Monday, August 11, 2014

Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

by Patrick Bromley
Summer is almost over, right?

Many of us can agree that it's been a good summer at the movies. Yes, thing got off to a rough start with Amazing Spider-Man 2 and Transformers: Age of Extinction is still the highest-grossing movie of the season, but let's not judge Summer 2014 by its worst examples. We've had a number of smaller independent movies that worked (Chef, Life Itself, They Came Together) and a couple of great films (Snowpiercer, Boyhood) we'll be talking about for years to come. The majority of the blockbusters we've gotten this year have ranged from good (X-Men: Days of Future Past, 22 Jump Street, Hercules) to really good (Edge of Tomorrow, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy). Even Gareth Edwards' Godzilla, a movie I didn't love, took some chances and tried to be something different than what we've come to expect from summer entertainment. We've been spoiled by good movies these last few months.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a splash of cold water on our collective good movie buzz -- a reminder of the soulless, shitty product we're used to getting in the summer and exactly the kind of bad movie that's...well, I won't say "ruining" Hollywood (because I just spent a whole paragraph pointing out a bunch of good movies Hollywood has put out lately) but certainly rotting it away at its core. It's a remake/reimagining/reboot that's based on an existing property, greenlit because a studio owns an IP and because superhero movies are popular and because the target demographic is nostalgic for something and because now it can be "edgy" and PG-13 and because almost every single person involved with it is an asshole. Ok, not really. It just feels that way when you're watching it. Maybe they all wanted to make a good movie. It doesn't feel that way when you're watching it.

This new Turtles comes to us from the bastion of artistic integrity that is Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes, the studio that never met a property it didn't want to remake into something much, much worse. It stars Megan Fox as April O'Neil, a reporter covering the jumping-on-trampolines beat who is frustrated by the fact that her face is frozen in a single expression. She desperately wants a big break and finds it when she is witness to a group of vigilantes fighting back against the shadowy Foot clan that is plaguing New York. Unfortunately, no one believes her. I think this upsets her. Or makes her happy? I couldn't tell. Her face won't move.

Eventually, April discovers that the vigilantes are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, presented here as 6-foot tall dickheads (their faces look like penises) who were created in a laboratory by April's dad and his partner, millionaire Eric Sacks (William Fichtner). In fact, they were April's pets! And she rescued them from a lab fire and put them into the sewers! Because it's better when everything is tied together and blow your fucking head off this movie.
So blah blah blah turtles pizza Foot clan Shredder rat named Splinter and Sacks wants the Turtles' magic blood to create a race of superhumans and rule the world so he's going to release a gas in New York City and blah blah save the day. It's the same shitty plot we've had for the last few summers, much of it courtesy of Kurtzman and Orci (who, as far as I know, had nothing to do with this script). No amount of plot synopsis is going to make you decide whether or not you want to see a new Ninja Turtles movie, now in its third cinematic incarnation following three live-action films in the early '90s and once CGI animated adaptation, called simply TMNT, in 2007. But this isn't a movie that's interested in telling you a story, nor introducing you to characters worth knowing. This is a movie interested in selling you a brand.

Exactly what brand Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is trying to sell, I'm not totally sure. Obviously, it's selling Ninja Turtles -- toys, merchandising, Pizza Hut tie-ins, all the stuff you expect goes along with a property like this. But what this new "brand" means makes no sense. It appears to be a movie for kids, because it's based on a franchise that's best known for being a cartoon and line of toys. The humor is juvenile and pitched at 8-year olds. The movie is PG-13, however, making it a movie for no one. The turtles are bulked up and everything is made to feel grittier and edgier than past Turtles incarnations, because that's how we treat reboots these days -- what Mark Ahn calls "creeping Nolanism."

Director Jonathan Liebesman, who has yet to make a movie I like, directs Ninja Turtles like he's making a "greatest hits" of blockbuster tropes that movie geeks complain about. Hate Kurtzman/Orci's magic blood? It's here. Hate J.J. Abrams' lens flares? This movie is full of them. Hate Zack Snyder's speed ramping? It's all over this thing. If I didn't know better, I would suggest that this new Ninja Turtles is some sort of secret meta commentary on the state of popular cinema right now, and that Liebesman has created a movie that's slick and generic and shitty on purpose to prove a greater point.
But that's not the case. This movie isn't damning shitty Hollywood product. This movie is shitty Hollywood product. If it were just generic, that would be one thing; generic movies are, at best, harmless. But Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is aggressively bad on a fundamental level. Like Bay's own Transformers movies, it seems much more interested in the human characters than in the Turtles. None of them are defined as characters; Michaelangelo comes closest in that he's the "funny" one and the one that sexually harasses April the most. The rest can't even live up to the broad sketches created way back in the animated series. The story holds up to no scrutiny -- the villain's plan makes no sense and the presence of a heavily-armored Shredder ("This ain't your parents' Shredder!" - An asshole responsible for this movie) feels like an afterthought, as though the whole film wrapped and someone realized they forgot to add the Turtles' most iconic villain. His scenes are completely disconnected from everything else in the movie.

Both the updated look of the Turtles and the movie's action scenes are overly designed and too busy by half. Because everything has been created in a computer (as opposed to the practical suits worn by actors in the first series, all designed by the Jim Henson shop), Liebesman uses his license to pack too much into the frame just because he can. The camera is never tethered to anything, giving the action no sense of weight. The movie's main set piece -- a long chase down a snow-covered mountain -- is rendered incomprehensible by too much CGI business. Even the action in this movie sucks.

What's left to recommend? Nothing. I'm not ready to call Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles one of the worst movies of the year, but it is one of the best/worst examples this summer of a bigger problem in big-budget studio movies these days. The movie is soulless and cynical enough that it burned me out on summer movies in the span of less than two hours -- watching this movie made me feel like I was watching every shitty movie of the last few years all at once. The bad news is that it sucks. The worse news is that the movie was a huge hit and that a sequel has already been greenlit. There's yet another way this thing perfectly fits the bill of franchise filmmaking. Who knows? Maybe they'll get it right next time. I won't be around to find out.


  1. Why doesnt this review make me not want to see it?
    It sort of does really. sort of, but ill probably still see it.
    I am the asshole of the world.

  2. I will give this one a miss. The review is much better than the film im guessing.

    Though I must say creeping nolanism made me feel Scared, Sad, Happy, Worried, Angry, Annoyed, Nostalgic, who can tell? If my face is stuck in the one single eye brows raised startled look. Brilliant. Made me laugh

  3. My anger and sadness with these movies is being replaced by the feeling that people are getting what they want (deserve?). Not only are box office numbers huge, but average viewer ratings aren't that bad, either: 3.5/5.0 on Rotten Tomatoes for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) and Planes: Fire and Rescue, and 3.3/5.0 for the Transformers: Age of Extinction.

  4. Great review - having proudly avoided Transformers 4: Age of ExSTINKtion (boo-yah!) I'm going to beat off my inner 9 year old (not like THAT) and not see Teenage Mutant NinjUH,THISMOVIECANSUCKABAGOFDICKS Turtles (I'll work on that one).

    Don't do it Brad!

    Also, there is something seriously wrong with out society and/or celebrity culture when it has a GORGEOUS girl like Megan Fox feeling like she needs to fuck with her face to make it look better (oh, and um, Megan, it doesn't) - I really hate that.

    1. My inner 9-year-old REALLY wants to see this movie. I keep telling him "prepare for disappointment, kid" and he tends to shut up. Man I wish this were better. Man I hope the sequel is better.

  5. Agree. This blog could easily go down the route of what has she done and why? I used to like Megan too. Very pretty apart from the stalking too close pornographic camera shots used in transformers. There is no need. Her people should be advising her better

    Sorry. Previous deleted due to too many typos using little phone and fat fingers

  6. I love going to the movies. I have a longstanding, unabashed love of the Ninja Turtles (and think the new cartoon series is pretty great; why couldn’t we have gotten a big screen adaptation of that?).

    Yesterday, when my wife asked if I wanted to go to the movies and suggested we see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, my immediate and natural response was a kind of wordless scrunching of my face. There’s something horribly wrong with that.

    I really, really hate the aesthetic of this movie. People say all the time that the one thing Michael Bay (and I know he didn’t direct this, but it has his fingerprints all over it) has going for him is his visual flair. I disagree. Bay makes ugly, obnoxious-looking movies. The color tint is always either a coffee-stained yellow or toilet bowl-blue, and for some reason all the characters are either constantly sweating or just finished up a refreshing swim in a grease pond.

    I’m not going to say that the original TMNT movies are great or anything (and on a scale of not-greatness, III ranks pretty dang low), but I think they had a certain charm to them. And the original movie took a stab at some nice character scenes — I’m thinking about the conversation between Raph and Splinter early in the movie, or the one between Mikey and Donatello about what it will be like without Splinter around. It tackled its ridiculous premise with sincerity, something this new iteration seems wholly disinterested in doing. Instead, the makers decided the best approach is to wink at the audience the entire time. I hate that shit.

    Also, is it true the turtles don’t show up for the first half hour? What the hell? You know what’s great about the original: Five minutes in, turtles are on screen. I’m reminded of Spielberg’s comments about Gremlins.

    1. Spoilers for this week's podcast: Adam Riske and I recorded a show on the 1990 movie and we called out those two exact scenes as being nice character beats. Maybe we're all on to something.

      It takes a long time for the Turtles to show up. It's treated like a reveal. They are supporting characters; the movie is mostly about April (until she hides and lets the boys protect her during the climax).

    2. Heheh - reminds me of when you used to play coy with the subject of the podcast. I used to be like, "Oh boy, I wonder what they're going to talk about on the "F This Movie: Inception" episode!" :P

  7. I have heard the term “dealbreaker movie” used several times recently. Many years ago I watched Bride Wars on a plane (out of desperation, okay?) and, when telling a friend what a terrible movie it was, discovered that friend loved it. The term “cute little chick flick” was used (this is why we can’t have nice things, grrr). I’m not saying that our friendship ended on that day, but I did start seriously questioning what else we didn’t have in common and now we don’t talk any more. A different friend took her young children to see the new Ninja Turtle movie and posted on Facebook that she loved it, the kids loved it, and the only thing slightly inappropriate was when Michelangelo jokingly said April O’Neil was making his shell get tight, ug. I feel like I can’t see this movie because if I hate the actual film as much as I hated the trailer, I think it could be the start of Bride Wars 2.0. Soooo, thanks for your review – it might have saved my friendship.

  8. I don't mind ugly, penis-y looking turtles. They are mutants so I don't mind if they're not cute. It took me a little while to get used to the Nickelodeon cartoon where the turtles shells are all dented and chipped. But what I can't stand is the "hiding" the monster thing. Especially when I've seen a billion commercials and ads and toy cups with the ugly penis-y turtle faces on them.

    I recently read H.G. Wells' "The Invisible Man" and it starts with this mystery of, "Who is this mysterious stranger with bandages all over his face?" Hey, H.G., it's right there in your own title. It's not surprising when the dude turns out to be... (Spoiler) Invisible.

    So film-makers, you can play hide and seek for an hour with the Turtles, but I already know what they look like. I didn't have to look very hard, either.

    1. That's what I don't understand: Why all the buildup? We know what the turtles look like. They're in all the commercials and plastered on the posters and lining the shelves of toy stores. No need for the mystery.

  9. dude gets accepted into the Chicago film critics association and he's all like, "I don't like Michael Bay" c'mon brah!

  10. I should have listened to Patrick, Adam and myself - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is not worth seeing on ANY level. After my trip down memory lane with the first two original movies I figured, hell, at the very least it'll be cool to see the turtles jumping around unrestrained by the limitations of rubber suits. NOPE! They look fucking disgusting, as does Splinter and Megan Fox (why, Megan, WHY?) and Will Arnett...Shredder has been turned into a Transformer for some reason and like Patrick said, couldn't be more useless when it comes to character and/or story. Not that anything does. SPOILER ALERT: There's nothing to fucking spoil! There's not one goddamn thing I could tell you that would ruin any part of the (non-existent) story unless you actually have some doubt as to whether or not they'll live to hold the entire concept of the "Summer Blockbuster" down and fuck it in the ass. THEY WILL. There were a few little kids in the theatre that wouldn't shut up. I WAS GLAD. Everything they said was smarter than what was going on in the movie.

    Rarely does a movie actually make me mad - I like to look for even little redeeming qualities - this movie has none. NONE. DAMMMMMMMMN!