the sewers and discover their destiny as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Turtles must work with fearless reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox) and her cameraman Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) to save the city and unravel Shredder's diabolical plan.
Source: Paramount Pictures 
 


Even the 90s TMNT movies weren't marvels of story telling, but before going into this new TMNT reboot, you have to ask yourself as a viewer: What do you expect?
Most viewers will probably expect a good comicy storyline that just fits the four green, giant, titular reptiles but at the same time it should be a story that simply knows how to entertain you.
While on the one hand, it can be absolutely said, that TMNT's story undeniably is comicy and will remind viewers of the kid oriented 90s superhero movie plots, Michael Bay's TMNT movie happens to feature a story, which comes of as excrushiatingly generic and as run-of-the-mill CGI-Hollywood-blockbuster as it gets. With that said TMNT's story is pretty much 100% predictable and bares little to zero surprises whatsoever.

Prepare yourselves for absolutely no surprises.

Being of course set in New York, prior knowledge about the Turtles like their origins, the evil Foot Clan, Shredder, etc. is poorly introduced in TMNT. Though the movie starts with a quick rundown of all the necessary plot points to set up the movie, it often feels like the movie takes the knowledge about the Turtles for granted and just expects all of the viewers to exactly know everything necessary before their experience (practically ignoring young viewers, who might first get into contact with TMNT here).
Further events in the movie pretty much seem to follow textbook examples of today's hollow CGI-blockbuster-stories: A dynamic young journalist stumbles upon the Turtles, who fight the terror organization Foot Clan and try to prevent the oh-so-extremely-obvious bad-guy from executing his comically moronic evil plan.
TMNT's narrative architecture, from its breezed through plot points, onto its painfully obvious and shoved in "deeper" morals and messages, actually make some of Bay's Transformers movies even seem like monumental achievements in comparison. With so little effort put into a good script, Bay's TMNT movie overall obviously aims towards kids with its dull story and poor character development, yet at the same time wants to somehow appeal to the nostalgia of older viewers who grew up watching the cartoons...sound similar?
Yes. The TMNT reboot unsurprisingly tries to follow the exact same "movie adaptation formula" of Bay's very own Transformers franchise - Capitalize on the nostalgia factor of the older viewers, while making it look new and cool for younger audiences. And while there is mainly nothing wrong with that, the fact that Bay's TMNT ends up being such an obvious slapped together CGI-explosion-fest without any true love for the source material, only makes the cash-grabbing nature of the movie more apparent.  

"I can smell the money! I can almost reach it!

However, unsurprisingly the movie boasts a large array of attempts and ideas to update the Turtles formula for this generation. Along with their new look (which we will talk about later), many other interpretations are introduced in this TMNT reboot, which for the most part backfire immensely:

Firstly, the Asian themes or the general Ninja theme in TMNT sadly gets lost very quickly and is absolutely only apparent through the Turtles themselves.
In this reboot, the evil Ninja clan known as the "Foot Clan" is now a para-military terror-organization led by Shredder. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that this decision just screams "Michael Bay's Military Fetish" all over and sadly essentially robs this reboot the "Asian Ninja vibe" the cartoons and early 90s movies featured as a trademark.
Furthermore, origins of the Turtles and Splinter have been drastically changed. Though there's nothing wrong with changing things up and adding to the backstory of characters in a movie adaptation, the changed origins in Bay's TMNT simply happen to be completely unnecessary in the long run, adding nothing substantial or of value that couldn't also been reached otherwise.

*SPOILER ALERT* - Seeing that the Turtles (as well as Splinter) are now revealed to have been the pets of April O'Neil, who got experimented on by her scientist father, artificially enforces a bond between the Turtles and April, simply because the movie doesn't know how to else establish one through actual good character development. *SPOILER END*

The infamous Foot Clan is now a para-military terrorist organization...yeah.

And while, once again, there is absolutely nothing wrong with updating a formula, viewers (and most notably fans) will notice whether actual faith and love for the source material have been put into said updates or not. Here, the entire TMNT reboot feels like the filmmakers did not actually make the movie because they WANTED to make it, but because they COULD. This results in the movie lacking just the necessary passion, which was more present in the first 1990's TMNT movie.

Oftentimes, Bay's TMNT feels like a giant commercial for new TMNT toys and merchandise for kids. With that said, catchphrases and iconic TMNT terms frequently get built into the dialogues in the movie without any actual context whatsoever. Terms like "Heroes in a Half-Shell", "Cowabunga!" just feel out of place and shoved-in, often feeling like director Jonathan Liebesman and producer Michael Bay were simply working their way through a checklist of the most notable TMNT catchphrases and terms.
Instead of awoking nostalgia, older viewers and true fans of TMNT will most probably be left feeling treated like idiots by the movie, which constantly shoves TMNT trademarks into the viewers' face going: "Do you recognize that?! Do you recognize this! Do you remember how cool the Turtles are? Want to buy more TMNT stuff now?".

The fact that Bay's TMNT movie tries so hard to capitalize on fans' nostalgia and young kids parents' money by executing the least amount of effort to put together an at least solid action blockbuster only hurts the more seeing that even Bay's TMNT movie actually does have a couple of ideas that occasionally work well.
Most of those glances of light center around the relationship between the Turtles themselves. While the Turtles generally still have a hard time in the movie to distinguish themselves from one other on a more subtle and characteristic dimension other than the obvious "the leader, the badass, the nerd, the joker", there are scenes, in which their brotherly bond is greatly showcased like in a greatly timed comedic elevator scene that just comes out of nowhere before the final showdown and just really "gets" the TMNT spirit in this one moment (if you want to see it, you can check it out here).
Bay's TMNT reboot needed plenty more of such scenes that make the Turtles just seem more original and individual compared to other teams of generic action movie protagonists.

A tale of four turtles and a fox.

If a Michael Bay produced movie has to get one thing right, it's the action...right?
Well, as already said, with the Foot Clan being now a para-military terrorist organization, much of the beloved hand-to-hand actual Ninja fighting is lost in TMNT. While some might heavily argue that even the 90s movies didn't have actual kung fu but rather "kung fu comedy shenanigans", the 90s movies still focussed heavily on the physical man against man (turtle) combat. Bay's TMNT movie instead focusses more on...guns...and jeeps. Most action scenes in Bay's TMNT reboot are unfortunately extremely standard and mostly simply involve the Turtles slamming the gun-blazing Foot Clan soldiers against walls with ease or fighting the blade-wielding Shredder shortly.
Featuring clichee action movie traits like excessive slow-motion, action scenes in Bay's TMNT simply lack a certain amount of creativity, which only rarely is present as for example through goofy yet imaginative ideas like Splinter using his giant rat tail in combat, or the movie's dynamic snow slide action scene, which hands-down is actually the most entertaining and best part of the entire movie.

The snow slide action scene is undoubtedly the best part of the entire movie.
 
And while the decision on gun-heavy action scenes is certainly also coming from Michael Bay's trademark "Military Fetish", another factor responsible for this is the Turtles' new design.
The Turtles' new design into more muscled, bulky and "giant" behemoths is very obviously inspired by the Nickelodeon re-imagining of the Turtles. And while this new interpretation actually looks fairly appealing and does manage to succesfully distinguish the Turtles more from the early 90s versions, their oversized, big appearances also influence how the action scenes are designed. According to their massive size, it's obvious that the para-military Foot Clan needs to use guns to even stand a chance against the up to 2 meters tall Turtles, seeing that they (in one scene) are even able to throw big ship containers against their foes.
Therefore, despite their physically (and of course technically) admittedly impressive looks, Bay practically shot himself in the leg here with his typical "bigger is always better"-spirit, which ends up making the Turtles feel unfittingly invulnerable (even to bullets!!!) in pretty much every action scene.
Therefore, it's no wonder that the Shredder himself is also characteristically shrunk down to a giant armor wearing grunt with blades.

Oh and regarding the Turtles faces: Yeah, they pretty much don't resemble the traditional trademark look of the 80s/90s Turtles and look more like Shrek than anything else. Yet, it's respectable that the designers actually put effort into making each of the Turtles look unique from their rough body structure up to their faces. Still, most viewers will easily prefer the classic Turtles' faces with the snouts than Bay's CGI versions (you can check out a fan-edit here). And while some of Bay's CGI-Turtles end up looking better (Leonardo) than others (Michelangelo), they still can't compete with Jim Henson's incredible puppetry work from the original 90s TMNT movies.
The problem here is not that the effects in Bay's TMNT are entirely bad, but they just happen to lack the realistic feel of the animatronics. Especially in scenes, in which Splinter or the Turtles are standing right next to Megan Fox, they somewhat look very artifical and simply "not really there" (for reference, click here).

Oh god! Never EVER put that mask off again!

Bay directed (or in this case produced) movies have never been great showcases for actor's actual acting talents...TMNT is no exception.
While the Turtles (or the individual actors portraying them via motion-capture), as already mentioned, not always hit the right marks but ocassionally have their moments, we will distance ourselves from the mutant heroes and focus now on the live-action cast.

Bay's TMNT reboot features Megan Fox as April O' Neil the excentric female journalist, who constantly seems to ignore danger in favor of a good story. This very comicy or cartoonish sounding characteristic might sound silly for the casual viewer but happens to be a very important part of the traditional April O' Neil character. Bay's movie actually nails said characteristic pretty well. Whereas this also includes the resulting cartoony and silly style of April herself, Bay's TMNT features an April O' Neil that seems to work...right? ...Wrong.
While the writing of April's character seems just solid enough to work on paper (excluding the horrendously written dialogue), Megan Fox's acting performance in the movie is absolutely terrible. Every single line of dialogue she delivers feels like she is reading off of cue cards. It always seems like Megan Fox doesn't actually know how to pronounce certain lines in which voice, making her utter emotional lines like she just barely woke up or sometimes scream certain lines out of nowhere. All in all, Megan Fox was not only a bad casting choice for the role of April O'Neil, but she is consistently just a remarkably bad actress in this Bay movie (which in itself is saying a lot). Her presence is only the result of the producers wanting to give geeks and casual viewers some nice female eye-candy to gaze at and gush over. Nothing more, nothing less. End of story.

This is not April O'Neil. This is Megan Fox TRYING to act.

April O'Neil is accompanied by her ever so goofy sidekick Vernon, played by Will Arnett, in many scenes. He serves as additional comedic relief in the movie and has seemingly no notable other characteristics that are worth mentioning except for his crush on April. Though his goal is to additionally deliver gags, conversations between him and April are rarely anything truely funny or interesting and simply time killers until the Turtles show up again.

Looking at the bad guys, we first got William Fichtner playing Eric Sacks, head of a global chemical organization with a shallow past (oh boy, i bet you never guess what his secret is). Fichtner has a remarkably cheesy performance in TMNT mostly thanks to the already incredibly comicy script. His deceiving antagonistic character however is just as stereotypical as it gets. From his motivations to his incredibly silly plan, his character could've easily been included in a Joel Schumacher Batman flick.
And to be clear here, NO! He is NOT the Shredder.

The Shredder himself, who has been marketed as the prime bad guy of the movie, has been utterly minimized to a shadow of his former self.
Although his introduction scene in the movie as a Samurai, whose face is kept in shadows, works surprisingly well with the actor Tohoru Masamune's threatiningly grim voice, it doesn't take long till the Shredder puts on his oversized huge "Bay-ish" robo-armor. From this point on, the Shredder's entire menacing introduction goes to waste in favor of re-introducing him as a mindless and stupid grunt in a metal armor. Not only aren't we ever going to see Shredder's actual face anymore as soon as he puts on his CGI-armor, but we also never see any remarkable personality anymore.
Bay's TMNT shamelessly diminishes the iconic main antagonist of the Turtles to a laughable throwaway blade-wielding bad guy/henchman who is just instantly forgotten as soon as he enters the screen with his big unimaginative robotic design.
A bigger focus on the Shredder as the prime villain instead of William Fichtner's character would've eventually helped, as well as staying more true to the actual Shredder character of the original TMNT comics.

Robotic oversized CGI-Shredder?!? Nooo! Too Bay to handle!!

In the end, Michael Bay's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot is as generic as run-of-the-mill CGI-Hollywood-blockbusters get these days.
With the obvious intention of appealing to kids as well as to shamelessly capitalize on older viewers' nostalgia, Bay's TMNT reboot features almost zero true passion to the iconic source material and rather aims to throw pop-cultural references and TMNT terms at you to act as if they would care about the movie itself.
Though the movie is actually directed by Jonathan Liebesman and only produced by Michael Bay, Bay's fingerprints are all over this flick. From new updates to the formula like the oversized Turtle designs, the para-military Foot Clan and the robotic Shredder, up to Bay's trademarks like the heavy use of CGI, slow-motion, redundant dialogue, stereotypical personalities and casting of "bad acting hot babes" like Megan Fox, this TMNT reboot might just as well be directed by Bay himself.
Furthermore featuring a throwaway, 100% predictable storyline, terrible acting by Megan Fox and mostly boring action scenes, TMNT is an extremely dull and formulaic affair that will likely only be able to fulfill the youngest of viewers.

Michael Bay's TMNT is the prime example of movie studios trying to grab any license of nostalgic comics and cartoon shows nowadays only to simply usher in a new CGI-overstuffed franchise to capitalize on. In that regard, we certainly don't have to wait long till a "Michael Bay's Thundercats" will be announced.
Once again, the updated lore of the Turtles isn't even the problem here, but the simple fact that this is a prime example of lazy Hollywood filmmaking almost all across the board. TMNT is not a technically badly executed movie, but simply one of the most uninspired and dullest movies of the year.
Looking back at how angry fans were about the Turtles' new designs, the final TMNT movie shows that the new look of the Turtles is the least of this movie's problems.
For anybody who seriously wants to get into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, this forgettable, cash-grabbing, generic blockbuster movie is definitely NOT the place to start.



Final Verdict: 2 out of 10

 

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