The original Eastman/Laird comics featuring the teenage ninjas that also happen to be turtles were parodies of comics at the time. The movies/cartoons/video games that followed were variations on those much darker original themes. The 1990 movie, held in high regard due to the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia, was just an okay flick. Good execution on the look of the quartet but, kids being kids, they grew up and expected something great from a franchise that is kinda dumb anyway. Oh, and by the way, that original cartoon is friggin' awful. The current version on Nickelodeon is perhaps the best thing we've gotten out of the now 30+ year franchise.
So, of course, there was a great wailing and gnashing of teeth over the inevitable reboot. "They have nostrils! Look how big they are!" those in the fandom cried. The aesthetic choices aside the bigger worry was the involvement of one of Hollywood's most notorious directors, Michael Bay. The "Bayhem", as its come to be known, has already "tainted" another beloved franchise (Transformers), so why mess with the heroes in a half-shell!
Nothing is sacred especially a series about turtles who are also teenagers who live in the sewers and practice ninjutsu. There are, however, beats that all Turtles products have to hit. This latest film manages to hit the important notes, for the most part, but suffers from just being plain dumb. Yeah. It's kind of a dumb franchise to begin with but just because you're making a movie aimed at kids doesn't mean it has to be this awful. Pixar and other studios have proven that kids can be entertained without being treated as though they're drooling idiots.
You can hit the requisite beats of a Turtles story without having such a paper-thin protagonist/antagonist story. Maybe expecting more is silly of me but even in popcorn entertainment you can still get some hints at greater depth and resonance. Turtles ends up being a film so hollow that by the time its over every bit of it has already drifted off into the ether.
April O'Neil plays a greater role and, sadly, that means we get a lot of Megan Fox. The first ten to fifteen minutes are, well, kind of excruciating to get through as it's pretty much Megan Fox carrying the entire thing. Once the burden is passed off to her CGI co-stars things get better but not by much. The rest of the human members of the cast don't have much to do other than spout some awful dialogue and, well, be there?
The turtles themselves are much larger than prior but have a greater diversity in their look to further define them. Their personalities are very one-note but, then again, the original incarnations aren't much more than caricatures either. The aesthetic changes didn't bother me all that much really and, frankly, the CGI was so well done that I had nary a moment where I felt as though these were fake turtles composited in. The personalities, as frail as they were, felt about right and the brotherly squabbling between the teenage turtles had a decent feel to them. We get the usual Raphael v. Leonardo tension though nothing is done with it. Donatello and Michelangelo are just along for the ride pretty much.
The biggest flops have to be Shredder and Splinter. The non knife-suit version of Shredder is fine and, honestly, rather grim (much more in line with the comics version of the villain). Splinter, well, is terrifying to look at. The more realistic approach completely falls on its face for Master Splinter as a humanoid rat that size is not a pretty sight. He does kick a fair amount of ass though.. I guess. The Giga-Shredder suit is nuts but not in a good way. It's mostly just really dumb and, much like everything else in the movie, is just way too overblown to actually work.
It is strange that despite all of that the director Jonathan Liebesman and his numerous writers are somewhat reverential to the material. There are nods to all the various forms the turtles have had over the years be they on the page or on-screen. The voice work is a bit uneven throughout but its the "big names" that really falter. Johnny Knoxville as Leonardo is just flat and Tony Shalhoub for Splinter just doesn't fit.
The movie isn't as big a disaster as one would expect. Liebeseman (Battle Los Angeles, Wrath of the Titans) has a frenetic style to his action that works quite well for some sequences. The influence of Bay and the super-hero genre start to shoe-horn in on the action as well. We move from Bourne-esque quick cuts to jumpy shaky cam to free-floating CGI nonsense that got hard to follow at times. There is a pretty ridiculous long rumbling scene down the side of a mountain that is nice to look at. Heck it even has some tension built-in to it but the exhilaration is fleeting.
There is one scene that absolutely NAILS it. The brothers are sitting in an elevator on their way up to the big final showdown with Shredder. Michelangelo begins to tap his nunchucks together to make a beat and eventually the rest all join in. It reminded me of how TASM 2's quintessential Spider-Man moment. A scene in which everything comes together and just works brilliantly. That leads into a really, well, not great fight sequence and then the movie is over ten minutes later. Thank God.
The Orci-zation of Hollywood continues on with yet another film featuring magic blood. One of the central reasons for all the hijinks Shredder and the Foot Clan are pulling in NYC? There's a mutagen that lead to the rise of these super-powered turtles and they want to use it to .. you know what? Doesn't matter. It's really stupid. It felt like Roberto Orci (my achenemy) made a pass at the script. Magic blood is the new rage in big budget scripts and I can't stand it. I really can't. CUT IT OUT ALREADY.
I don't see even the hardcore Turtles fan finding much of merit here. A movie about teenage mutant ninja turtles needs to feature less of April O'Neil. It's "interesting" to have her work heavily into the backstory, I suppose, but mostly you had the film hinging on Megan Fox. That is NEVER a good call. EVER. Toe-Thumbs isn't known for anything other than looking good, I guess. It isn't her acting ability. The Turtle Van shows up for all of 45 seconds and honestly that and the moment mentioned earlier in the elevator are the few times where this movie becomes likable. It, much like the other myriad Platninum Dunes remakes, looks nice but that's about it.
FINAL WORD: The Turtles have come back to the big screen with some very mixed results. The sibling relationships of the four ninjas is handled well but not much else is. Far too much April O'Neil, wasted William Fichtner and everyone else non-CGI being terrible means you've got a popcorn flick that has zero substance. A kids movie doesn't have to be this stupid. Seriously. Even for a Turtles movie this was REALLY dumb. Another Platinum Dunes re-hash that delivers little more than nice visuals.
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