On the Silver Screen – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
It’s time for another Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot so we get to see our 4 renaissance painter named, pop culture spewing, ninja trained reptiles emerge from the sewers to take on The Foot Clan and The Shredder once again.
For those of you not familiar with the story, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is about 4 ordinary turtles and a rat -sometimes a human who becomes a rat- who are exposed to a scientifically created substance that causes them to become anthropomorphic, train as ninjas and fight crime under cover of darkness.
As franchises go this gets regularly rebooted so another reboot isn’t really something to be concerned about, in fact it’s something that this franchise is actually really good at. Every generation of kids has a version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that they can grow up with and eventually it is rebooted into something that the following generation can relate to. It’s been working for years so a cinematic reboot isn’t something to be annoyed at given that it’s actually part of this franchise’s charm.
What isn’t acceptable is when that reboot is a lazy, poorly written atrocity that actively insults the intended audience by taking down to them at every conceivable turn. The story here is so absurdly plotted, nonsensical and stupid that it defies summary but here goes anyway. In the same way that the Transformers movies follow human characters who are backed up by their transforming robot friends this film follows April O’Neil (Megan Fox), a journalist who is relegated to sexy eye candy for degrading fluff pieces on the news and wants to find the story that will raise her to being a serious journalist who is well respected. Her investigation of the mysterious Foot Clan -a paramilitary group committing various crimes in New York City that we are told about but don’t really see- leads her to discover that there are 4 anthropomorphic turtles battling this Foot Clan and protecting people.
Through further investigation she learns that these turtles are the same 4 turtles that her dead father was experimenting on in his lab before it burned down. Naturally they survive because April saved them and their Sensei Splinter (Danny Woodburn). Meanwhile billionaire Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) is conspiring with Foot Clan boss The Shredder (Tohoro Masamune) to commit an act of bio-terrorism that Sacks can later take credit for curing.
Sound ridiculous? That’s because it is. This story has all the hallmarks of bad modern storytelling one after the other. We have the deeper destiny nonsense that has to be shoehorned into many origin stories -for example The Amazing Spider-Man-, a deep and long forgotten connection between the protagonist and the wider story, a villain with a plan that doesn’t really benefit anyone and shadowy figures actually pulling the strings. I found myself rolling my eyes when April discovered that the vigilante turtles are the same turtles she remembers her dad having as a little girl. The plot is full of so many of these contrived coincidences that it feels like the writers weren’t even trying, I feel like they assumed they were making the film for stupid kids and therefore didn’t have to try which is something I find to be a little insulting for everyone. When I was growing up there were a lot of cartoons I watched that respected an assumed intelligence of the viewer and therefore still hold up today. Some examples of these were Teenage Mutant Ninja -or Hero in the UK- Turtles, Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Spider-Man, X-Men, Gargoyles. There are many modern examples like Spectacular Spider-Man, Avengers, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, Young Justice. Admittedly these were all superhero cartoons but the point is they were smart enough that they could be enjoyed on different levels which contrasts with this film that can’t be enjoyed on any level.
The turtles themselves are obnoxious stereotypes with no personality beyond that one trait they exhibit. Leonardo (Pete Ploszek) is the stoic leader, Donatello (Jeremy Howard) is the nerd, Raphael (Alan Ritchson) is the badass rebel and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) is the goofy one. It gets to a point where they are almost impossible to tell apart because they are so bland and as a result completely unlikeable. There’s an awkward subplot involving Michelangelo being constantly horny and having the hots for April which makes any scene where she interacts with the turtles obscenely awkward to watch. In terms of design they are these hulking monstrosities that are deeply unpleasant to look at, so much so that I wonder if any thought went into what kids might think of this.
Another subplot seems to exist telegraphed by the moment where Raphael finally recognises Leonardo’s authority, except there wasn’t anything in the film previously establishing that he didn’t recognise said authority. It’s almost as if this was rushed together the night before release and not checked. It’s just another example of lazy plotting and insulting stupidity. I would give the film some credit for remembering that the turtles often reference pop culture because they spend their days watching TV and eating pizza but they couldn’t even get that right. The references used are horribly dated like the ending of Lost or youtube videos of cats playing the piano. Give it a couple of years and there’ll be no cultural referencing point whatsoever.
The acting -such as it is- is atrocious. Megan Fox turns in her worst performance to date and manages to make nothing she does believable. Her constant pleas to be taken seriously as a journalist are delivered so unconvincingly that it’s easy to see why nobody takes her seriously. Her partner Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) is similarly terrible which surprised me as Will Arnett is generally fairly capable when it comes to comedy but nothing he does or says works here. Given the script’s attempted comedy I’m not surprised that nobody was able to pull it off as not a single joke works here.
Fichtner’s Eric Sacks is also awful. His motivations are so thin they’re practically non existent and his partnership with The Shredder is so thinly written that I’m positive that Sacks started out being The Shredder before fans complained and it was changed. There’s no reason for them to be two different people from a story perspective so I can only assume this must be what happened.
It can’t all be bad though, can it? Well no there are one or two good points. The Action scenes have a complete absence of shaky cam rapid cutting and actually look pretty cool when they happen. There’s some impressive displays of teamwork from the 4 turtles and the fight choreography isn’t the worst I’ve ever seen.
An insulting poor effort to reboot a beloved franchise. Terrible storytelling, stiff and unconvincing acting and terrible character designs among other things add up to a painfully unpleasant viewing experiences. Some of the action scenes are fairly impressive and have cool teamwork based fight choreography but nothing can save this complete mess of a film.