One Word 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' Review: Cowabungled
Michael Bay Ruins More Childhood Memories
Many who grew up with the "Transformers" or "TMNT" cartoons have great affection for the characters and the toys. But those blissful childhood memories come under attack once again as Michael Bay reboots the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise .
Despite the main characters being named after famous renaissance artists -- Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, and Donatello – no one would argue that the original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” TV show and then movies were great works of art. But they were fun, and enough fun to please both young audiences and even some adults. It was based on a much darker comic book by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird but was turned into more family friendly fare when they decided to tie it in with a toy line.
The animated TV series began in 1987 with the live action movie coming in 1990. The live action movie had men in suits and puppetry rigs for the characters, and that gave it much of its charm. It didn’t hurt that Corey Feldman voiced Donatello, Sam Rockwell was a thug, and Jim Henson’s Creature Shop created the turtles’ costumes. The turtles had cornball signature lines and a ridiculous craving for pizza but they were entertaining.
Then along comes Michael Bay with his let’s make everything bigger, and louder, and then just blow sh-t up mentality. He gets the rights to the franchise, and hands the directing reins over to Jonathan Liebesman whose lousy track record includes "Battle Los Angeles" and "Wrath of the Titans." Then together they proceed to suck all the life and fun out of the franchise. Ugh!
First mistake the creative (I use the term loosely) team behind this 2014 reboot makes is to cast Megan Fox as intrepid wannabe reporter April O’Neil and make her and not the Turtles the center of the story. Is this Michael Bay’s way of punishing audiences, by subjecting them to dangerous levels of Fox overexposure? She tries very hard to act, almost as hard as April tries to be a reporter, but she’s vapid. All she’s got is her Barbie doll looks and that's not enough to carry a film. But she's a fierce defender of her film and already told detractors that “they can fk off and that’s the end of that.”
Second mistake: the Turtles' character design. I do have an affection for practical effects, and characters created through costuming/makeup, suit acting, and puppetry. But as “Guardians of the Galaxy” proves with Rocket Raccoon, CGI can work in creating vivid and engaging characters. But these new Turtles -- all CGI and motion capture– just look awful. Their faces are creepily human and their shells look like Velcro-ed adds-ons rather than something they live inside. And they don’t even get to display much in the way of ninja skills. The big centerpiece action sequence that assaults the audience involves a big truck and sliding down a mountain. Boring! Also odd is that only one of the Turtles, Leonardo, gets voiced by a well known actor, Johnny Knoxville, yet his particular skill set is not put to any use.
Third mistake: Lack of humor. Okay, I will admit that I laughed at about four Turtle lines in the film but those were the only fleeting moments when the film captured the spirit of the Turtles as I remembered them. That left about 100 minutes of monotony. Sure the old scripts were corny but the Turtles went at those lines with gusto and made it enjoyable. This 2014 reboot loses the Turtles in its big budget effects and Megan Fox story. And what a waste. In addition to Knoxville, who can be damn funny, you have the very talented Will Arnett (as intrepid cameraman) and William Fichtner (as stock villain) on hand. Unlike Fox, this trio of actors is fully capable of kicking it up a notch but they’re not given anything to work with.
Fourth mistake: 3D shakycam. The current infatuation with shakycam to supposedly make the audience feel the “immediacy” of the action is bad enough on its own but throw in 3D and it’s downright aggravating. The film opens with a horrendously shaky handheld shot of Megan Fox that just put me in a bad mood from the first frame. Technically, it looks horrible in 3D and dramatically it’s unmotivated. Plus, the film is just an overall mindless assault on the senses.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence) will likely rope in Michael Bay fans who think he can do no wrong. But for anyone who grew up with the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles this will feel lifeless and bland. And it misses the one thing that made the original TMNT so enjoyable: charm. I think Jim Henson was most responsible for giving that 1990 film its charm through his creature creations and that’s what this reboot so desperately lacks.
And for anyone who shares my dislike for Bay, here's a very smart cinematic analysis of his style and why he's popular.