Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Year: 2014
Director: Jonathan Liebesman
Starring: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner
Written by Chris Winterbottom

I believe there is a place for the Ninja Turtles in modern cinema. The iterations of these characters in the 1990s were fun, but they have dated worse than I do on Tinder. The last five years or so have seen many remakes (or reboots as Hollywood prefers us to call them) of 1980s and  90s content, such as the ‘Transformers’ films, the recent remake of ‘Point Break’ and of course, the sequel to ‘Tron’. The results have been mixed, although the aforementioned movies are examples of how this 80s/90s revival can go wrong. Unfortunately, 2014’s reboot of ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ is a deflated balloon of a movie, and shares a podium with the other failures mentioned here.

I won’t bore you with story details; it’s an origins story so the set up should be fairly self explanatory. Also, because the story itself is so dull, it does not warrant mentioning, even in this review. The ‘Ninja Turtles’ movie of 1990 is, of course, dated, but at least it had character and, oddly, a surprisingly dark tone to it. Its visual style was grimy, as was a lot of New York-set movies of this time; perhaps a reflection of the real life difficulties the Big Apple was having at the time. This more recent interpretation is a reflection of a modern cityscape; shiny, technological advances and multiculturism. But unlike the modern-day New York City, the film completely lacks individuality or character.

It’s easy to dismiss this sort of movie, so I want to be clear that the film is not without some merit. Clearly the visual effects team have done their best in bringing these characters to life, but actually, the decision to create the turtles (and Splinter) as CGI models as opposed to people in suits adds a weightlessness and falsehood to the film. I could never invest in the characters because I couldn’t believe they were there. Other films have used this technique of bringing characters to life and it has worked a treat; Peter Jackson’s King Kong, Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and the upcoming BFG (if the early reviews prove to be right). But there is absolutely no depth to these turtles. I mean that in a visual sense, and a personality perspective too.

The writing too, is so poor, the story so generic, that these characters lack the personalities required to carry a film of this nature. They blend into one big, green blob and boy are they ugly. The instantly recognisable face of the old turtles, with their round, bulbous nasal area have been replaced with a half human, half reptilian bastardisation that makes them look rather creepy; particularly when they are hitting on Megan Fox. Whether the story works or not is incidental; it all hangs on whether the four turtles work as individual, unique characters. This is the film’s biggest flaw. 

Raphael was always the most interesting of the characters, but gone is his conflicted and angry personality. Now he’s just “the grumpy one”. It is lazy character development; in fact, I’d go as far as to say the fimmakers could not give two slices of pizza about staying true to the spirit of these characters. They are clearly more interested in making a quick buck than actually making a decent movie. This is most likely why there is zero chemistry between the turtles, which is as unforgivable as it is possible to be.

Similarly, Jonathan Liebesman is clearly a director for hire. The man has no voice, no visual signature, no soul. Remember, this is a man who brought us ‘Wrath of the Titans’ and ‘Battle Los Angeles’. You could argue that his artistic capabilities have been stifled, by a studio hell bent on making a corporate product rather than a piece of art. But when you look at his priors, it’s evident Liebesman is part of that system, as opposed to a victim of it.

There are camera movements that are reminiscent of a Michael Bay movie; the cinematography also looks sickeningly familiar, which makes sense considering he is a producer of this movie. What also makes sense is the leery way the camera lingers on Megan Fox. This is a Michael Bay trope that needs to stop. His wank bank needs regulating by a filmmaking ombudsmen and he needs to be brought into check for his perverted ideas of what the male gaze is.

There is absolutely nothing in this film that conveys creativity or inspiration. This is as dull as a film can be. Remember Megan Fox saying that working with Michael Bay was like working with Hitler? When I heard this, I had some respect for her; while she might not be the best actor in the world, at least she stood up for what she thought was right. Of course, that was until the right pay cheque came along and any comparisons with Hitler were swiftly thrown out of the window. I guess there is enough money in the world to sell your soul to the devil.

But maybe I’m part of the problem. By watching this movie, I have contributed to its success and am now complicit in the sequel’s existence. I will go to my grave with that on my conscience; don’t do the same.

Chris’ rating: 3.0 out of 10

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