Monday, October 6, 2014

'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' (2014) directed by Jonathan Liebesman

"Splinter taught them to be ninja teens / Leonardo leads / Donatello does machines / Raphael is cool but crude / Michaelangelo is a party dude".  As it was in 1989, so it is in 2014. As a child of the 80s I was a prime candidate for Turtlemania infection, eagerly gobbling up any old bit of tat they'd paste the logo on.  Soon the initial craze died down and while the Ninja Turtles never vanished into complete obscurity, they certainly weren't in the public spotlight any more.  At least, not until now...

Enter Michael Bay (ominous music begins playing).  He's got some fresh new ideas for the Ninja Turtles franchise. (ominous music becomes more insistent) Instead of being mutated pet turtles they characters are now alien refugees! (ominous music intensifies) The heroes could be disturbingly photorealistic ugly freaks? (ominous music becomes ear-splittingly loud)  Why, Megan Fox would be just perfect as spunky reporter sidekick April O'Neil! (ominous music crescendos, the audience convulses in horror, brass instruments clatter on the floor, the distant sound of vomiting is heard).

To say this reboot of the franchise wasn't exactly anticipated is putting it mildly.  Die hard Turtles fans (yes, they exist) were horrified at the idea of Michael "explosions and asses" Bay getting his grubby mitts on their beloved characters, fans of cinema figured the film would be yet another horrific Bay actioner and mainstream audiences collectively shrugged at the idea of the Turtles coming back.  

Excitment in Britain was further dampened by a two month delay in release, enough time for the steady trickle of one star reviews from across the pond to sink in.  "Godawful" said The Rolling Stone.  "Annoying" said The Standard.'s critic had to "fend off the profound yearning for death".  As a seasoned viewer of purestrain trash I was rubbing my sadistic little paws together, my poison pen pre-sharpened in anticipation of giving this piece of shit a real going over!

So it's with a slight amount of annoyance that I report that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles isn't all that bad after all.  Don't get me wrong, it's nowhere near good - but it's pretty damn far from the cataclysmic black hole of quality I'd been led to believe.  The wafer thin plot involves a gang of sorta-ninjas that plague New York - the only people able to stop them are a group of suspiciously turtle-shaped vigilantes. 

Investigative reporter April O'Neil wants to graduate into the big leagues and investigates, soon discovering that these vigilantes are six foot, martial art student talking turtles. From there it's just a hop, skip and jump to a classically Saturday morning cartoon climax with a big tank of undefined "toxins" threatening to poison the city and a villain that's essentially a miniature Transformer / Swiss Army Knife for our mutant heroes to beat up. 

Also starring G.O.B. 
For the first 15-20 minutes you can see where these one star reviews might be coming from. Before the turtles show up the film is carried by Megan Fox, who delivers what might be the single worst performance I've seen in a major Hollywood film of late.  For a while I suspected that Fox was be slightly hard done by, unable to stretch her dramatic muscle due to Michael Bay's thorough objectification of her.  But, after her performance in Turtles I can safely say she has no dramatic muscle.

Fox delivers her lines in a bored monotone, sounding and looking more like a slightly stoned porn star than a hotshot investigative journalist.  More distractingly, her collagen enhanced lips bulge alarmingly out of her face, leaving me thankful I didn't catch this one in 3D. There's a sequence where she's in conversation with a dodgy CG mutant rat-thing, of the two on screen she's easily the freakier looking.  

But then once the Turtles are properly introduced she's largely sidelined, so at least any damage she does is minimised as much as possible.  And y'know what - these Turtles aren't so annoying after all.  Sure they're goofy as hell and have paper-thin characterisation; but they feel like actual teenagers.  Also, in a whitewashed era of superhero films it's nice to finally see some working class black characters take the spotlight.

I still say they could fit a few more knives on him.
Say what?  They're green!  Well, sorta. Turtles skews pretty heavily to the contemporary superhero mould, taking clear inspiration from Marvel Studios and Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy - yet while the protagonists of those movies are generally rich white men, the Turtles are culturally coded as black, live in a literal sewer and cobble their gear together of polite society's scraps.  Having four genuinely disenfranchised superheroes (and their hobo master) gives proceedings a surprisingly novel twist.

I can't in good conscience recommend Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  The plot is a creaky collection of barely related set pieces, there's a lot of Z-grade dialogue, constant obnoxious product placement, the bizarre inclusion of Whoopi Goldberg (who you'd think would be the last person to sign up to a giant talking reptile movie) and obviously, Megan Fox stinking up the place.  It definitely sucks all right.  But at least it sucks quickly, amiably and painlessly.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is released 17th October 2014

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