Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Writers: Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec, Evan Daugherty
Stars: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Whoopi Goldberg
Release date: August 8th, 2014
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 101 minutes
Best part: The mountainside action sequence.
Worst part: The by-the-numbers plot.
In 2004’s comedy gold-mine Anchorman: the Legend of Ron Burgundy, Steve Carell’s character Brick Tamland screams: “I don’t know what we’re yelling about!”. He hurriedly follows it up with: “Loud noises!”. This moment of slapstick genius, raised by Tambland’s borderline-mentally-challenged persona, sums up almost every modern blockbuster. For every Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a turgid mess like Transformers: Age of Extinction escapes from hell soon after. So, how much worse could it get? Well…
Further damaging hack director/producer Michael Bay’s critical reputation, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the latest big-budget extravaganza to shoot through theatres diarrhoea style. Causing more suffering than Ebola, ISIS, and Manchester United combined, this reboot/remake/prequel experiment delivers significantly more foibles than fun moments. A kitchen-sink-like basin for clinical blockbuster tropes, the latest TMNT instalment is as bland, banal, and boring as…this franchise’s other instalments. Destroying the original live-action trilogy’s good will, this cinematic hiccup/burp/fart concoction elevates the preceding entry(2007’s misjudged animated effort)’s status. The story, such as it is, is as damaging, slick, and sleep-inducing as a tranquilizer dart. Thanks to a clever opening animated sequence, the movie immediately delves into our favourite heroes in a half-shell(spoiled for choice, really)’s origin story. Four turtles and one rat, having escaped a life-threatening situation, fall into New York City’s sewers, become exposed to radiation, and mutate into bizarre human/animal hybrids. Looked after by Master Splinter (Motion-captured by Danny Woodburn, voiced by Tony Shalhoub), our evergreen team – Leonardo (mo-capped by Pete Ploszek, voiced by Johnny Knoxville), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) – places itself in harm’s way to protect Manhattan’s citizens from crime and corruption.
Scouring the city as ruthless vigilantes, our team searches for infamous terrorist group The Foot Clan. TMNT, born from Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird’s black-and-white comic book series, has inspired TV iterations, toy lines, celluloid-driven fumbles, and pop-rock bands. Despite the immense success, there’s one thing everyone’s forgotten: the original concept was satirical. Warped by marketing strategies and contrasting generations, this franchise is commercialism’s unholy nadir. Despite the stellar 2D animation, the aforementioned opening sequence sums up everything wrong about this reboot. Recycling obvious, well-known information, the movie drops its guard and surrenders to creativity’s biggest villain: The Man. Bafflingly so, the movie focuses primarily on several uninteresting and annoying human characters. Inexplicably, we follow eager TV reporter April O’Neil(Megan Fox)’s journey to find our reptilian renegades and discover the truth about her past. Pulling plucky sidekick Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) and suspicious plutocrat Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) into this lazy adventure, the narrative is a laboured collection of superhero origin tropes, franchise reboot cliches, and set pieces stolen from similar popcorn-chompers. In addition, the story’s coincidence-driven mythology is as believable as, well, weapon-wielding terrapins fighting robot samurais. Bringing April’s dad into the mix, the movie’s comparisons to the Amazing Spider-Man series rest in plain sight. Despite replacing ninjutsu with shootouts, this action flick starts kissing the asian film market’s behind before you can say: “cowabunga!”.
“Four turtles…one’s fighting a robot samurai? Why not?” (Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).
Never delving beyond its slime-covered surface, the story pushes its titular team into the background. Restricted to a fleeting sub-plot, defined by overworked comic-relief tropes, the turtles’ battle with arch-villain shredder is picked up and dropped sporadically. This entire project reeks of studio desperation and a lack of enthusiasm. Delivering another nostalgia-drenched franchise kicker, this – like many before it – is ruined by a shoddy director. Jonathan Liebesman (Battle: Los Angeles, Wrath of the Titans) shell-shocks blockbuster fans and TMNT aficionados. Turning a lucrative idea into disposable dross, the South African filmmaker’s hack-and-slash style doesn’t deliver satisfying or even disarming entertainment. Unaware of the core demographic, Liebesman’s adaptation lurches from laugh-less jokes to punishing violence to overt sexual references to dreary warrior speeches about honour, fate, and destiny. Made strictly for financial gain, its ingredients allude to other, more successful, studio efforts including Transformers and G. I. Joe. Causing a Steven Spielberg/Tobe Hooper-esque debacle, Bay lays his overbearing style on thick throughout. Lathered with product placement, lens flares, useless slo-mo, and non-stop camera movement, his style resembles a teenager on Red Bull and uppers. The action, despite the heavy CGI and occasional impressive moment, is wildly hit and miss. The mountainside set-piece, reminiscent of the Morocco sequence from The Adventures of Tintin, provides a slight reprieve from surrounding dross.
Labeling this a ‘product’ would be playing into Bay and his production company(Platinum Dunes)’s desires. TMNT, thanks to its cringe-worthy narrative and personality-free style, might mark the high point of blockbuster fatigue. Stripping the franchise of wit, charm, or life, this entry turns this series into a shell of its former self. Driven by lacklustre performances, exhaustive direction, and a derivative story, this isn’t worth anyone’s free time. Save your movie and pizza money for something less…shell-fish.