G-S-T Review…Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

TMNT 2014 stillHard to believe that a ludicrous sounding concept like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would have worked as a comic, ever. Yet, after a quarter of a century (wrap your head around that all you children of the ’80s), the green machine is still kicking. In that time we’ve seen multiple cartoon series, four feature films, an incomprehensible amount of merchandise and now, after nearly 30 years, a reboot. Well, you know what they say about the life expectancy of a turtle right?

The release of the updated TMNT film comes nearly in tandem with another highly unlikely concept turned feature film as Guardians of the Galaxy (our review) has madeTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles_Theatrical Raph an incredible first impression at the box office. Yet the fearsome foursome have been done a great disservice and it’s not the source material that has let them down, it is the production team. Ever since news surfaced that Michael Bay (though his Platinum Dunes production label) would have even the slightest influence on this picture, things seemed smellier than the Big Apple’s sewer system – be glad they at least dropped the alien origin story.

Jonathan Liebesman, of nothing that film fans seem to appreciate (well, The Killing Room was awesome!), takes a mighty swing at entertaining us but this picture strikes out completely. This, in many ways, is as bad as X-Men: Origins Wolverine only with four beloved weaponized heroes facing an equally generic threat. That, in a nutshell, is the worst offense. Not character, not effects, not an impossibly metal laden antagonist (though it is laughably impossible), this reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is so generic that it’s an insult to fans. 30 years of canon, or spin-offs, and there couldn’t have been a better, or more fulfilling way to reintroduce these already iconic characters? Someone, or a bunch of people, really dropped the ball.

From the first frame, the casting of Will Arnett and Megan Fox just sets things off on a bad foot. Sure, these days, there are plenty of highly attractive reporters so buying her as Channel 6’s ace reporter is not a stretch but it’s the dialog that derails the train time and time again. Their conversations go nowhere and the chemistry, even though that’s the point (he likes her, she doesn’t, etc.), is non-existent. Even the great William Fichtner, who happily chews the scenery (or collects his paycheck), looks like he’s thinking about better places to be.

The whole story, from the writing, to the characters and action appears to be built on the Transformers frame – crazy action and not a moment to be able to assess any situation. Hard to develop anything at 120 MPH right? Moreover, this feels like a Michel Bay movie (not an insult as we at GST are Bay fans) but worse, just an imitation that falls short of the those, more or less, goods. If there’s one surprising turn in the story it’s that the “origin” of the turtles finds the relationship to April much closer than the result of a common mugging/rescue. It’s a nice touch (though it could have been handled and expanded much, much better than it was), but still is outweighed by the thin plot, and the poorly handled Shredder and his villainous but one-dimensional motivations.

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What makes up for this, beyond Michelangelo who steals the whole movie, is composer Brian Tyler. A Liebsman regular, Tyler is the only one really pulling his weight. With a bombastic trio of horns, drums and choir he adds a rousing theme (and pulse really) to our heroes in a half shell. It helps drive the action, which no surprise is Tyler’s strong suit, but he also adds so much emotion and heart to the score between the drum beats.

Now this review may seem biased (like the scorned rambling of a life-long Turtles fan), but here’s the catch. So many films out there fail because they aren’t what fans want. Granted Liebesman’s film has humor, is a tad endearing with seemingly the best of intentions, but certain times a film isn’t for existing fans, it’s for new ones. The climax may be the umpteenth rooftop battle movie goers have seen in their lives but younger viewers, with no basis for comparison, might find it thrilling and we might even take a cue from them. Let comparisons go and enjoy the film in the moment. That said, like the film’s intentions, sometimes that’s not possible.

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TMNT, by the very nature of the characters being, well, six foot tall mutant ninjas, is supposed to be fun. Yet this just never gets to that point. To be fair, this is, at times, hilarious and the jokes do work. It’s just that the dialog, story and characters never rise above the bland plot. The CG and most of the action is spectacular (though the 3D kind of kills nearly every dark or nighttime sequence) but there might have been a little less time devoted to detailing the Turtles and their defining adornments and more time developing their actual characters. Also, as far as visuals, it would have been a better idea to make Splinter, the stern but compassionate sensei, look less horrific. It’s a kids movie – you don’t want them horrified by something they’re supposed to gravitate towards.

G-S-T RULING:

It’s getting so hard stomach one poorly made film after another and have people justify it by claiming it to be acceptable because “it advertises toys“. But this is unacceptable. Again it could, rather it should, have been a blast (it’s what fans and those new to these characters deserve) but it just isn’t. So after all the hype, and promising trailers, this is just a boring story further bogged down with CG that is not only clunky but keeps you from building a tangible connection because what’s on screen is obviously fake. Further, even though the laughs are well placed (the elevator scene just kills!), genuine and surprisingly effective, the whole uninspired affair will leave you feeling like you just found penicillin on your pizza.

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