Perhaps the greatest flaw in the argument for mindless, big budget Hollywood blockbusters is the simple fact that “smart” and “entertaining” are not mutually exclusive adjectives. There are, of course, hundreds if not thousands of popular titles out there -- from Star Wars to Jurassic Park to The Avengers -- that succeed in being both thrilling and intelligently-crafted. To give a movie a pass on the latter in the name of the former is not only a weak compromise, but is also giving permission to filmmakers to just be lazy and not deliver really great finished products that audiences deserve when putting down their hard-earned money.
This is the kind of atmosphere that leads to films like director Jonathan Liebesman’s new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot, a movie that is so catastrophically awful in both story and presentation that it practically exists as an insult to anyone who would be considered as a fan of its cherished franchise.
It behooves me at this point to acknowledge an understanding that what we have here is a movie about a team of talking turtles who fight crime, eat pizza, and live in the sewer with their rat father-figure/sensei. It’s light, weird material targeted at children, but it’s also what could be a healthy base for adventurous conflict found through creative storytelling and interesting character development. That is, however, the exact opposite direction taken by Liebesman and screenwriters Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec and Evan Daugherty, who haphazardly threw together some of the worst, oft-repeated blockbuster plot elements out there with a chaotic visual style to create a movie that has absolutely nothing going for it.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles begins centered on April O’Neil (Megan Fox), a TV news reporter who can’t catch a break… that is, until she witnesses a vigilante take down members of a local crime syndicate known as The Foot Clan. While she is unable to get anyone to believe her (and finds it difficult to get any traction with the new story), her persistent digging eventually brings her face-to-face with the members of the titular squad: Leonardo (voiced by Johnny Knoxville), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) and Donatello (Jeremy Howard). Unfortunately, April’s research also has her reconnect with her dead scientist father’s old partner (William Fichtner), who has some very sinister connections and his own reasons for wanting to find the Turtles.
Worse than the fact that the radically changed and stupidly plot hole-ridden origin story for the titular team makes no sense and is filled with logical gaps and stupid coincidences, the movie employs exhaustingly clichéd tropes and plot devices (magic blood again?!) and has a plot indistinguishable from 500 other action movies that have come out over the last 30 years. This is driven by the fact that there isn’t a single interesting character motivation featured in the entire movie – which is amazing given the fact that it goes to painstaking lengths to make sure that there are specific ties between all the leads that go back years and years. Everyone runs on autopilot, and there isn’t an interesting character in the bunch.
Even if you plan to see Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (don’t) exclusively for the action sequences, your satisfaction is in no way guaranteed. Despite the fact that he is working with uniquely-built characters who can move and fight in all kinds of interesting ways, Liebesman insists on keeping his camera no more than two feet away from the actors at all times during fight scenes – the result being nothing but blurs of CGI whipping past the lens. This is extra problematic given that the four eponymous leads all look near identical at super speed, leading the audience to hope that they can catch a glimpse of the individually colored masks as to just try and keep up with what’s happening. As you can imagine, the 3D is not your friend in this case either, and it should be avoided if you ever feel sensitive to its negative physical effects.
This reboot is the worst kind of cash grab. A studio saw a brand name they could exploit for name recognition and (fingers crossed) nostalgia, put together a script completely devoid of any kind of emotion or creativity, and is now hoping that you’ll ignore all of that because of CGI explosions and identifiable pop-culture characters. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is entirely hollow, poorly put together, and will require an audience on its level of stupidity to survive. Don’t be one of its supporters.