Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

By Christopher Redmond

Mailed on August 08, 2014


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Dear Dawn Barkan
Rat Trainer

Dear Dawn,

Seems like a dangerous time to be training animals. Apes are riding horses and shooting machine guns. Raccoons are flying starships and shooting machine guns. Sharks are falling from the sky and being mowed down by machine guns! Now it's mutated turtles turning into ninjas and - you guessed it - getting shot by machine guns.

Business is really booming, huh?

Luckily you had a much safer job: working with the wise old rat, Splinter, spiritual leader and father figure to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He's a much more frail presence than his young green protegees, and it's his new found vulnerability that spurs the turtles into action…

Oh, what am I talking about? This is a Michael Bay joint. Everyone is an action star. Splinter was obviously enrolled in the same parkour classes that Yoda took in preparation for the prequels--he's just as badass as the teenagers he raised. It must have taken you years to train that beady-eyed martial arts master to move so quickly! Or did you just use a regular rat for the flashback sequences and let the special effects team go wild on the older version of the sensei?

Yeah. That's what I thought.

Maybe this is a good time to start talking about my own pet peeves with the film.

See, TMNT reigned supreme in my childhood. Which meant, yes, it took me most of the movie to adjust to these new voices, adapt to the new look, and feel comfortable with my boyhood buddies squaring off against machine-gun toting terrorists. But I eventually came around (or gave in to) these changes.

The dynamic within the group, for example, still works. Michelangelo gets all the best lines, Raphael gets to grunt and moan, Donatello brings the nerd factor, and Leonardo is as boring as ever (despite being voiced by Johnny Knoxville). Megan Fox is also a fine April O'Neill, and Will Arnett providing comic relief as a cameraman doesn't ruin anything.

What does ruin things, however, is the ultra-lame Amazing Spider-Man everyone-is-involved-in-the-conspiracy plotline. Not that it's inherently a bad idea to make April's dad a scientist who worked on the ooze that mutated the turtles (and April once treating them like pets), but to tack on the reporter-who-stumbles-on-the-story gimmick is one coincidence too far. And by amping-up the turtles to superhero status, making them invincible to bullets and moving at unintelligible speeds, the action sequences are just more incoherent Bayhem tripe--even if Michael Bay was only a producer.

Jonathan Liebsman tries every trick in the book to crowd the frame with lens flares, colliding axes, Dutch-angle dolly-shots and shaky-cam nonsense. His editing goes for a bare minimum average shot length, and the whole frantic effort feels strangely dated-- you know, from a time before Marvel proved the benefits of making action comprehensible again. Even the evil Shredder goes full Transformers in this film, for reasons they don't even pretend to explain.

A line about the turtles not, in fact, being "aliens" was the only moment of self-awareness the filmmakers allowed. Had that ridiculous change been applied to this franchise's already ridiculous premise, your job on this film might not even have existed.

Though maybe that would have freed up your time to work on more films like Inside Llewyn Davis.

Speaking of which--your turn to write back, Dawn!

Feeling trapped,

Christopher

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