Saturday, August 16, 2014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

** out of ****

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was a franchise that was stupid when I was a kid and now that I’ve seen the new movie reboot, I can assure you that it’s still stupid now. With that being said, I must exclaim that its makers still screwed it up!

Remakes and reboots are warranted when something - flawed or dated - is loved by an artist capable of expressing - to a new audience - what it was they saw in it. Batman is still with us today because of this. I don’t know any fan of that series who prefers its 1939 incarnation.  

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was awesome to me when I was a kid! As a cartoon, comic books, toys and a first-movie; I associated with it, Run-DMC-era rap music, grungy NYC and the sustenance of greasy pizza. A few of those things were remembered in the new movie but I didn’t get much evidence that there was any REAL passion behind the project. Like the animated movie a few years back, there’s no honorable attempt to make any remarkable improvements.

The only thing this movie does, is give the Turtles the expensive production standards of a Spider-Man movie. Their new CGI designs are decent, and probably got more love and attention by those who rendered them, than the lazy screenwriters who provided the characters with lame things to say and do. The voice-overs feel about as impersonal as the Turtles have ever come across but they are still the only likeable aspect of the movie. Shredder, however, is an unwelcome Transformer, with the design of someone who flunked fifth-grade art.

Its origin-story plot, like The Amazing Spider-Man, tells a story we already know in a different way. It reserves the appearance of the title characters for a good chunk of the beginning, focusing on April O’Neil as she investigates robberies by The Foot, which is a well-known terrorist group with high-tech weapons in this film and not mysterious ninjas alluding the eye of the police from previous versions. She’s finding evidence of these robberies being thwarted by unknown vigilantes, but needs the proof. That’s how she comes across the heroes.

I will admit that a bit of Turtles purism boiled up in me when certain plot elements were altered for this film. They aren’t as ludicrous as some early rumors suggested, but linking April O’Neil’s childhood to the Turtles’ origin story is as meaningless as Peter Parker’s parents being connected with Oscorp. De-linking Master Splinter from a proud martial arts legacy and having him learn how to be a ninja by reading a discarded book in the sewer is a change, which makes an already-silly story, sillier.

In A.A. Dowd's AV Club review, he points out that the "post-Guiliani era" New York is too cleaned up for the Turtles to be in the proper "grimy" Manhattan they protected in the original. What's disturbing about a lot of New York-set movies lately, is how they require terroristic or professional criminal activity to be the only imaginable threat to the Big Apple. Why not have the Turtles protect people from all the mean profiling cops paid to keep those streets so clean? Harvey Keitel could make a good villain. 

Megan Fox is simultaneously, the hottest and least credible April O'Neil so far. William Fichtner delivers his dependable sociopathic coldness as a villain in cahoots with The Foot and Will Arnett phones in a typical delusional single guy performance for more lame comic relief. Whoopi Goldberg... never mind.

The tone brought to the film by director Jonathan Liebesman is a little scattered. Michael Bay’s (one of the movie’s producers) influence is there but not to the same obnoxious level one should expect from a film he's directed. The action borders on fun but has the level of CGI excess, which gives most of its sequences the look of a cool videogame level that you don’t have the privilege of playing. I’ve had this problem with a lot of effects-driven action films, especially when the rest of the movie is aiming for a certain level of realism –like this one. Yanking me out of a movie’s believable atmosphere with an entire sequence that looks and feels animated creates a jarring experience.

Finally, the biggest failure of this movie is in its score by Brian Tyler, which is not bad sounding music, but it’s WRONG for a Ninja Turtles movie. John Du Prez’s score for the 1990 movie had a much better thing going. I don’t want standard orchestral movie music with an overused choir to emphasize epic drama. I want a score with traces of hip-hop, rock-and-roll or electronic. A few years back, Daft Punk did an unforgettable score for Tron: Legacy, which should have been an inspiration for film composers to stop being so damned ordinary!

I don’t recommend this movie but I can’t claim to have hated it either. It did little for me. That sigh of boredom that comes out of me during a movie’s final act is becoming all-too familiar.

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