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Awesome: 5.88%
Worth A Look: 0%
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Pretty Bad: 35.29%
Total Crap47.06%

2 reviews, 5 user ratings

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)
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by Brett Gallman

"Or, the REAL Secret of the Ooze"
2 stars

With this latest cinematic resurrection of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, producer Michael Bay doesn’t do much to dissuade an entire generation that he’s out to sully their favorite childhood franchises. On the surface, this film doesn’t feel like a total affront to cinema like the “Transformers” sequels, but Bay and company’s transformation of this sneakily oddball franchise into anonymous blockbuster junk is an insidious offense all the same.

Of course, Bay and his pack of opportunists at Platinum Dunes aren’t the first to be guilty of this; after a reasonable translation to the big screen in 1990, it’s been rather rough going for the Turtles, who have constantly evolved and transformed since their inception as a satirical black-and-white comic book thirty years ago. But never have they been as boring as they are in this latest iteration, a manufactured-on-demand cookie-cutter of a movie that feels like it rolled off an assembly line. This isn’t filmmaking so much as it’s vulture capitalism scraping a familiar carcass from the pavement and reanimating it with puppet strings to give the illusion of life.

Fans will be quick to note the changes to the lore here, which aren’t inherently bad because they’re unfaithful—they’re just plain bad and provide more evidence of Hollywood’s current obsession with mistaking unity for contrivance. A familiar prologue breathlessly recounts the nature of the turtles’ existence, with Master Splinter providing an obligatory voice-over narration to reintroduce these characters to the audience, which seems redundant as hell considering most of the film is hung-up on delivering a more complicated version of their origin story.

Consider it the equivalent of “The Amazing Spider-Man” franchise’s “untold story,” where all the various dots are connected in a conspiratorial labyrinth of a screenplay: in this version, plucky reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is a twenty-something reporter on a dumb, filler “news” show who is intent on rising above this fluff gig. With New York in the midst of a record crime wave, she begins to investigating in hopes of finding a big break, only to stumble upon the work of mysterious vigilantes.

Even though it’s kind of silly to shroud these kind of characters in mystery, it’s admittedly pretty cool that the film treats them like Batman, and our first limited glance at them occurs during a shipyard brawl (ripped directly from “Batman Begins,” in one of several instances of blockbuster cut-and-pasting). It’s dumb, but it provides some natural tension between the reptilian ninjas and the girl who could expose their existence to the world.

But then the film just blows the lid wide open on the mystery, sending the audience down a convoluted rabbit hole revealing April’s culpability in their creation. It turns out that her old man once worked in concert with Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) to create a mutagen with cell-restoration properties but died in a horrific lab fire before seeing it through to completion. In the fifteen years since, Sacks has abandoned his scientific ambitions for business interests and has ascended the corporate ladder while maintaining a philanthropic front.

Once April discovers the turtles’ rooftop celebration following another scuffle (the first of many nauseating action sequences that simulate the feeling of riding a rollercoaster through meat-grinder), she begins to piece together the convoluted puzzle: these turtles and their master were once her father’s lab subjects—and, by proxy, her pets—and she shuttled them to safety from the lab fire all those years ago. (It’s worth noting the irony that the turtles’ original creation satirized the arbitrary nature of superhero origins, like Daredevil.)

Much of the film’s first half relies on clunky exposition exchanges and mandatory flashbacks in order to peel back so many layers that I’m convinced two of the three credited screenwriters must be assumed names of Kurtzman and Orci. I mean, it even comes down to magic blood and everything, and the various twists and turns rearrange familiar lore: there’s a Shredder (who looks like the product of an unholy union between a Transformer and a mutated Swiss army knife), though his connection to the events is so tenuous that his presence feels like the result of post-production tinkering (I’m convinced Fichtner was originally intended to be Shredder rather than his crony). It’s a baffling move because Shredder’s personal vendetta with Splinter in previous installments is the sort of backstory that works just fine, only it’s shoved aside here in favor of making April more central to the proceedings.

Which is also fine—if not downright commendable in its giving a female character the spotlight—in theory, yet the handling is so clumsy and amounts to so much wheel-spinning that it hardly matters because there’s no real story here. Whatever passes as narrative is incidental and essentially just winds the clock for the film’s long-winded finale, which finds the Turtles, April, and her cameraman (Will Arnett) attempting to thwart Sack’s and Shredder’s plan to poison New York so that they can then peddle the cure and become billionaires. A countdown timer is involved, and it mostly signals that relief is in sight because the movie will end.

Conceptually, these climactic sequences are actually astonishing: both an insane, barrelling car chase and a precipitous rooftop showdown are marvelous achievements of pre-visualization reduced to white noise by director Jonathan Liebesman’s jittery camerawork and the fact that the last half hour is a collection of weightless pixels flailing about in the digital ether. And don’t get me started on the bulk of the actual ninjutsu action on display: who thought it was a good idea to let the guy behind "Battle: Los Angeles" handle a film with martial-arts sequences set in a sewer? It’s like handing the keys to a Ferrari over to an unlicensed driver and expecting them not to crash and burn.

I’m not quite sure I’d go that far with the comparison here—again, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” isn’t a complete abomination, merely a completely banal effort that’s content to stand pat with multiple blockbuster templates from the previous decade, with this particular franchise pasted in. Whatever personality it has—and, considering the premise, it should have much more than it does—arrives in the all-too-brief moments where the film catches its breath. While their origins are different, the shell of the turtles’ personas is intact: Leonardo’s the fearless leader who frequently clashes with hotheaded Raphael, Donatello’s the geek (complete with giant glasses to reinforce the stereotype), and Michelangelo’s the perpetual comic relief.

None of them have much of a story arc, save perhaps for Raphael (you can guess how it goes since it retraces the steps of previous movies), so they’re left to claw for screen-time with dopey one-liners that often manage to score the proceedings more memorably than Brian Tyler’s actual (and hopelessly generic) score. Only rarely, however, does the film treat all four as actual characters or let them interact in a manner that allows them to move beyond their function as computer-generated bursts in this glorified digital pyrotechnics display.

Worst of all, it’s just not fun—this is nearly the nadir of “turn-your-brain-off” cinema, a relentless mind-mashing experience that becomes exhausting the minute you realize Liebseman’s camera can’t even keep still for simple dialogue exchanges. With so much of this franchise’s total weirdness at their disposal, Platinum Dunes only manage to pander to the most basic of sensibilities and have churned out another bland blockbuster. When a twenty-five year old cartoon—which featured hordes of mutants and inter-dimensional beings—feels more bizarre and daring than this, it’s a testament to just how safely it plays things. It almost feels like the Dunes are operating from a decade-old playbook by making the grittiest possible version of something called “Ninja Turtles” without also engaging the absurdity like the original comics did.

Granted, this is kid’s stuff, so I hardly feel slighted despite the fondness I once held for this property at the same age. If I hold any resentment towards it at all, it’s because it’s a totally vacuous, borderline insulting experience (it ends on a note that seems designed to test if anyone—the filmmakers included—was paying any attention during the climax). But mostly, I find myself directing indifferent shoulder shrugs in its general direction, which is arguably worse.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” cements this studio’s place as preeminent manufacturers and marketers dedicated to selling familiar name brands in slick, shiny new packages designed to distract from the lack of heart and soul beating inside. This isn’t a film—it’s the latest 100 minute pitch reel to remind us of Platinum Dunes’s motto when it comes to franchises: “eh, sure, why not?”

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originally posted: 08/08/14 15:55:05
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User Comments

10/01/14 Dillon Gonzales Does not do the Turtles justice. 3 stars
8/11/14 Jack Beyondf awful 1 stars
8/10/14 Quibleachvac how to tell when your boyfriend is cheating on you, 3 stars
8/09/14 jervaise brooke hamster I want to bugger Megan Fox 5 stars
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  08-Aug-2014 (PG)
  DVD: 25-Nov-2014


  DVD: 25-Nov-2014

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