What with seemingly almost every known cinematic property known to man being rebooted, remade, rebirthed, regurgitated and repossessed these days it was bound to happen that we’d get a new live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie.
Now it’s out and the verdict is in. It’s already proved to be a box office hit and a sequel has been greenlit, so who cares what some critic thinks? But let’s go ahead with this anyway.
Of course the 2014 version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is not a good movie, as much as it could have been. Instead of trying to do something special and unique and fresh with the material, instead of going with it to interesting places, the filmmakers (read: Producers and money people) have decided to take the safe route and do a very generic and typical modern blockbuster that follows all the usual guidelines and has little wit or imagination, few surprises and evaporates quickly from memory after it’s over. Nostalgia and familiarity was all that was needed to makes this a hit, they thought, so why risk it?
It still manages to be, just barely, a tolerable time killer while it’s unspooling in front of you. It’s fast, short, simple and lively and does have the occasional clever idea or funny line. It’s not exactly terrible, the filmmaking is competent, the actors are mostly okay and it could have been even dumber and lamer. For what it is, it’s not so bad. Or rather, it’s not so much bad as it is tame and bland. This film could easily have gone the Guardians of the Galaxy route, mixing basic blockbuster elements with loads of really weird shit and inspired goofiness, but it mostly doesn’t. Instead we get uninspired goofiness and rather ordinary shit.
Amidst all the blandness, there still are some interestingly weird elements here. For one thing Michaelangelo has a crush on April O’Neil here. Yes, a mutated turtle has the hots for a human. The first time he sees her he calls her a hottie (or something) and then says “dibs”. Even if this movie isn’t nearly as flagrantly misogynistic as most of the movies producer Michael Bay has directed, there’s still a touch of it here. But mostly it’s just creepy. Then we’ve got Shredder who is this big, mean, evil Japanese dude. He’s also supposedly the mentor of a character who’s at least 50 years old, meaning that Shredder is probably about 65 years old(?!). And yet still looks about 40 (hard to tell as we see his face mostly shrouded in shadows, and he’s bald) and jumps around like teenage…ninja. Also, his voice sounds eerily similar to the zombo.com dude.
As for the turtles themselves, there’s not much to them. The CGI is actually not badly done, they don’t look totally fake, but they each have one-trait personalities (one’s silly, one’s badass, one’s smart and one’s…something?) and don’t leave much of an impression. They really just meld together and it probably works better to see them as one entity. Or that’s probably what the filmmakers must have been thinking.
The best thing in this movie is most certainly Will Arnett. He gets stuck with a bland sidekick character but manages to inject some life into him by just being himself, Arnett is never not likable. It’s a pity they couldn’t hire actors of his caliber to voice all the turtles. William Fichtner also makes for a solid villain even if he’s far from his best and Tony Shalhoub’s voice is very fitting for Splinter. Megan Fox is not bad but nothing special and it would probably would have done a lot for this movies to have a really good actress as April O’Neil (Anna Kendrick and Elizabeth Olsen were apparently both tested for the role and it would have been really interesting to see either one of them portray O’Neil, alas…).
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles manages to coast on a mix of nostalgia, general liveliness and…well…it could have been worse. Twenty years from now it might be seen as an interesting relic of a past era as this is very much a movie of our time. It’s a certain sign of the times of how “normalized” postmodernism has become that it’s a big part of standard blockbuster like this one. This is a movie that’s a reboot of a series that’s based on comic books that was also become a popular toy line and cartoon TV series before the first movie arrived. This is also a movie that constantly references pop culture (“He’s doing his Batman voice” “This is our Hogwarts”), pokes fun at itself (“So you’re ninja mutant turtle… teenagers?” “When you put it like that it sound ridiculous”) to show it’s not taking itself too seriously and it’s own “style” is really just an amalgam of other recents blockbusters (the camera moves and sound effects are like something out of prouducer Micheal Bay’s Transformers series and there’s also some J.J. Abrams-ish lens flare here and there. In other words: This movie hardly has a personality of its own.
The Good: Will Arnett is a god.
The Bad: The nearly total lack of originality.
The Cowabunga!: Yes, they do get to say “Cowabunga”.